How I fixed my development computer when I lived in a very rural area in Bolivia

As I’m writing this, I’m in San Ignacio De Velasco, a small town in a rural area in the Santa Cruz state in Bolivia, which is located in the east lowland of the country. My job here is to teach “IT” to the kids in the school. Some of them have never used a personal computer before and have a background of poverty.

Since I’m a software developer, of course I brought my “mobile workstation” with me. It is my daily work and communication tool, and I also write some code now and then. It’s a Lenovo ThinkPad W510 with an Intel i7! At that time that was a high end machine. Even though I use this computer since about four years on a daily basis, I never had any issues and I’m very happy with it.

However, in November 2014 it stopped working. In fact, it stopped charging the battery correctly – it only charged very slowly and sometimes not at all. After a few days, it completely stopped charging and I couldn’t power it on since the battery was empty.

Looks like the charger broke. This is where my almost four month long journey to fix my laptop begins.

Step 1 – The Electrician From The Neighborhood

For an electrician, it shouldn’t be a problem to fix a charger, or at least to narrow down the problem. I went to the nearest one, he is located a few minutes from my house. You have to imagine the average electrician in Bolivia like this: They work in a room full of broken TVs, screens, motherboards, speakers and all kinds of stuff. They keep that stuff in their workshops to recycle parts if required. Of course, there also exist very well equipped and professional electricians.

This electrician didn’t really find the problem. He opened the charger by using a knife and soldered around on it. I was afraid he was breaking something. He also changed the charger’s connector (that one you use to connect it to the laptop).

After about 90 minutes of brute-forcing my charger without any success, it was evident that he couldn’t find the problem.

Step 2 – The town’s best electrician

My friend recommended me another electrician in the town. His office had a lot of room and you could actually walk around in it. It was like a real office. He made a quite professional impression. He measured the voltage output of my charger and after 2 minutes he came to the conclusion, that the charger works perfectly and that the problem is the computer’s mainboard. However, he couldn’t fix that since he did not have the equipment to do it. But he gave me the direction of a company in Santa Cruz de la Sierra who might be able to fix it. Great!

Step 3 – Santa Cruz de la Sierra

A week later, I took a 10 hour trip to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and brought my laptop to a company which is located in the second ring in a pretty modern building. This company made a good impression and is working, other than the small electricians in the rural areas, with “western standards”. They told me, they will try to fix the mainboard and will contact me within 7 days. If they’d not be able to fix it, I wouldn’t have to pay anything. If they could fix it, it’d be 160$, which i was very happy to pay.

However, two weeks passed without them contacting me, so I called them. Nobody answered the phone, but I left a voice message asking asking to contact me.

A month passed. Nothing. Two Months passed. Nothing. End of january 2015, still no news.

At this point I felt confident that they took my laptop and sold it, even though they made such a good impression. All of my bolivian friends told me the same: “Haha! Forget that computer, it’s gone!”

The showdown in Santa Cruz

At February 2nd, I traveled to Santa Cruz to visit some authorities and look for my laptop.

I entered the company’s building and the employee that took my laptop was there. I showed him my contract and he showed me some laptops in a secured glass locker. My laptop was there!

My laptop was fixed

He even took a few minutes to clean my laptop. After giving them the money and signing some papers (I also had 2 months of warranty in case my laptop stopped working), I told the guy that he made my day. When I asked him why they didn’t contact me, he replied “Hmmm, this was a really difficult one. We fixed it last Wednesday…”