Friday, September 19, 2008

The Cell Phone Blues

It’s incredible. The night we can’t sleep in our air-conditioned bedroom would turn out to be the hottest night of the year! Or at least the hottest since our arrival here two weeks ago! The first coat of oil paint went on the bedroom walls earlier yesterday, and as a result, the place absolutely reeked of paint thinner. So we spent the night on foam mattresses on the living room floor, under a ceiling fan that worked hard at trying to keep us from overheating so that at least we could get a few hours of sleep before morning. In 30 degree Celsius heat, that wasn’t easy!

Today, we went to get Kathy’s cellphone hooked up. To save the cost of having to buy two new phones here, we brought two unlocked cellphones from a former Rogers contract with us from Canada.

Burkina has a wonderful cellphone system: no contracts! This means no monthly payments and no getting locked into a 2 or 3-year jail term like we do in Canada, with hefty penalty fees for breaking the contract. Everything is pay as you go, probably a smart move in a country where most people already live on credit and cell companies will have a hard time collecting on bills anyway. So everybody has to pay up front. And recharge cards are available everywhere. Young men are selling them on virtually every street corner! At any intersection, I can simply roll down my window and buy a top-up card. How convenient is that, eh?

Competition is fierce. Four different cell companies are vying for business and offering sign-up deals right, left, and center. Consequently, many people here have two SIM cards, switching them as needed.

I got my phone going last week already, buying a SIM card from a street vendor and loading on some money for calls. However, when I went down to Zabré last week, something bizarre happened: I couldn’t get any reception there even though I was close to a cellphone tower that belonged to the company I was with. In fact, I couldn’t get any reception anywhere outside of Ouaga. We tried all the way home again, and it wasn’t until we’d entered the city limits that my phone began to show reception bars.

Today, once we put a new SIM card in Kathy’s phone, it too showed signs of limited reception. The cellphone company agent admitted this was indeed bizarre and recommended we take our phones to a cellphone repair company to see what they could do. That’s where we got the bad news: our Canadian phones work on a frequency that is somewhat different from the one they use here. Consequently, our receptivity will vary even in Ouaga, and will be non-existent outside the city. So much for our bright idea!

Well, live and learn, eh? I guess that next week, we’ll have to buy at least one local cellphone so that I can keep in touch with Kathy when I go down to the Kusassi region.

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