Continental Drift

November 9, 2010

Phone Home

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 10:28 pm

Last week Dr. Diak, Adama and Dramane were sitting working around our brand spanking new conference table.  I have no idea what sparked this discussion.

“That kind of illness,” said Dr. Diak, “is hard to treat.” “It’s mental,” said Adama.  I said nothing, seeing as I was paying more attention to the printer in the corner of the room, wrestling with it to convince it not to jam and not to print child growth charts sideways.  “No,” said Dr. Diak,  “it isn’t exactly that it is psychological.  It is physiologically based with psychological symptoms.” Huh? “It is sociophisiological.  To treat it, you must be a doctor.  If it is purely psychological, you don’t need to be a doctor to treat that.  That is what psychiatrists do, and anyone can deal with that who wants to do psychological treatment.  But for this, we do treatment and psychoanalsysis.  Doctors have almost two years of courses on this.”

This discussion, though incomprehensible, seemed too perfect of a lead-in to last month’s cellphone discussions.  I couldn’t resist breaking in.  “Speaking of psychosocial maladies,” I began, “whatever happened with the cellphones?”


“Oh that,” said Diak, “it turns out it was just a rumor.”

“Ah bon?” ask Dramane and I.

“Oh yes, it turned out it was just a rumor started by Orange.”

“What?”  Of all the people to start such a rumor, Orange the cell-phone giant?

“Yes, it turns out that Malitel (rival cellphone company) had just had a promotion, and Orange was about to follow them with one of their own.  So they started the rumor.”

“Wait,” said Dramane, “doesn’t that mean it was started by Malitel, against Orange, if they were the ones who were about to have a promotion.  So that people wouldn’t call?”

“No, it was Orange.”

Staring at him, perplexed.  Makes no sense.

“You see, they knew that everyone would call their proches (those who are close to them) to warn them not to answer their phones.”

Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  Oh Orange, you know the Malian relationship with the cell phone all too well.  If there is something mostly useless to say over the phone, every single person will scrape together their last coins to find the money to buy credit to call their entire family, and everyone they know, to say it to them.

This is not restricted to cellphone disease threats. Despite the high price of credit, I am constantly bombarded by people calling just to greet.  We go through the entire greeting process, “Good afternoon.” “Hi, good afternoon.” “How are you?’ “Good” “And the family?” “They have no problems.” “And your mother?” “She has no problems.” “And your husband?” “He has no problems.” “And your young children?” “They are just fine.” (I have given up denying the existence of said husband and young children). “And you, are you doing well?” “No problems.” “And your father?” “He goes well.” “And the family?” “They are fine.” “And the nuclear family?” They have no problems.”

Then I pause, waiting for the person to say whatever their reason was for calling.

“Well,” they say, “it was just a salutation (greeting). Have a nice day.” “Amina.”

And that’s all.

Just wait, Orange, Seliba (Tabaskie) is in two weeks.  On that day, no one can even make calls, because the lines are so full (incidentally, and not coincidentally, both Orange and Malitel have major promotions on and around the day of the fete, which both allows them to profit from the calling craze and exacerbates it).   But everyone dutifully presses redial over and over again, trying to get through to their proches.  And when they do, they repeat the list of benedictions. They begin, “Fa tigi allah, Ba tigi Allah, Ce tigi Allah, Den tigi Allah, ” (I believe the translation for this bit is something like, May your father be with God, May your mother be with God, May your husband be with God, May your children be with God, insert any other family member here, on down to grandchildren), then continue on to, Allah ka san nyogon keme, (Let us celebrate 100 more years together), then add in several more general good will benedictions, and finish, finishes with “Allah ka ya fama” (May god forgive us), to which their proche is obligated to reply “Allah ka bee ya fama” (May God forgive all of us).  At which point the proche starts the whole thing again, and then you hang up as fast as you can.  It’s kind of like how you have to call every member of your family on Thanksgiving, but instead of asking how cousin Joe is doing, the conversation has to end immediately after the part where you both say “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Personally, I like Orange’s promotions.  100% bonus on my credit means that if I buy 10,000 CFA credit during a promotion ($20), that can usually last me more than a month, if I’m lucky.  Otherwise, that 10,000 CFA of credit just disappears far too quickly.  This seems to me an obvious way to deal with the credit extortion practiced by the cell phone companies.  But most people don’t have money lying around to buy a lot of credit at once, and they more often buy credit in anticipation of a particular call they are making.  They know they need to make a call, so they go out and buy 1,000 of credit.  This also means that having credit on their phones means they make calls right away to use it up.

For Malians, a bonus credit day seems to be just that, a specific day on which your credit is worth more.  Nevermind that the credit you buy continues to be worth double for months afterwards. A friend explained to me that far from seeing those 100% of bonus as a treat, he sees it as an inconvenience for the network. “Personally, I don’t like the promotions.  On those days,  everyone just makes so many calls, the network doesn’t work properly.  I don’t see the point in participating.”  Buy the credit and store it up for later? But of course not.

Anyway, to finish my summary of office life, I have to give you a scene from today’s job interviews.

For context, the newest American volunteer who arrived here is Asian-American.  This has caused somewhat of a stir on the block, as people ask me constantly about La Chinoise.  As I have dutifully explained that she is, in fact, American but she does have family that came from Korea, word has spread.  Instead of asking if she is Chinese, they now just ask, “That new toubabou, I think she looks a little bit Korean, how is she doing?”

But back to today’s moment.  We are looking for a Malian to replace some or most of my job as Action for Health Coordinator, and did several job interviews today.  Dr. Diak was giving the intro speech at the beginning, which included the eloquent welcome, a description of the program, a description of the job, and then a discussion of the things the person needs to be capable of doing.  “You see,” he finished, “we are a diverse group here, on this team. You have to be able to get along with all kinds of people.  We have a little bit of everyone here.  We are a bit black, a bit white, we are even just a touch of yellow.”


1 Comment »

  1. Priceless as always. Orange scares the hell out of me, by the way. It’s far to omnipresent and startlingly omniscient it seems!
    (Best of luck to Eugenie)

    Comment by Madeleine — November 10, 2010 @ 12:10 am | Reply

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