• Saara & Ozzy

Expect the unexpected. Part 1: Connection issues

I lost Ozzy.

Literally he was MIA for almost a week. But I knew it would happen at some point. And I know that reasons for connection issues can be various. And most of those reasons are something a person living in the western world can have a hard time understanding. Even I tend to forget these when I am not physically on the continent of Africa. Let me list few reasons that come to mind...

She found me! I'm glad Saara understands that there are things that can happen here that would make anyone imagine the worst. As I will explain somewhere, mine was largely a "technical hitch".

Saara and our another brother connecting (clearly not to each others) in Arusha, Tanzania 2014.

Reason 1: Phone got stolen or broken

When this happens it is shit. Especially if your pockets are empty and you cannot afford getting a new one right away. In Finland when this happens, you just walk into a shop, point to which phone you want, get it right away and worry about paying for it later with instalments etc. In Kenya… Not an option.

Get a phone from the shop with credit?!?! Yes, that is definitely not an option here. My phone went missing few months ago and for the great need to get back "on air" I procured a simple second hand device from a friend. I use my phone to write these posts and access the internet. For some reason, it just decided to hang and play dead. Also it has very low memory, so I am lucky to store 15mb size of data. I get it, it's a used phone.

If your phone gets lost or stolen you could get worse chances by buying new fake ones that sprawl most phone shops here. Also don't buy a used phone off the street. I guarantee you that it was stolen and you're risking being arrested for being an accomplice or the actual thief.

Reason 2: No or bad Internet

You can run out of the internet. I did not know that is even possible until I moved to Tanzania and learned that internet is bought with Mbs and once the Mbs or time you bought are done you are offline. Until you can buy more Mbs. Sometimes you cannot because you don’t have the money. Sometimes you cannot because no shops are open. Sometimes you cannot because it has been raining like crazy and all the roads leading to your house are full mud where you cannot drive or walk (true story).

The common misconception of “Africa'' is that there is no internet. Many first time “Africa visitors” are genuinely and quite adorably surprised to enter e.g. Nairobi and find everyone with a smart phone and 4G connection. This is true in towns and cities. But maybe Ozzy went to a village? There you might have to walk to a certain spot and hold your phone a bit higher to get clear internet connection to go online (another true story). This might happen in Finland in THE most remote places in the middle of wilderness. Or on a very rare occasions the network provider has a problem. This has happened one time during the 3 years I have been back in Finland.

In general the limits of Internet are seriously hard to comprehend when living in the land of unlimited 5G in every corner topped with free wifi even in public transportation of Helsinki City.

We have a solution called cyber cafes. These are shops where there is a desktop computer provided and you could sit and access the internet from an ethernet cable attached to the device or even simply use your laptop and access a remote wireless connection all at minute by minute fee. In my city, all of the above options are available.

It is the dynamics that play out what makes things a bit different. Here internet is not “a right”. It’s necessary and it helps a lot, but life is absolutely “normal” without it. But on the flipside, there is a lot more social traffic in new (social) media as well as capital investment in e-commerce in the last ten years. I can’t say this loud enough: Africa is the place to watch, I assure you.

Reason 3: No electricity

Yeah you can also run out of electricity if you forget to buy units. Or sometimes there is no electricity or it goes on and off and you manage to always miss the “electricity hours” to charge your electronics. This “catch me if you can” game can go on for days on certain areas where electricity is not stable (yet again, true story).

Most of the time no one cares to explain why. Oh, sorry there's no one to ask. Just curious do you get black outs in Finland?

There was one recently in Eastern Helsinki area due to cold weather (-24°C). About 20 000 people were without electricity for about 1-2h. This made it to the headlines and people were coming through phone lines to the electricity company immediately. The problem was fixed before anyone had time to freeze to death. Sometimes during big storms a tree might fall and chop the electricity lines. These are always fixed asap. And we make sure to make an angry phone call to someone right away. Electricity is always present just like air and water. (Yeah we don’t have water issues either, lets talk about that another time.)

Reason 4: No charger

“Finders keepers” mentality with chargers makes it very easy to find yourself without one. I lost count on how many chargers went to new homes after borrowing it to someone. There is no point to get mad about it and go all “you stole my charger!” type of behaviour. My solution was to start acting with this mentality myself. Sometimes the charger I “lost” a month ago found its way back to me eventually. So eventually Ozzy will find a charger.

Haven't found one yet but most devices here have the similar charging ports and the next person is always kind enough to borrow theirs lest the have the same predicament sometime.

Hmm… Interesting. So no one has ever walked away with your charger after you borrowed it to them? I’m starting to think this has been another “she is mzungu (foreigner), she can afford another one” type of mentality then….

Reasons 5 to infinite: Something else

One time I lost my phone because the neighbour's cow went into labour and he had to help and it took longer than he thought. What, why? I don’t get it. No wonder you did not, that was a typo. I lost my friend, not my phone. He had to help the neighbour to pull out a calf in a breech position and obviously could not start texting me in between that I should not wait for him.

Another time I could not reach my boyfriend for days because he and his friend were put in jail for not having any money to give to the police officers who stopped them. One time my own phone dropped from the back pocket while squatting in the toilet and it was full of… you know what. There was also a time a bus broke down in the middle of nowhere and it took several days before my colleagues reached back to town to find a place to charge phones.

Apart from bad network, no electricity or bad devices or even internet issues... Some people here just enjoy a life without smartphones. There's lots of others who are quite content with simple GSM phones. For them life is much simpler and easier in their space that is without "modern distractions". Hey, to each his own. Right?

Well, people in Finland have started taking intentionally “time off” from social media or locking away their smartphones to take a break from being connected. And here a concept of limiting “screen time” is familiar in every single family with children. Cause even kids have smartphones and parents need to set limits on how much time they spend on being online.

Sometimes it is good not to be available and connected all the time. And even better it is to not go crazy when someone does not answer you immediately. (Note to self!)

--- Saara ---

--- Ozzy ---


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