And here I am again.
It does not seem like a year that I was here last. The staff team is as before; just Jan, Richard and me. Green Top Hotel is as before with one important exception: For the first time in the six years that I have been coming to Africa EVERYTHING IN MY BEDROOM WORKS !
This deserves an upper case treatment because it is so unusual. I have taps that produce both hot and cold water, a toilet that flushes, a shower that has hot and cold and all the lights work. This has never happened before. However:-
I had quite a technical uphill struggle to get my phone working and get a connection to the internet. The phone supplier had cancelled my number (as I had not used it for a year) and kept the credit on it. So I now have a shiny new number with a data allowance as well, although it is quite expensive to use and gobbles credit.
This is how to get a new phone SIM card in Kumi:
Go to the big flashy painted shop. Outside there is a rabble of people being watched by a security guard carrying a Kalashnikov. I steer clear and go inside the flashy shop where four young lady customer service attendants have no customers to attend to. “Go outside and see Michael” one of them behind the counter tells me; I join the rabble. Our Kalashnikov carrying friend eyes me up and looks suspicious when I put my hand in my pocket.
Michael is busy issuing new sim cards; he has six customers waiting; a small table covered in six identity cards, various forms, empty sim cartons, bits of paper and application forms. I wait in the sort of queue; Michael immediately asks what I want; feeling guilty that I am queue jumping (and that my white face has triggered this), I tell him. On being asked for I/d I produce my passport which (not having seen a British one before) he does not understand. I explain it. He asks for a copy of it (no, he doesn’t have a photocopier); I have a copy and give it to him. He then takes a picture of the passport on his phone; he asks to take my photo on his phone so I look like the passport one (have you ever tried this?)
I have not explained that between each of these steps he was simultaneously dealing with his other six customers; randomly taking photos of I/d cards, faces, filling in forms, talking in their local language in turn to several people who, to my eyes, looked very similar. At least, with my white face and blue sunhat (the only person to be wearing either) he could not mix me up with his other customers.
The tiny table was beyond my reach and overloaded. At one point when I was carrying my phone, its cover, its battery, my wallet, my bag and my hat he asked me to sign the application form. I pondered which I would drop first, the phone or the wallet (I would not expect to see either again) or the hat (no-one one else would want it so I thought the hat must go).
After 40 minutes, it was all over. I came away proudly carrying my new sim working (or so I thought) happily in its new home. Only when I got back did I discover that it took five hours to wake the sim up from its long sleep. Gradually it came to life, reluctantly responding to prods from the local network. But now I can communicate again!
We visited three of our project partners during the day and made arrangements for the team that is due to arrive this weekend.
And so ends day number one. It is, actually, great to be back and it does feel like a sort of coming home.
More to follow (technology permitting). By popular request future blogs will feature, once again, “funny signs seen on vehicles” and of course, shops with outrageous descriptions.