Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bongo Series: The Cell Phone Effect

Life in Tanzania is full of inconveniences. Inconveniences, in this context, are purely from a western perspective. Let me give you an example. For the many years I have been in the United States, I have not warmed water on a stove; pour it on a bucket to take a shower. Well, while that could be a hustle if you are not used to it, it is all fine. Nobody has died in Tanzania for taking a bath from a bucket.

Despite getting used to the reality as it is, I am convinced that Tanzanians like little conveniences that technology could bring. One of them is cell phones.

Remember the story of a tractor driver who pulled up his tractor in the middle of the road? Well, the dude could have violated many traffic rules, but one thing is for sure. He was able to get whatever information he wanted instantly. I don’t know where the guy was going, but try to imagine this: what is the guy was going to pick up a load, only to find out that the owner had left two hours ago? Can you see the amount of gasoline the tractor’s owner could have burned for nothing?

So while in Iringa, this is what I encountered. We had hired a taxi to drop my host and I home. As I was leaving for Dar the next day, my host informed the taxi driver that we would like to enjoy his services the next day. What ensued were the negotiation of the taxi fare and an exchange of phone numbers. The cab was to come pick me up the next day. Deal closed.

As I watched my host interact with the taxi driver, I knew cell phones have transformed the way people live in Tanzania forever. What if the taxi driver didn’t have a cell phone? Were we supposed to walk all the way to the city center and bring back a cab to carry my luggage early in the morning?

In some ways, I am glad TTCL was horrible in offering landline services. Otherwise, Vodacom, Celtel and the entire gang wouldn’t have much to sell. Viva...err…whoever invented cell phones and brought them to Tanzania!

Photo credit: Food For Thought

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