Thursday, January 28, 2010


Today I got a call from Charlie Brown’s teacher. You know, the adult on the cartoon who speaks with a muffled tromboned “bwah bwah bwah” sound. Well, Daniel called from Afghanistan today. At least I think it was Daniel. My caller ID said it was him and I did manage to hear the word “Dad” once or twice in between the bwah bwah bwahs.

Connections from Southern Afghanistan via satellite phones are sketchy at best and even on a good day it can be hard to understand the voice coming over. After all it’s beamed from halfway around the world, up into outer space then bounced around from the East Coast to the West Coast until it finally makes its way across the pacific to our little island. It’s a wonder it works at all.

But today was an unusually bad connections. In fact, we kept getting cut off and a male computerized voice would come on the line saying; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Daniel tried four times to get through. The calls would last a minute or two until his voice would fade into; “Bwah bwah bwah bwaaah bwah bwaaah bwah” until finally the computerized guy would come on and say; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.”

(Daniel posing for a photo near the town of Garmsir, Afghanistan, recently)

Each time we were connected, bwah bwah was about all I could make out for the most part so I did most of the talking. I think he could understand my side of the conversation. I could make out a word or two of his every so often, but I had to resort to counting the “bwah bwahs” and just guess at what he was saying. Yeah, I’m one of those annoying people who finishes other people’s sentences, too. If not out loud at least in my head.

I would ask him, "Are you doing alright?" He would answer,"bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah." "oh," I said. "That's good. How's everyone else in your platoon?" "Bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah bwah," he answered. "Do you need us to send you anything?" "Bwah, bwah socks bwah bwah bwah." "Did you say you need more socks?" I asked him back. "Bwah." "Oh, OK. We'll send you more, son." And so on.

For the most part, placing the bwah bwahs in context with the subject matter then making some guesses, Daniel and I more or less had a two-way conversation. I deciphered that it was 3 in the morning there and that he may or may not have just gotten back from a patrol. That he still needed more socks and that his portable DVD player we sent him still worked and to send more movies.

Just when we would get settled into our bwah-talk, bwah-talk conversation, the computerized voice would break in; ““Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Each time it seemed to sound a bit more cheerful. Why do they make automated voices sound so cheerful anyhow?

On the last attempted connection, I couldn’t even begin to guess what Daniel was saying. Even the Bwah bwahs were hard to make out. So I told him I couldn’t understand him. My best guess is he said “Yeah, I probably should go.” I said “Be careful, son.” I heard, “Bwah bwah” (I think that translated to “OK”) I said, “I love you.” And right on que that cheerfully persistent computerized male voice broke in gleefully singing; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Did I mention I hate computers?

Below is a perfect example of what Daniel's voice sounded like today on the phone. Sorry Facebook friends, you'll have to go to my blog to view the video:

1 comment:

debbie said...

This is a really good story. Sometimes I hate computers too. Darned things. At least you got to be in touch with Daniel even though it was a very bad connection.


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