Blogging off the grid

Matt Young blogging off the grid
By Matt Young
March 4, 2014

I live in a mud hut in sub-Saharan Africa with no electricity or running water. So how do I blog from my site? With a smartphone, solar panels and thumbs destined for carpal tunnel syndrome, that's how.

The first and biggest obstacle to blogging in Zambia is finding electricity. The vast majority of Peace Corps Zambia Volunteers live in rural areas with little or no power infrastructure and I'm no exception, so to circumvent this problem I have a Joos Orange portable solar panel and two Greenlight Planet Sunking Pro solar lamps. The solar panels for the lamps are tied to the top of my hut and the cords are threaded through the thatched grass roof, powering the lights, which serve double duty as phone chargers. A full day of sunlight yields enough electricity to charge my phone, headlamp and e-book reader while also supplying me with light throughout the evening.

My smartphone is "smart" because it can access the internet and run programs. Using the WordPress app, I can manage posts, edit drafts and respond to comments. I type using the phone's touchscreen keyboard and save notes for potential blog posts as drafts to access later whenever an idea strikes, whether I’m standing at the edge of a fish farmer's pond or wading through a crowded market. At present, I have 42 draft posts in various stages of completion, including a handful that are ready to publish and which I keep on contingency in case I run low on ideas one week.

Once I finish writing a post, the next step is to add pictures. Most of the photographs I post on my blog are taken with the camera on my phone, but about once a month I travel to the Peace Corps provincial house 215 kilometers south of my site where I am able to retrieve pictures I've taken with my digital camera by transferring them to my laptop.

Last but not least is publishing the blog post. I purchase a monthly 3G data plan for my phone through a local Zambian cellular service provider, which allows me to access internet at my site. It works about 75 percent of the time, so I write and edit my posts offline and then publish them when I manage to catch the network at a good hour. There is intermittent Wi-Fi at the provincial house, but if it's not working when I visit – not an unlikely scenario, as it was on the fritz for six months earlier this year – then I use Bluetooth to transfer pictures from my laptop back to my phone.

Daily life in the Peace Corps often requires forgoing many of the modern amenities and technology that we take for granted in America. However, this Volunteer is happy to use any tools available in order to help promote Peace Corps' third goal.

Matt Young