Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Quest for a Phone Book

When was the last time you used a phone book?  Do you even have a phone book? Chances are, if you live anywhere in the First World, whenever you need to find a phone number you look it up online.  Am I right?

Here in Africa having a phone book is actually very important.  First of all, if the electricity is out, you can’t look up the phone number you need online.  Secondly, online technology is not very readily available in many parts of Africa.  According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, 11.5% of Batswana use the Internet.  This is actually below the average of 16% of the population across Africa.  In case you were curious, 81% of the U.S. population uses the Internet, which ranks 28th in the world.  The Falkland Islands and Iceland have the highest number of Internet users at 96% of their populations.

Due to the lack of Internet users in Africa, the continent has not embraced the web.  It is excruciatingly frustrating to be a tourist in Africa because so few hotels, tour companies and even airlines have websites, and even if they do they often lack information or features which allow you to help yourself, such as making reservations or inquiries.  Instead, they rely primarily on telephone calls.  And of all the times I’ve called to speak to a customer service representative for any type of company in any country in Africa not once have I been prompted to press ‘1’ for English or anything else.  There is no such thing as automated customer service here. Hence, the importance of having a telephone book.

When I first arrived in Botswana I quickly realized the need for a telephone book and went down to BTC (Botswana Telecommunications Corporation) headquarters in an attempt to secure one.  I was told there were none available and I would have to wait until January to obtain the new 2014 book.  In mid-January I returned to BTC only to be told they had run out of 2014 phone books.  Apparently there is a run on these things immediately after the New Year.  Fortunately, I recounted my quest for a phone book to a colleague who offered me his old 2013 book, even though he hadn’t received a new one.  Here it is:
Now I can call anyone I want in the country.  Yes, that’s right, the country.  This is a country-wide phone book.  It is arranged by district, with both companies and private citizens listed together, alphabetically.  It also lists every single government office, including the Senior Private Secretary to the President.  I imagine this person to be one of the secretaries sitting outside Botswana’s version of the oval office.  I hope I am correct because I called and spoke to Mma Mogaleo and said I would like to take President Khama to lunch.  I told her I had his granddaughter in my class last semester at UB (true story) and would like to meet him.  She said she would get back to me if his schedule opens up.  Fingers crossed!

When I lived in Alaska there was a phone book for the entire state.  It was small, similar in size to a small day planner.  Each village took up about one page and not only were the names of the villagers in alphabetical order, but the numbers were consecutive.  If I remember correctly, my village of Galena was (907) 656-2112 to 2197.  And we were one of the larger villages on the Yukon River.

A friend who used to work in Equatorial Guinea told me their phone book also covered the entire country.  He also mentioned that it was listed alphabetically according to FIRST name.  “Look for me under Roberto.  I’m somewhere on the 4th page of Robertos the last time I checked.”

Now, if I could just find the number for the weather report then I would really be in luck.  When I lived in Alaska and you would call the weather hotline the report would be along the lines of, “It is -40 degrees this morning with winds at 30 miles per hour to the east.  Eight inches of snow is expected before 12pm.  Watch out for moose on the road.”  If we had a weather number here it would be excellent to hear, “It is 100 degrees and sunny today.  Load sharing will continue throughout the day, with little hope of electricity being restored before sundown.  Watch out for the elephants on Tlokweng Road east of Riverwalk Mall and beware the monkeys are biting due to the trash still not having been collected for the past month.”  Maybe if President Khama calls me back I will suggest a weather line.

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