Just temporarily disconnected
Travel, Young love, and International Communication
In today’s world of instant-everything, it’s hard to imagine how hard it was to communicate with someone overseas in 1997.
Jane was in Spain and I was in Ecuador but I might as well have been on the moon.
I wrote her several letters a week for the first 6 weeks and she got none of them. I got a few letters from her but they had all been opened. The letter itself usually survived but there was always something missing.
Jane’s group in Spain had a shared email address and Jane got a small slice of time every week. Her time-slot was at a dumb time though so she didn’t use it much. Not that it mattered because Internet access was not really a thing in the city I was living in.
My host sister’s boyfriend was working on setting up the city’s first Internet cafe but that never came to fruition. He left a modem at the house once and I got dial-up for a couple of days. I was able to telnet into the main SunOS server at Lewis & Clark college and do a little email that way.
You read that right. I had to use telnet to do email. SSH was only a couple of years old and not as widely used.
Web-based email wasn’t really a thing. Hotmail was still brand new and pretty unknown. Yahoo mail didn’t exist. Gmail was still a decade away.
Postal mail was so unreliable that, in the end, I had to resort to sending faxes. The Abraham Lincoln Center where I was taking classes had a fax machine and I could pay $1 to send a fax.
So that’s what I did. I sent faxes to Jane a couple of times a week. I sent faxes to my parents. Anyone I knew who had a fax machine got to hear from me.
We also talked on the phone. We tried not to because it was so expensive. The first phone call happened on Valentine’s Day. Jane was so sad because she hadn’t heard from me yet so she, with the help of a good friend, finagled a credit card call from Spain to Ecuador.
It was all over once that door was open. We couldn’t stop calling each other. I wracked up a $700 phone bill on my mom’s credit card. My parents weren’t too pleased but they did get 3 grandkids out of it in the end so I think it worked out.
That struggle for basic communication seems so strange now. I can access my email from pretty much anywhere on a wide variety of devices. I have Twitter and Facebook that I can use to keep tabs on people, even when they’re off in remote corners of the world.
But sometimes I miss that struggle. The words felt so much more important when you had to wait for them.
And I worry that all of my digital communication will disappear someday. One of my favorite things in the world is the box of letters under my bed. Jane has one too, stuffed with letters and faxes.
We’ll stay up and take turns reading them to each other.
It’s a little slice of who we were then that I’m not sure we could get any other way.