When I returned home from my travels, the last thing I felt comfortable with was spending money on “stuff.” After 9 months of traveling carrying only the items in a big backpack I got accustomed to living very simply.
I had set up with the intention of using technology less = no cell phone- but quickly learned cell phones would prove a crucial connection to my local environment as well as my friends and family far away. I didn’t foresee cell phones (mobile phones) being everywhere in Africa, though that was shortsightedness on my part. Land line phones never took off in Africa though you could find tables or small little rooms with land line access in the middle of a village or town, where folks could pay per land line call to the individual who owned the phone. The equivalent of pay phones, (which are hard to come by these days) yet they’re not permanent structures.
Mobile phones are another story. Everyone has one. Owning the newest phone is a status symbol. In the States, its the same story. Yet I was surprised, young African women and men may not have much and yet clothes, shoes and phones were something of great pride. A way to symbolize what they have or what they have access to.
When I gave in and bought a phone my second week in Tanzania, I went for the least expensive. All I needed was a phone to make and receive calls and sent text messages. Mine was such an old model, it didn’t even have an alarm clock. Oops. Locals laughed at me. “that phone is from 6 years ago.” An alarm clock seems trivial but I figured it necessary so I returned the phone and got a slight upgrade. Locals didn’t understand why I wasn’t buying the nicest or the best phone. “you do have money,” they asked but they couldn’t quite understand my decision.
In a culture of symbolism, I didn’t fit the bill.
I used a basic blue siemens phone for 9 months… no bells and whistles but it did the job.
I had a nice pink flip cell phone before I left but realized when I returned it was practically obsolete on my return because it was a Sprint phone and therefore didn’t have a removal SIM card. I refused to be on another contract with a phone company and despised the idea of purchasing another phone that could only be used with a specific carrier.
It’s no surprise then, when I refused to buy a new phone and asked friends if they had an old phone lying around. sure enough, someone had one.
It was an old Nokia similar to one I had 4 or 5 years ago and yet I get compliments all the time saying, “thats one of the best phones I had.” Occassionally I’d feel slightly funny about such a beat up phone but it does the job until today… a few too many drops causes a phone to stop turning on.
I found another old Nokia but I’m kinda feeling ready for something new. A year being home spending money feels a little easier to do.