Back in Manitoba I was old-school. Never used a cell-phone in my life. Africa changed all that. I got my first cell phone when we lived in Nigeria, and even though I was terrible at using it there, it did come in very handy on several occasions.
With the exception of very small children, everyone I know in Africa has a cell phone, some of them more than one. The ones I am familiar with are all pay-as-you-go. There are no phone plans to go on or anything to tie you down, or have to pay for when you have no money and can’t use it. That is a good thing for the folks there, because it means virtually anyone can afford one – and in a country where the infrastructure for landlines is pretty much non-existent, this becomes very important.
But it has some major drawbacks, especially if you live out in the villages, as most of my friends do.
For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to phone one off my good friends there, and have had no success at all. Tonight I decided to fan out and try everyone else’s number that I had. Finally, after dialing the 8th number (and all these numbers are 15-16 digits remember) I reached a mutual friend in Cameroon.
This friend told me that everything is fine, except there is no service where my friend lives. I know what that is like, since I have stayed there many times.
On a good day to call someone on the phone you have to go outside under a particular tree and the reception might be pretty good. On a bad day you will have to climb a nearby hill (think small, smooth mountain) to try to get reception. On terrible days like these, there is absolutely nothing to do except go to a different town – and sometimes even that does not work.
This can be very tough on NA-Africa partnerships, where communication is crucial. But even more crucial than communication is trust (well, okay – the two need to go together . . . but you know what I mean). So when I cannot reach my friend it might be frustrating, but I know if he really needed to reach me he could go to the trouble of travelling to the next town (hire a taxi, catch a chabba, hitch a ride with a friend, call me at the right time of day, and hope there will be success at the end of the road) and get me.
Meanwhile we practise that wonderful Christian virtue of patience and trust. Trust in God, and trust in our partners.