Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Leaving it behind, nets and all

The truck with the mosquito nets does not show up. I go to the local radio opertor to use the "phonie." The guy who runs it had just walked over to let me know that our logistician was trying to get ahold of me. The phonie reminds me of when my grandfather would let me use the CB in his truck to make radio contact with truckers. I thought it was really, really cool. While cellphone networks are popping up over Congo, the phonie system is still king in the rural areas. They can radio other operators over certain channels to let them know that someone is on the line. This other operator can either track down the person being called, or ideally, that person is there waiting for the call. Because the line is quite static, yelling is a good way to make sure that you are heard. My friend lived next to a phonie operator in Kindu. Swahili was yelled left right and center next to the his kitchen wall.

I take the mouthpiece, hold down the button to the right side, and yell to my logistician. Outside, ten people look at me with what I could not tell was boredom, interest, or the accident of me being in their line of sight.

me: "WHERE ARE THE TRUCKS?"
him:"Trucks - unintelligible - garble"
me: "WHERE ARE THE TRUCKS AND NETS?"
him:"You got the trucks and nets?"
me: "WHERE ARE THE TRUCKS?!"

So it continues. I manage to figure out the the trucks had left the day before, which was good news that he was doing his job and bad news that something had happened along the way. I ponder calling my colleagues in Lubumbashi with my satellite phone to see if they know anything. But they would not, and doing so would just be doing something to make it feel like I was working towards a solution. In the end, my collegue Rebecca would have to deal with it. After eight days of working together and two weeks in the field, it was time for me to head out and take a break. I felt a bit guilty, leaving her with all the problems. But we had already dealt with broken motorcycles, stranded field agents, government authorities, fraud, a broken truck, a cranky bishop, and whiskey with no mixer. She'll be fine.

I driver through the small village in the landcruiser, waving at the kids who never get tired of waving at me. As I pull up the strip, the Cessna Grand Caravan is just shutting down. Olivier the pilot steps out, and I am happy to see him. And I am even happier when I get to sit co-pilot, watching the village turn into a landscape as we fly away from it.

2 Comments:

Blogger Adventure Eddy said...

"...and whiskey with no mixer." That made me snort coffee out of my nose.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Steve in Wisconsin said...

Remember back before cell phones became the rage and everyone who was 'cool' had pagers? You gave a good description of the phonie - I'm sure that, unlike cell phones today, the phonie tends to eliminate all but the most essential chatter. Nice to know that there is a radio communication system up and running in the rural areas.

3:30 PM  

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