“Sorry about being a moody, irritable, asshole this afternoon” I say sheepishly to Kate as she leans against the kitchen counter. What I don’t say, but could have was “sorry for being myself.”
Yep, you were having a moment in there. I had to get up and leave.”
I had been fighting the battle, the ongoing Jared vs technology vs attitude battle for quite some time. My first ever smartphone had been acquired in a corner store in Arusha, TZ barely five weeks before. The system of vouchers that was used by the telecoms to purchase and boost data, text, and voice minutes was pretty new to me. My initial purchase, with the help of Sulley, of several thousand schillings seemed to work fine for quite some time. It tided me over from the pre-briefing time through the post course days and on to the island of Zanzibar. Somewhere in there though, I ran out and didn’t have the resources to re-up the data i.e. the stores in Jambiani weren’t THAT well stocked. Once back in Stone Town however I got some vouchers and tried to interpret the Swahili menu. I must have fucked it up, or at least misunderstood the way the system worked. The 10,000 schillings disappeared quickly and left me high and dry by the time I got to the airport in Arusha. Oops. The frustration grew most of the evening and Kate was the one who felt the sharp end of my foul, frustrated mood.
“Why can’t technology just work” I whined. She offered me a hotspot from her phone, but to me it wasn’t actually about having access to the internet. The frustration stemmed from having something that should work, but wasn’t, and me not being able to fix it. It was a fixation, something that would block me from moving forward, at least if left to my own devices. It didn’t matter that the 10,000 shillings was roughly $4.40. It mattered more that I had purchased the device (a $45 Tecno W2) to use the internet and no matter if I needed the web at the time, it just wasn’t and hadn’t been working all week. Boo.
We rode into town that morning with KG to get some breakfast and hang out. I took the opportunity to jet across the street and poke my head into half a dozen dukas (small shops) and ask for some vouchers. Maybe it was my Swahili but i struck out again and again. 0 for 5 in the small shops. Finally, after breakfast, in a bookshop near the bus station, I got a 10,000 TSH voucher.
On the car ride back out to the branch, I scratched it off, dialed a few numbers, and things started happening. My phone buzzed, alerts, texts, and notifications went off. Whew, I had done something right; I was in business. Or so I thought.
My lack of understanding the system though led to a rapid loss of my $4.40 worth of data. By noon, despite just reading some BBC and NPR news, writing a few emails, the data stops flowing to my phone and laptop. My grumpiness and frustration increases, only to be put forth in curtness and body language to Kate, who eventually sickens of my surliness and leaves.
Much like a baby, I feel slightly better after a nap and give up on the process.
I know that I just need to go get more vouchers. In that light, I arm myself with a plan, some schillings, some key words, a few voucher examples, and a Swahili phrase book una elfu kumi voucher.
I find Kate in the kitchen when I stop in to make some french fries, where I solidify my resolve by chopping and deep frying potatoes. We eat them with mayo and mustard while sitting on the sofa. “Well, just be back by five so we can say goodby” she says when I tell her of my plan. I look at my watch: 1500. Well that should be feasible I think to myself.
Nearest duka: strike one. Two men look at the used voucher, scratch their heads and ask around. “Nope” they say shaking their heads. I march onward down the hill towards the pavement and bustle of Sakine on a Saturday afternoon. Several more shops and I am met with more of the same. I walk on in disbelief down to the pavement.
Finally though, I find a man. The shop is several hundred meters down the Nairobi Road from the qwa Iddi. At first he shakes his head when I show him the used voucher. I start to turn away. Then in halted, broken English he tells me to wait. He digs around in a crudely made wooden draw and after twenty seconds he pulls out a purple 5000TSH voucher. My eyes light up and try to ask for more. “No more” he says, shaking his head. I thank him profusely and turn to leave as the woman next to me buys a 500TSH voucher. A light goes off: “una elfu moja vouchers?” I ask after she pays. He digs and comes up with one. “Tano?” I ask, holding up five fingers. He digs and grabs out five more and I hand him over a red and white 10,000 schilling note, my eyes dancing and my mouth smiling. “Asante sana” I say before turning and heading back up the hill towards home.
Sometimes it is the fear of being noticed, or the fear of being alone or saying the wrong thing or making a fool of myself that leaves me paralyzed. This requires me to screw up inordinate amounts of courage to do simple things, like go to a store and ask for a product. In this world of eight billion people though, they will never see me again. What should I care. Though here in this small part of Sakine, I do stick out like a sore thumb!