It has taken me up till this week to get in step with the way technology works in Ghana. Cell phone conversations are fast, internet connections are slow, TV stations end their transmissions (albeit it briefly until the generator kicks on) when the lights go off in their area.
I got my first taste of the way every day technology works in Ghana when I was chatting with a dear long-lost (and now just LOST) friend the first week I was here. I hadn’t spoken to him in 3 years, and after 15 minutes into our conversation, his tone seemed harried and uncomfortable. He cut me off in the middle of what I thought was an amusing anecdote and said:
“Yeah…so we’ll link up later yeah?”
“OK!” I was a little confused and offended at being dismissed. “So when would you like to…”
“We’ll link up later. Okay. Bye-bye!”
Heh! I was fuming.
I noticed that everyone I was speaking to on the phone had abbreviated conversations with me. I was starved for company and all my “friends” were dismissing me! Why? My ‘cousin’, Ms. Naa explained it to me.
“It’s because we pay by the minute here ooo! If you don’t take time, you’ll be in the middle of the conversation, and your cell phone will just disgrace you! It will just cut off…no warning!”
“Ah…Me, I’m used to a monthly bill. I have unlimited minutes. I can talk as long as I wish.”
“No, no, no. Malaka. Here, there is a rhythm to the phone call. It goes: Hello?/Hello!/ Where are you?/I’m here!/Ok, I’m coming!/OK!/Click. Pam-pam-pam-fast! We don’t waste credits in this country.”
That explains why everyone is shouting into their cell phone and hopping into a tro-tro or quickening their pace. After forking out hundreds of cedis on credits myself, I also adapted the rhythm of the cell phone call. What they say is true – the cell phone has revolutionized the way we do things in Africa.
As for ‘technorogy’ in Ghana (shaking my head), it’s something else. I have Vodafone as my ISP while I’m here, and it’s slow as molasses on a rainy day in July. The other day I spent 5 hours trying to upload a 1 minute video to share with all of you, only to have it fail when it was 89% complete. Come and see tears! When I first got the USB drive, the lady at Vodafone very frankly informed me that I will “by all means have the internet. But I should be aware. Sometimes, the network misbehaves.” By “misbehaving”, she meant that speeds at certain times of the day will run no faster than 2.2 kbps. When I lamented about this, my Ghanaian friends on Facebook said that I should be grateful to have the internet at all! Well, after shoveling out $45 for 1 month of coverage, I would hope that I could at least Skype with my friends and family back in America! But no, it is not meant to be, and to circumvent the issue, I rise nearly every morning at 3 am to hold decent chat sessions with hubby on FB when the speeds are a ‘racing’ 15 kbps.
As for electricity, the less said the better. It will surely go off – the sooner one accepts that the better.
Ghana has a casserole of imported technological accoutrements. I saw my first Amharic and French keyboards here. It took my 10 minutes to get accustomed to their use.
Cable isn’t “cable” here either. It’s a satellite dish or DSTV. When one of my cousins moved down here, she spent many frustrating minutes trying to explain to the installation guys what was going on with her cable box.
“The box isn’t blinking,” she said for the 30th time.
“Ah, madam. What box?” they asked her for the 31st.
“The box…the box!!” she cried.
“Ahhh – You mean the decoder?” Like she was some akata (Black American) idiot.
“Yes. The decoder,” she said in surrender.
That’s the way it goes in Ghana. ofttimes, you just have to surrender. This place is Rome. You will wear your toga and eat grapes like the rest of the Romans do; never mind that it’s winter and you might freeze your balls off. Keep your (ridiculous – but very handy) wool/down jacket to yourself.