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Comms failure


You may be under the misapprehension that, like most other people in the developed world, I have a broadband connection at home. In fact I don’t have such easy access to the web and as far as I know, it’s not easy in Kenya (even though I live in the capital Nairobi) to get hooked up to broadband at home, although we are promised that one day technology will catch up with us and domestic broadband connections are ‘coming soon’. Most offices buildings share a wireless connection and they club together to meet the cost of an aerial. Expensive broadband connections involving dishes etc. can be justified in large office buildings when multinational companies are footing the bill. Sadly though it leaves people who are self employed, working in small offices, from home, or bored housewives (like me) with only two other options; dialling in to the web via an unreliable land line service, or connecting via your mobile phone (once you have jumped through many hoops to get your pc to ‘read’ your mobile).

Initially I relied solely on our crackly land line telephone to communicate with the outside world, but now I have the heady privilege of also being able to access the web with a cable plugged into my mobile phone, thus dialling in through my handset. The only problem is that both systems often fail me often and today it’s been both.

The landline can be working fine one minute then the next it is inexplicably ‘off’ and we are cut adrift from the outside world with no warning. Either there’s no tone at all or perhaps instead a steady deafening, crackly sound and when the phone ‘goes’ you don’t know if it will be reconnected for days, even months. Alternatively there will be a ‘bad’ line (crackly again or crossed with another - which can be interesting) which is better than nothing but not good enough to establish an online connection. In this case, the only thing for it is to drive to the local telecoms office (they are ironically seldom contactable by phone) and make a report personally in the hopes that the problem will be fixed in due course.

When you inform the relevant telecom people that your line is not working, your phone number and complaint are noted on a piece of card, which is then manually filed into a queuing system for ‘dealing with later’. The exchange itself is a poky room that is reminiscent of the set of The Matrix or some other sci-fi film. There’s a tangle of coloured wires with plugs attached to a black main frame or master board that stretches from floor to roof. If you are lucky enough to find someone inside, he’ll be sitting at a wooden desk with nothing on it but a pencil, a large ‘report’ book and an old fashioned phone handset whose number is a mystery.

Later, possibly, a man with a van and a ladder will appear somewhere in your area and do some telephone wire fixing. When you see a Kenya Telecom van on the road, it’s worth winding down your window, stopping for a chat and suggesting that he might like to swing by your address at some stage in the not too distant future. We have had copper telephone wires stolen from our road too, which I gather is quite a common problem as the copper itself holds some resale value. At the exchange office, it’s worth smiling, remaining patient, hiding your frustrations, being civil and promising cups of coffee in order to ensure the job gets done. Irate customers get nowhere or are stonewalled. Inevitably, soon after your telephone line has been fixed, you’ll be back at the phone exchange reporting the next problem within weeks or even days, especially if there happens to be some heavy rain.

When the mobile phone connection fails, you need to call to the technical division of the mobile service provider, who (if you can get through) will do some troubleshooting and hopefully may solve the problem. Between me, my mobile phone, my pc and the technician, we drew a blank today and I was advised to reinstall the software that enables my computer to talk to my phone…. (I think I’ve lost the relevant disk).

All this, combined with daily unpredictable power cuts, conspire to drive me insane on most normal days. So now, I’m posting this via my husband’s computer and his mobile phone. I hope it works.

Please note - to anyone in the western world; please understand that blogging from Africa requires quite some patience and tenacity, though I do love it and the odd comment that I get always makes it feel worthwhile…thanks for reading…

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