Cell phones

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If you ask for someone’s contact information, you will be given a cell phone number. If you buy a ticket on the train, you will be asked for your cell phone number. Cell phones are everywhere and unlike New England there is no attempt to disguise a tower in the form of a tree or within a church steeple. And it’s easy to understand. The infrastructure you need to install is minimal. We saw towers with a fence around the base which included solar panels for power. Bingo, no transmission cables to install and maintain, no houses to wire.Most phones that we saw in the village were your basic non-smart phone variety. You can talk, you can text, you can take pictures, you can play music. The young guys working on the school would have their phones and music would be blaring out. I countered with by bluetooth speaker playing Santana, Grateful Dead and Canned Heat.

The phones are also a method of transfering money. It is so easy to walk into tiny places either in villages, towns or cities and hand bills to the merchant (the same one selling the soap or the mattress or the drinks) and then you get a message on you phone that your data has been increased or you have a certain sum. Henri, the guy we met in Okandja, was spending a lot of time making sure a message got through to his brother in Cameroun, transfering money to him. He had to try several times but eventually it did go through.

The drawback–every silver lining has a cloud–is that I haven’t seen cell phone ediquette developed, or been enforced. Taking while driving, answering the phone while inspecting travel documents, or answering and then talking on the phone in the middle of a meeting is commonplace.

But it did allow me to speak with Bernadette, our former cook in Lekila, when I was in the village. Her sister, Ambrosine, was talking with me as we were walking around the village and then hands me her phone and says it’s Bernadette calling from Libreville. All I could do is smile.  (Drew Howard)

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