Sunday, July 18, 2004

Yak farmers yak it up

Did you see where a local teacher educated at the University of Nebraska recently set up a Wi-Fi network in Nepal for yak farmers? Apparently, the yak farmers’ huts are two days walk from the yak herd-- the minimum safe down-wind distance. Yak farmers now use the so-called YakNet to trade veterinary tips, buy and sell yak, and email orders for takeout pizza. Farmer Puntun regards the new technology with awe, “I just like the word Wi-Fi—it sounds a lot like Hi-Fi.” Another farmer was less impressed, stating: “Wi-Fi, Schmi-Fi. I still have two days walk to the yak. I try to trade for bicycle but college boy says YakNet much better.”

MCI marketers didn’t want to miss out on this wonderful wireless PR opportunity and back-packing boondoggle. They are equipping farmers with the latest AT&T cell phones, including 10 free minutes per month*. The farmers are appreciative, but some wish a game better than ‘snake’ was included with their phones. Others are just thankful they weren’t given a Nokia nGage. “What a piece of crap that thing is,” said one.

The new technology has also improved health care, making the annual Running of the Yaks through Kathmandu a safer event. Using YakNet, gored runners are able to report they need medicine, blood, and common sense. Of course it takes five days for Nepal Trauma 1--a two-wheeled cart pulled by a yak named Speedy—to get there.

Yak farmers are also using the Wi-Fi network to trade vet tips. As one farmer explained, “Before I had YakNet, if one of my yaks started bellowing in the night, I would shoot him so I could get some sleep. Now I know from emailing the other farmers the yak probably just had an ear infection. I still shoot him, but I no longer wonder what was wrong. Knowledge provides great warmth during the cold Himalayan nights.”

YakNet, by connecting with the Internet, has opened up international markets for yak farmers. NYC restaurants are especially excited about overnighting yak steaks for their customers bored with buffalo, snail darters, and whale sushi. McDonalds recently announced they would design a healthy alternative to their famous Big Mac. “The Big Mac-Yak is a great new product that fits well with our new low-cal, low-fat approach to fast food. Yak tastes a lot like dirt, which is important to the credibility of health food…if it tasted good no one could enjoy eating it.” Demand is so high a new yak stock exchange was created. Hillary Clinton, showing she still has the Midas touch, made $100,000 on yak futures within the first week.

When confronted with the cultural and dietary pollution their project has introduced to Nepal, the original Wi-Fi proponents remain optimistic. “We have launched a new web site describing the dangers of Freedom Fries and Coca-Cola. We are also creating an interactive Flash movie that seeks to preserve Nepal’s history and culture using gigabytes of audio and video clips. Without technology, these precious artifacts would be lost forever.”

*Nights and weekends only. Other restrictions may apply.