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Off Beat: Technology makes phoning home a lot easier for Americans abroad

The Columbian
Published: April 4, 2011, 12:00am

Americans living overseas can remain connected with friends and family, even during some challenging circumstances.

After the recent catastrophe, several local people working in Japan were able to call home via wireless phone or contact family and friends through the Internet to share their experiences.

Contrast that with people who were part of another recent international story, the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

Mike Waite was featured in The Columbian’s story about former Peace Corps volunteers. Mike and his wife, Mary Lynn, worked in Liberia for almost two years during the 1970s.

“Mary Lynn and I made one phone call home, to her family,” Waite said.

To make sure her family would be home to answer the phone, “We wrote a letter, weeks before, telling them the time we were planning to call.”

Mike and Mary Lynn, who died in 2001, went to the capital of Monrovia to place the call.

“There were only one or two places you could go,” he said.

The new generation of telecommunications technology hasn’t solved all of Waite’s long-distance issues. Old friends in Liberia now tend to call him at 3 a.m.

“I always need to have paper and a pen handy,” he explained. “I take their number and call them right back, because I have more money” to make a call.

A-fort-able travel

Richard Rystrom, another former Peace Corps volunteer, described promoting tourism in the ancient Ukrainian fortress of Kamyanets-Podilsky.

Just before The Columbian’s package ran, the Washington Post carried a travel story about the “enchanting” city of Kamyanets-Podilsky

He couldn’t take credit for the Post’s plug, Rystrom said, but he was glad to see it.

John Pancake’s Post piece noted that if any place needed fortresses, it was Ukraine.

“Scythian, Mongol, Tartar, Cossack, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Lithuanian, Austrian, Hungarian, Swedish, English, Greek and German armies have all come this way,” he wrote.

Which explains a joke one of the locals told Rystrom:

A visitor strikes up a conversation with an elderly Ukrainian, who recites an extensive list of countries where he’s lived in his long and eventful life.

You sure must have moved a lot, the traveler said.

“No,” said the Ukrainian, “Same house.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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