Skpe opens window on "Athens of Latin America"

BFP Magazine

Thank you Niklas Zennström

Skype opens window on "Athens of Latin America"

By Judi McLeod

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Early this morning, I heard the superb orchestra that strums in the daily dawn: the birds of Bogotá. At dusk last evening, I heard the city's children calling out to each other at play, and even the plaintive voice of a mother calling her children home for supper. It's not that I was fortunate to be in Bogotá fondly known as, "The Athens of Latin America". The sounds were coming from an open window in a modest apartment thousands of miles away.

The sounds come courtesy of Skype, a Skype that bridges the gap between the thousands of miles separating me from extended family in faraway Bogotá.

I've never met Niklas Zennström, co-founder of "the KaZaA peer-to-peer file sharing network" and "Skype peer-to-peer Internet telephony network", and likely never will.

Nor will I ever understand what is to me the technological gobbledy-gook of a DaZaA peer-to-peer network given the competition of what something called Skype did for me.

How could any of that matter when it was the genius of a Swedish entrepreneur who threw open a window and in so doing changed my life forever?

The significant other with whom I shared an 8-year-long life in Toronto was deported back to his home city of Bogotá in May of 2005.

Ernesto had never looked after his papers and after 16 years of living here, Immigration Canada finally caught up with him.

During the first year and a half after his departure, I tried to keep in touch with him courtesy of Ma Bell and telephone cards. Connections were rarely the best, and it was a frustration trying to hear what Ernesto was trying to tell me through static dominated telephone wires.

Then last February, he acquired both a web camera and a Skype to hook up to the lap computer he took home as his last Canadian Christmas present.

It was a red-letter day on the evening of Feb. 15 when Ernesto, Rodrigo and Jorge Luis, called through to Toronto on Skype with the camera on.

Not only was now possible for me to actually see the much-missed Ernesto for the first time in a year and a half, I had never seen either of his two sons other than in still photographs.

But after the initial relief of seeing someone you love after such a long lapse, it was Skype that most impressed me: There was no static and their happy voices made it seem as if they were speaking to me from across the room and not the world.

That first night an onslaught of emotions for all cut the call short.

Everyone I told thought the novelty of Skype would soon wear off for me, but it never did.

It was also Skype that made it possible for my website, Canada Free Press (CFP) to set up Bogotá pages that tell the story of life in Colombia. Ernesto start posting articles to CFP, something that would have been financially impossible—not to mention too frustrating—without the boost of Skype.

As the Bogotá pages started to grow, I was soon learning about tourist attractions and truly unique Colombian treasures like the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, built into the walls of a salt mine nearly 600 feet into a mountain in a Colombian town of some 120,000 souls.

"Winding tunnels descend into the Roman Catholic temple, passing 14 small chapels representing the stations of the cross, which illustrate the events of Jesus' last journey. ( "Benches at each station appear to be marble but are really salt. Tourists and the devout kneel on the benches, breathing in a soft smell of sulfur as they pray. Moist bits of salt flutter like snowflakes in the distances of the tunnels, while stalactites of the mineral poke out of the white and gray walls."

The mental image of a fairytale cathedral where bits of salt flutter like Northern snowflakes somehow melts the miles between Toronto and Bogotá.

These days Ernesto and Javier Eduardo are mounting a Bogotá restaurant page, complete with restaurant reviews that preview for Internet readers some of their city's finest restaurants.

None of it would have been possible without Skype.

Meanwhile, if you can't touch the hand of a loved one, then Skype is the next best thing.

To brilliant entrepreneur Niklas Zennström, thank you in two languages.

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