Freetown, Baby!

Miscommunication… by mabrajeux
May 27, 2010, 12:29 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: ,

Mobile phones are ubiquitous here in Sierra Leone. There are very few landlines, and even fewer that actually function and so people rely almost exclusively on those for communication. Many even own more than one phone, in order to benefit from the cheaper network to network rates on all the networks. And considering my consumption of units so far, I have to admit I’m almost considering it myself!

Although you can’t rely on the internet or credit cards to make recharging your account easier, there is still quite a lot of different ways you can do it here… First, you’ve got dedicated shops in town centre, selling phone contracts and vouchers, and also some local shops who can also sell you vouchers. Then you’ve got little ‘shacks’ – and by that I mean anything ranging from a small convenience store to a cart filled with chewing gum by the side of the road – who can top up your phone for you.

The first time I went to one of those to recharge my phone credit, I was a little taken aback when instead of handing me a snazzy ‘scratch it yourself’ card, the guy asked me for my number. After giving it him somewhat reluctantly, he started typing stuff into his own phone and I was already foreseeing scores of late night calls from unknown numbers when my phone buzzed and I got a text announcing that my account had been topped up by 200 units.

I’ve now given my number to quite a few random people around town, and part of me is still expecting the random stranger phone calls, although so far it’s been ok…

Yesterday though, as I went to get a top-up from another shack near work, I accidentally asked for 5,000 units instead of 500. (Having to deal with hundreds of thousands seems to do that to you…) The vendor asked me to confirm that I wanted 5,000 units, I grinned and told that yes, absolutely, I wanted 5,000 units, I promptly received a text confirming the transaction and I handed 17,000 leones to him. He then looked at me a little suspiciously and pointed to his calculator, until I realised that the reason it said 170 is that I actually owed him 170,000, not 17,000 leones.

On a flush day, I leave the house with 100,000, so you can imagine that was an issue, especially as the text system doesn’t allow for the units to be returned… Luckily I managed to borrow the money and proceeded to hand over the biggest wad of cash that the vendor had probably ever seen!

Needless to say, I won’t be giving my number out to strangers again any time soon, or at least not until my 5,000 units and 50 free minutes run out!!


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