“Beeped” Ch 20 from Trampled Grass

ThumbCoverTGrass  A word from Curt


It’s part of our daily vocabulary in Africa.

I believe you’ll enjoy the tongue in cheek story below.


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capt 20


Have you ever been beeped? It’s a part of phone culture life in Africa.

I use a jail-broken I-phone over here. I like the way that sounds. Jail broken. I wonder if there’s a warrant out there for me. Next thing you know, I’ll be ripping the “Under penalty of law” tags off pillows.

There are no long-term phone contracts in our part of Africa. You purchase a SIM card from one of the providers (Airtel/MTN) and insert it into your phone.

Next you buy a pay-as-you-go airtime card.

They come in all sizes from 500 shillings up. (That’s about twenty cents worth.) You scratch off the code and upload your amount.

cards  Our SIM card box with phone cards for Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Africans live and die by their cell phones. I’ve not been remote enough where natives don’t have a phone. They may or may not have service (need I say, “Dry Creek, Louisiana USA”) but they’ve got a phone.

My friend Bob tells about being in rural Kenya with a Maasai cattle herder. A cell phone rang, the Maasai answered and had a conversation about the current price of cattle in Nairobi.

Another interesting thing about African phone culture is how they skipped the landline generation. Few Africans ever had a wired phone in their home or business.

One of the best visuals of how the developing world skips technology generations is taking place here in Uganda: All over the country, fiber optic cable is being laid. It’s a big step in wiring the country together.

The trenches for the cable are being dug by hand. Long lines of shirtless young men swing pickaxes as the red dirt flies.

A good trencher could cut the time in half.

And put hundreds of men out of work.

Every advancement affects a way of life, sometimes good and sometimes not.

. . . Back to African cell phones and the act called “beeping.”

Africans buy all things in small chunks. It’s their economy and lifestyle. They’ll send a child to the store after offering you tea or coffee. The errand girl will return with a few teabags and a small ziplock bag of sugar. They know that to keep a pound of coffee or box of tea bags means the neighbors will borrow it all within a week.

This also goes with purchasing fuel. Many boda boda (motorcycle taxi) rides include a stop at the station for a half litre of fuel.

And that’s how their phone airtime economy also works. Africans buy airtime by small amounts and guard it religiously.

And that’s where beeping comes in: The caller pays for the call.

The receiving party talks for free.

That’s why most of the calls I receive from Africans begin with, “Hey Bwana. This is Baki. Last night two unbelievers came to our Bible Study and”—CLICK.

I’ve been beeped.

Or rather flashed. It’s a verb over here:”He flashed me.” Or rather, I’ve been clicked: he’s hung up.

And it’s my turn to call back—on my nickel (or shilling).

My return call finds Baki relaxed and ready to talk all day. He knows the Mzungu has plenty of money because we buy airtime 20,000 shillings at a time.

That’s about $7.63 at our current rate.

I usually laugh at beeping. We Wazungu expect it, and are seldom disappointed.

I especially tip my hat to the pros at beeping. Like my friend Baki who uses the hook so well.

In writing we are taught to use the hook. It’s the beginning that hooks or captures the reader.

What are some of the best book hooks you’ve known?

My favorite is “It was the best of times and the worst of times” from Dickens’

Tale of Two Cities.One of my friends began his novel with, “For a hanging, it was a small crowd.

Especially for hanging a woman.” That’s a fine hook!

Good hooks, whether in a book, a headline, or phone beep, always make you want to know more.

My favorite African beep contains something like, “I have wonderful news . . .” —CLICK

It’s part of the cell phone culture of Africa. Well, I’m nearly out of air time so I’ll stop.

By the way, did I tell you about my first cousin who won the Texas lottery . . .CLICK.


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