My village diary – 8: “The priest’s car broke down, he called me to go rescue him”

June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011

Cellphone communication in a remote village in south eastern Kenya – 8

1. Last sunday there was a special mass celebration at the parish. One of my neighbors, a priest, had come back to the village to attend the ceremony. His car wouldn’t start. other priests and the congregation were waiting for him in the church. He called my father to drive over to help restart his car battery. Now I know why the mass was 1 h0ur and 42 minutes late!

2. When my brother comes back to the village, from Nairobi, late on weekends, he calls bodaboda operator to pick him up at the market and drop him home (bodaboda is slang for local taxis-motorbikes)

3. last night my father called my brother-in-law in south Africa, just to say hello. It costs 3 shillings per minute. Its costs the same to call canada and USA.

4. The parish secretary called my father yesterday to inform him that the priest has called for a leaders meeting in two weeks. He wanted to meet up to plan for the meeting.

5. My friend susana, ( the village development coordinator) called me last night, to remind me that we have a community meeting tomorrow to discuss the village water project.

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My village diary – 7: MP proposes ban on local languages

June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011

Yesterday in parliament a MP proposed ban of all local ethnic languages in Kenya’s public offices. He argued that such languages fuel ethnicity (tribalism), a chronic problem that has existed in the country for many years. There are over 40 ethic languages spoken in the country. English and swahili are the official and national languages.

Am not sure what to think of this proposal, probably he has a point, I’ll be keen to follow the debate…

My Village diary-6: I called my sister to reload my internet connection

June 2, 2011

June 2, 2011

Cellphones communication in a remote village in south eastern Kenya -6

Last night I ran out of “credit” for internet connection. The shops here in the village were already closed.  I called my sister in Nairobi and asked her to sambasa (slang for share) some of her credit  to my cellphone. Within minutes I received a text message from the cellphone service provider – safaricom-informing me that I had received credit worth 250 shillings. I then text the word “activate” to 442. I received another text message informing me that I had purchased 80 megabites of internet connection. (250 shillings is worth 40 megabites. But the company is currently promoting special offers – double the no. of megabites purchased.)

The entire transaction lasted less than ten minutes, via cellphone. I was back on the net, checked emails and blogged about “my village diary”….

My village diary -5: I traced my father’s wooden box via my cellphone

June 2, 2011

Cellphones communication in a remote village in south eastern Kenya -5

I enjoy listening to my father’s stories about his school life. The other day, I wanted to know what subjects he studied at intermediate school. He said they studied history, geography, english, math and art and craft. For the art and craft final exam, they were required to make a wooden craft of their choice.

 “I made a wooden box (a suitcase). It was perfect. I passed the exam with flying colors!”

“So what happened to the box” I asked him…

 “I used it in high school and in college. And when I graduated as a teacher in college, I was posted to a school far away. I packed all my belongings  in the box and went to the school to start a new life. A year later mom was also posted to the school as a new graduate teacher. It is there where we met, wedded a year later”

“Okay, lets stay focused on the wooden box for now, we’ll talk about you and mom another time,” I said

“Where is it?” I asked.  “I don’t know, it must be somewhere in the house, haven’t you seen it all these years? I have had it for decades!”

 Indeed I recall seeing it in their bedroom many years ago, but I never paid attention. We looked for it everywhere in the house but didn’t find it. Then Kyalo remembered that one of my cousins had borrowed it to use in high school for four years. Later another cousin borrowed it for another four years.

“Did she return it after finishing school?” I asked.

“I don’t think so” said Kyalo.

 I then called my uncle to find out where the box was. He said he was going to call the wife to check at their house. He called me back few minutes later, they had the box.

“I want it” I demanded, “it was dad’s special school project. He has had it for decades. I want to inherit it, when can I have it?”.

He said he was planning to come visit dad in two weeks time. He will bring it then. I will have left the village. Dad promised to keep it safe for me. He will take a photo of the box, with his cellphone, and text it to me….

My village diary – 4 “My uncle calls me before driving from Nairobi to check the condition of the roads”

June 1, 2011

Cellphones communication in a remote village in South eastern Kenya – 4

I  had evening tea with my cousin Muendo and my adopted brother Kyalo. They both graduated from high school last December. (Kyalo is my neighbor’s son. He moved in with dad 10 years ago, after mom passed on,  to take care of dad and keep him company while we were away. He has become part of the family, our brother).

“So boys, how did exams go?” I demanded.

 Both were disinterested in this conversation, instead they were  “glued” on their cellphones. They dismissed my question, mumbled a few inconsistencies and stayed hooked on their cellphones.

“Okay boys, lets talk about cellphones,” I changed the conversation. They all jumped in the conversation, as if competing for talking time!

“How did you afford to buy the phones and yet you’re not working?” I asked

Muendo said “One of my Bestes (slang for friends) sold it to me for 1000 shillings. I paid half, I will pay the rest slowly”

Kyalo said “It is a gift from my uncle”

Me: “So how do you afford credit (calling units)”
Kyalo: “I don’t call, my uncles and cousins in Nairobi call me to find out how we are” Sometimes I buy credit for 10 bob (slag for shillings) to text my friends.

Me: How much does one sms cost? 

One bob (One shilling), said kyalo. (1 Canadian dollar = 85 shillings. You can do the math!)

Me: Okay, so how else do you use the cellphones?
Muendo: “Sometimes when it is raining uncle calls me to find out if the roads are good, if other vehicles are passing through the mudroads and also to check how grandpa and grandpa are doing”.

He goes on: “I also use the cellphone to chat with ma beste (friends)”

Me: “To chat with ma beste or chicks? (We still call girlfriends chicks in this part of the world!)

They both burst out laughing…

Me: Okay, how else do you use the phones?

Kyalo: “We also use the cellphones to download music– audio and video. We enjoy listening to music.

How does that work? I ask

Muendo: “If your cellphone has blue tooth like mine (he has a blackberry) you can download as many songs as you want for free. You can also buy a memory card to save the music.

I don’t get it, I said!

They both laughed at me!

It was getting dark and Muendo had to leave. I said to them “this sounds sophisticated to me, let us continue with the conversation when I come to visit grand pa and grand ma on Sunday”.

And with that, Muendo left and Kyalo escorted him. They illuminated the pathway with their cellphones. As I watched them disappear in the darkness, with their cellphones flickering away, I thought to myself, wow, these cellphones are indeed multipurpose. They come in handy in a variety of situations….

My village diary 3- “She called her son for the last time”

June 1, 2011

June 1, 2011

Cellphone communication in a remote village in south eastern Kenya-3

My neighbor, Zipporah, dropped by the other day to say hello. I asked her what happened to our neighbor Mary, who passed on early this year. She looked away, far away, in deep silence, for a while…

Choking in a low voice, she shook her head and started narrating  the sad demise of our dear neighbor…

“Mary had been sick for a while. One Saturday evening she and I went to a neighbor’s home for a community development meeting. That day she was really unwell but she came along anyway. After the meeting we passed by the kiosk and she bought some medicines”

I asked her what kind of medicines she bought. she said she didn’t ask then she continued….

“I escorted Mary home, she phoned the son in Nairobi to let him know she was feeling unwell” She then went to sleep and I went home. Mary’s husband later told us that she did not sleep that night. She had intense pain all over her body. He called a neighbor who has a pickup truck to rush her to the hospital. Before she was taken to the hospital, she phoned her son one more time and asked him to come home. That was the last time they talked. She died on the way to the hospital….”

Zipporah went silent again, I didn’t ask anything else, I bid her good night…..

My Village Diary 2 – “I used my cellphone to inform my neighbor that my wife was very ill”

May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011

Using cellphones in a small village in south eastern Kenya…

The story of Musyoki

Last Saturday, I invited my neighbor, Musyoki, over for lunch to catch up but mostly to hear about his late wife and brother. Musyoki’s mother was our nanny who took care of me and my siblings when we were growing up here in the village. He told me that his wife, Safina, had been ill for a while. “They said she was diabetic.” When I saw her last May, she looked fine but she told me she was unwell. I never knew that was the last time I would see her.

This is what musyoki told me about the death of Safina:

 “One day I came home from work and found her seriously ill in bed. She asked me to give her water to drink. I gave her and then I called my friend in the market and asked him to loan me some money to buy my wife some glucose and orange juice. When I came back, my wife’s condition had  deteriorated. At 5 AM the following day, I phoned my friend and asked him to call a bodaboda (local motorbike taxi) to rush her to the hospital. My friend phoned the bodaboda and we rushed my wife to the hospital. She was treated and admitted in the hospital for three days. Unfortunately her condition got worse and on the third day she died. I was there when she died. I had gone to the hospital early in the morning to give her some porridge. But she was too weak to drink .  She died in my hands. I covered her and went to call the doctor. I immediately phoned my neighbor to tell him the bad news. My neighbor then phoned other neighbours and family and mobilized them for funeral arrangements. When I went to the hospital to collect my wife’s body, they refused to release her because I owed the hospital a fee of 1200 kenya shillings (about 13 Canadian dollars). I phoned my friend and asked him to loan me some money to pay the hospital and for funeral arrangements. Another neighbor who heard about the death phoned me, and he offered to buy the coffin. I was very happy. With the help of the neighbours we managed to organize a decent funeral for my wife. I miss her very much”

My wife phoned me and asked me to come home immediately

I asked Musyoki to tell me about his late brother. His brother had “disappeared” for 20 years. He left the village in search of a job and came back home after 20 years, very ill. This is what Musyoki told me:

“I was at work, one day. My boss told me that my wife had called him and asked him to let me go home immediately because something urgent and important had happened. My boss gave me some money and allowed me to go home for two days. I left at 5 a.m and by 6 a.m When I arrived home I found my wife waiting for me outside, she told me she had very good news, my brother who had disappeared for 20 years, had returned home. I couldn’t believe it. I went to the bedroom and I woke him up. He was the one, my own brother. I was shocked but very happy. My wife made some tea and we all sat and had brieakfast together.

What did he tell you? I asked…

“He told me that when he left home he found a job at a farm. After 5 years he found another job in Nairobi. While in Nairobi, he met a woman with whome they moved from the city to another village. They lived together and had 2 children. The wife refused him from coming back home. After many years he became ill and started thinking about home. He hid from the wife and ran away. He took a matatu (public bus) and came to machakos (a town about 50kilometres from our village). He did not have money so he was stranded at the bus station. A neighbor noticed him and offered to pay for him and bring him home. When they arrived at the local market they phoned other neighbours who gathered and brought my brother home. I was very happy to be reunited with him after many years. But after a few months, he died of the illness. I phoned my neighbours and they supported me to make the funeral arrangements.

I listened to these two sad stories and consoled Musyoki. I assured him that I shared his grief and that I will be there for him and always pray for him. Then I wanted to know how he his doing these days and what he is up to. He told me life goes on and that he had some good news to tell me. I asked him to share the good news…

 I felt alone and lonely, I phoned my cousin and she organized a date for me…”!”

“After my wife and my brother left me, I felt alone, lonely and afraid. (His mother – our nanny- died 6 years ago and his father and other siblings died several years ago).  One day I phoned my cousin and told her to find for me a girlfriend. She arranged for me to meet her friend. I saw her and fell for her. We exchanged phone numbers, continued calling and meeting. One Sunday evening, two months ago, she phoned me and told me she was coming home. I thought she was coming to visit as usual, but she brought her suitcase, she moved in! I did not have breakfast  and I did not want her to know I was broke, So I excused my self and walked afew metres frrm home to call my friend for a small loan. He understood my situation so he brought me some money immediately. Early in the morning, I went to the market and bought sugar, tea and bread for breakfast. My new love was impressed. I thank God that I phoned my friend and he helped me….”

I congratulated Musyoki and we had a long laugh…

My Village diary – cellphone communication in a village in Kenya

May 30, 2011

May 30, 2011

I am in a remote village-Kandula- on the hills of mbooni, south eastern Kenya. Am here on vacation, to visit family and reconnect with the village folks. Life here is pretty much laid back, nothing much to do, so I have time to blog. I have a netbook, wireless internet connection, a camera and a cellphone. These gadgets are unnecessary while on vacation but I need to stay connected to share stories from the village. I am particularly curious to find out how village folks are using cellphones – literally every household has a cellphone – and what social changes and trends are emerging here in the village, if any, due to the increasing use of cellphone. I want to do a random research – none scientiefic – just by observing and listening to stories on how cellphones are being used here in the village. I will also share my own experience on how I am using my local cellphone.

I used the cellphone to find out about the possibility of re-charging my netbook at the local market.

My netbook battery lasts 2hours. There is no electricity in my father’s house. He uses solar operated battery for lighting and to run the radio and TV. The battery and solar panels he is using are not big enough to generate enough power to charge extra electronic gadgets. There is electricity in the local market, about 1.5 kilometers away. I therefore bring the netbook to the market for recharge at 25 cts.

My first phone call today was to a friend who owns a shop there. I wanted to find out if the power was back since there was a blackout most of yesterday. It was back so my father took the netbook for recharge.

I used my cellphone to catch up with 90-year-old grandpa

 My second phone call was to my 90-year old grandpa. He has had the cellphone for 3 years now. I wanted to inform him that I was around and I will visit him before I head back to the city. I also chatted with grandma who is eager to see me. Though it was not a face-to-face communication, it was a great way of re-connecting since last vacation – last May.

I also phoned a neighbor who manages several community development projects here in the village. I wanted to let her know that I am around and would like to meet her to discuss the village projects.

My father phoned a neighbor today to let him know that a pipe supplying water to his home was broken and that it was going to be repaired and water would be supplied later in the day. The water project is owned and sustained by the local community with little support from the government. Friends of mine also supported the project by supplying pipes to the various homesteads in the village. The water is pumped from the central tank every once or twice a week to the homesteads where it is stored in tanks for home use. Usually, the village folks are informed via cellphones when the water will be supplied or incase of breakages in the piping system.

Connecting with family and friends in the city

 My brother who works in the city (Nairobi), is also here in the village on vacation. He phoned his boss today to discuss work.

My brother has also been calling everyday to check on his daughter and his wife.

I used my cellphone to buy chicken!

Yesterday I needed to buy chicken, so I informed a neighbor who then phoned another neighbor and he brought over the chicken to negotiate for the price. I bargained and settled on a good price!

This morning my brother also phoned a newspaper vendor in the local market to find out if the daily newspapers had been delivered from the city. He ordered for one and picked it later in the day

Using cellphone to mobilize support in times of need or grief

Yesterday I was chatting with another neighbor about the loss of his wife and his brother. He mentioned how he used the cellphone to inform neighbours and friends and to mobilize for support and to make arrangements for their funerals. I will blog about it tomorrow…may be!

Remember vacations back in the day before social networking?

January 10, 2011

On the plane to San Francisco last week, I read this interesting article about social networking and travel in my favorite magazine – National Geographic’s Traveler. The author, Christopher Elliott, argues that tech gadgets are ruining our vacations and trivializing travel into “fleeting and forgettable entertainment.”! By the time I left the plane, i had psyched myself into keeping my cell phone  off. But that didn’ last long! With the excitement and the thrill of experiencing the city for the first time, i couldn’t resist the craving madness of  facebooking, googling, emailing, photosharing the trip via my cell. It was on 24-7!! Without a doubt, I missed some delights  both in San Francisco and LA as I  kept on documenting the trip from one gadget to the other, and from one network to  the other.  At the end of the trip I promised myself that I will switch off the phone and fully immerse myself in the next destination.  This is one of my new year resolutions.
Well, it remains to be seen but I am inspired!!
Read on, you may find an interesting tip before your next travel:
Savor the Trip, Don’t Tweet It

Rocket Radar, Toronto’s new app

January 5, 2011

Toronto’s techie, Adam Schwabe, has launched a new app for streetcar enthusiasts to determine arrival schedules. Rocket Radar (I love the name!!) launched Dec 29, is the latest app for iPhones that quickly tells users when the next few streetcars will arrive at their stop.
Read about it in today’s Toronto Star…


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