Freetown, Baby!

Did you just flash me? Hot and Passionate texts (vol 1) by jc2010sl
April 20, 2010, 5:00 pm
Filed under: society, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Mobile telephony has taken off in a big way in Salone. Like a number of other developing countries, it has bypassed expensive landline cables and gone straight for mobiles. In the time that I’ve lived here a mobile mast has been erected on the hill where I live and since I arrived I haven’t called a single landline – every restaurant, hotel and other business has a mobile as it’s point of contact.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the saturation in Freetown a set of complex conventions has developed around mobile use.

Calls rarely go unanswered, which is just as well as no one ever checks voice mail. Even in meetings with Ministers people will pick up the phone and talk at length, before finally saying “A no kin tok, a de meetin. Yes, Meetin!”

Within-network calls are far cheaper than those across networks, so most people have 2 or even 3 phones with different numbers. When you ask for someone’s number the first question is always “Which network are you on?” (I got an engaged tone once and I thought I’d try the person’s other number, hoping to bump whoever was on the other line. Inexplicably, the second number was also engaged.)

Mobile etiquette also reflects the presumed economic hierarchy of those on the call. It is standard practice for the better off person to make the outgoing call (and thereby pay for it). This gives rise to the common phenomenon of “flashing” . That is, hanging up – or “Banging the Phone” in Krio – after just one ring and waiting for the other person to return the call.

I returned a flash this afternoon without recognising the number. Big mistake. It turned out to be “Marvin” who claimed to have met me earlier at the State House. I’m sure I would have remembered meeting the character, especially if I’d given him my number. At the point where he asked if he could be my friend – a prelude to a request for money – I realised this had nothing to do with work and politely bid him good afternoon.

Frankly though, I got away lightly compared to a colleague who was bombarded with provocative texts and flashed repeatedly. He eventually got fed up and called “Donald” to say that he wasn’t his darling, and would he please stop contacting him. Donald was initially despondent before recognising the Western accent and realising an opportunity had come his way. “Do you want to be my friend?” he asked.

Donald’s barely literate missives though did help me to make sense of a publication I picked up on Goderich Street while waiting for a taxi: “Hot and Passionate texts – Vol 1”. It contains a series of horrendously cheesy one liners: “A day without your love is a day without life”, none of which is either “Hot” or “Passionate”. Presumably this was a tome aimed at people who’s written English is fairly basic and want some pointers.

Who knows – if Donald had invested in a copy maybe he’d have a new best friend.


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[…] in the clotting traffic on the Kissy Road has its upsides. You’re in a perfect spot to see the unusual wares on display in the East End. There are barely any shops to speak of in Freetown, so almost […]

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