Wait, Life was Supposed to Stop While I was Away

Did you not get the memo? That’s the problem with having some connectivity in a developing country. You get a small glimpse into the fact that life is moving forward without you, but just when you want to engage with folks back home the power goes out and cuts your wi-fi signal or the four bars you had on your cell phone all of a sudden say “no service” and you haven’t even moved.

I know I shouldn’t be complaining. I remember vividly having to walk 4 km to call home 25 years ago once a month, but there are times here when the connection gods are smiling down on you (like on top of a mountain) and you are able to feel like you are only a state or two away. The fact that I can text regularly and even video chat occasionally via WhatsApp is still pretty amazing to me. But try to upload a few photos to WordPress or a short video to Instagram and you are asking way too much.

I keep trying to find logic in a system where there is none. Most Tanzanians have cell phones. As with most developing countries, they just bypassed land lines and home computers and went straight to cell phones. To get connectivity here you have to buy m-pesa, mobile money you can use to buy minutes and data. On the mainland there is a stall or store selling Vodacom m-pesa every few feet. In Jambiani, the small village I’m currently in on Zanzibar, the most I could find was three 1,000 shillings cards (a little more than a 1 US dollar). So earlier this week I hopped on the daladala (local small bus- really a carvan or a truck with an extended cab with small benches on the side) and ventured into the next town about 10 km away to purchase 20,000 shillings worth of m-pesa. 

But once you purchase it that is only the start. You then have to use a coin to scrap off the gray paint covering the code. You text that into the phone and the credit is applied to your account. Once the credit is applied you then have to decide whether you want to purchase texting, calls or internet. I’ve been sticking with internet but from there you have to decide whether you want to buy 3 days, 7 days or a month and how many MBs. If you don’t use up the allotment it is gone after the period is up. You do all of this through a series of text responses. You have no way of knowing really how much you are using unless you text for a balance regularly and do the math yourself.

The other frustration I think has more to do with the speed of the tablet sometimes than the actual speed of the wi-fi connection (as I am watching Word slowly type out the letters I’m punching into the keyboard). Searching for a hotel or posting a blog can take hours and result in absolutely no progress. I’m actually a somewhat patience person but the technology challenges have definitely pushed my buttons here.

I’ll have to contemplate my first world expectations and why I’m even having them when I’m supposed to be checking out this afternoon while I’m lounging on the beach and looking at this view.

High tide

The solution though really, is if all the nieces and nephews would stop doing neat new things and all of you stopped enjoying summer vacations. You can all just live vicariously through me until I return. Once I return, all of you can go on with life, give me a new niece or nephew, move across the country, get new jobs, get sick, etc. Until then, just stop moving forward without me.  Just kidding (but not really).

Anyway, this is just a long way of saying I miss all of you and giving you a glimpse into my life in Africa. Despite my complaining, keep me posted. I really do want to hear about all the new developments in your lives.

3 thoughts on “Wait, Life was Supposed to Stop While I was Away”

  1. Here in climatically sweltering and politically fetid DC, I am living up to your admonishment that we stop moving forward. In fact with a heat index of 102 and a twitter account (that I’ve only used once in 5 years to ask why KLM had given away our seats), I’m barely moving in any direction. You’re welcome! I love the blog posts and hope you’ll keep writing and making your world come alive for us. As for your statement about being “a somewhat patience person” I think you should probably let your family and friends vote on that! 🙂


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