We’ve all faced deadlines in life – the submission of a project, an upcoming exam, the time your train is leaving, the date your baby is due. Deadlines are like impending forces of doom, it just keeps advancing in on you and everything you’ve worked or prepared for comes down to that one single day, hour or moment.
For some it’s the adrenaline of writing and prepping till the last second. But that’s not the problem I have. For the past four years the DH has been witness to how technology has always conspired against me when I have a deadline. The internet would have been working just fine for months but on the day I have a report or project to submit to a client, there will be a problem. Our broadband provider’s response is that “the cable gets cut” or the junction box fuses. Apparently someone is sabotaging their efforts…and mine too. So every time I have a deadline or submission and the internet connection is lost, my wrath is inflicted on the other two members of my household. Even the sound of their breathing (or panting) is enough for me to lose it. And before you can ask, no I don’t have one of those wifi dongle thingies because we barely get a mobile signal and that too only BSNL so wifi is out the question.
But this time, for the highest monetary value project submission of my life, I was fully expecting everything to go wrong and it did. I had also promised myself that I would be incredibly calm no matter what happened (I’m trying to grow and better myself, here). Value of project directly proportionate to level of disastrous events out of ones control
I’ve been slaving over a grant proposal for about $1 million dollars from the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) for the ASHA fund (American Schools and Hospitals Abroad) for the Rambo Memorial School in Mungeli. They give about 30 grants out every year and you can apply for $2 million dollars worth of funds. This is possibly the only grant that gives out money for construction. And boy do they make you work for the money you are asking for. It’s a beast of an application. They give you 8 months to prepare but we decided to apply for the fund just 4 weeks ago. SO it’s been a mad dash to the finish (the submission deadline was yesterday).
Considering the high value of this project I was expecting that the “great vengeance and furious anger” that technology was going to inflict upon me and my deadline would be nothing less than epic. And I was right to expect this.
I returned from Mungeli (the rural hospital/school) on Friday morning having 3 days (the weekend+Monday) to fill in all the blanks, get all the official documents and construction drawings in line. On Saturday, we lost our internet connection. It came back intermittently – enough for me to download some crucial documents but come Saturday evening and we were cut off. Then on Sunday we have very erratic electricity supply and serious voltage fluctuation. I was convinced at this point that the internet was not coming back till the next day. What I didn’t expect is that we would lose electricity supply as well. The forces had conspired so greatly against me that the major underground electric cable that supplies just our block with power had something inexplicably wrong with it. This is the worst thing to happen on a Sunday because no one is going to come out to fix it. We were plunged in to darkness and my laptop was running off the inverter/UPS supply – but how long was that going to last and keep the fans running while we slept at night?
Fortunately two intrepid electricians came to inspect things. But there’s a mess of bureaucracy when it comes to electricity supply. The GE will touch only the transformers not the junction box, the JE will enter the buildings but not touch the transformer, the other lot will stand around and twiddle their thumbs. But these two guys abandoned all protocol and tried to fix the situation themselves supplying us with limited power to run the fans and lights.
The next morning a thick fat “loop” cable was linked up from the transformer to our house and power was restored to its full capacity. But still no internet connection. At the stroke of 12 noon, like manna from heaven I saw the four lights on the modem winking merrily at me as the internet was restored. But I still hadn’t finished my work and I knew that at any moment the internet connection could be lost again. Two hours later and I have everything in line, form filled, documents attached, everything ready to go and the internet was still working.
So I press ‘SUBMIT’ and nothing happens. I press ‘SUBMIT’ again and still nothing happens. I go to the Grants.gov website looking for troubleshooting advice. They say to drop the file in to the internet browser. I do just that and get a message that the PDF document is not in the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. Apparently I’ve been using version 9 when the American government wants you to use version 9.5.4-1 (which was invented last week).
I swallowed the rising fumes and proceeded to download the latest version which was going to take about 40 minutes. As it was downloading my Linux system which never ever crashes (that’s the beauty of Linux) said it had had enough and crashed. Error messages and stop signs and pleas to repair itself flashed all over my screen. Fortunately, I had learned through past disasters and had saved and backed up all my work on 3 separate external hard drives and one partition. So no data was lost, just my operating system was having a hissy fit.
After an hour on the phone with the DH, him giving me repair instructions, he decided the situation was too grave and it was time to abandon the office and come home. I am so grateful that he did because we used his computer and after a 1.5hrs he downloaded the latest version of Adobe. I had to refill in the entire form (14 pages worth) which took an hour but it was done and we pressed ‘SUBMIT’. We were able to login and proceed to the first gateway at which we were stopped by the US Federal Govt – I was not authorised to submit the application on behalf of my organisation.
This seemed ridiculous to me because I had set up the entire account and authorised myself to submit the application. There are at least 3 passwords and countless other hoops to this website but eventually after breaking in to a clean sweat and feeling my heart about to explode like one of those wind up toys, inches from a panic attack and something in me told me to stop and just think.
That helped. I thought and thought, calmly tried different combinations of passwords, usernames and email addresses and figured out the problem. The document was now travelling through the internet slowly uploading to the Federal Govt website. After half an hour we called up the internet provider to find out what our upload speeds were like. This was a 45MB document and what if it took 24 hrs? I would have missed the submission deadline. Fortunately it took only an hour – one nail biting hour- with me thinking ‘did I change the school fees information from Rupees to dollars’ ‘did I attach the school audit files’ etc etc. Too late now anyway. AT 7:15 the document was sent, confirmation received and I sighed a big sigh of relief. The DH kindly made dinner while I poured myself a stiff shot of Russian Stolichnaya vodka.
Now it is in the hands of the powers that be. It’ll be another 6 months before we have any information about whether we’ve got the grant or not. This money is vital for us to complete building the school to get the kids out of the dilapidated old bungalow they’ve been forced to use.
I have very little hope that we will get this grant but I have learned an immense amount to prepare us for the next grant release in September 2013. It’ll be much easier the second time round, now that we know what to expect from the application and the submission/application process. Ironically, the word asha in Hindi means ‘hope’. But I ask myself, ‘Is there any asha in getting the ASHA?’ Some organisations have specially appointed ASHA grant writers to do just this job, that’s how much of a beast it is. But little old me and Mungeli will bash on regardless and learn from our mistakes.
I doubt that the curse of technology on deadline days will be lifted any time soon. This deadline had everything going wrong for it so at least now I’m prepared. If you are constantly expecting bad things to happen then you are just paranoid all the time. I think when you accept (not expect) that the worst can happen, you are somehow set free.