feeding my own misguided insanity

So So Sorry for Working in Africa

Some family, friends and colleagues can be incredibly demanding and in this case completely clueless of where it is I work or the conditions I work under on a daily basis.

The only thing I can say is “Guy’s I’m in Africa” — that should in one way or another form an educated guess on your behalf that some things simply don’t work. When they do work it’s usually in a diminished capacity or one that is barely usable.

Contrary to the title of the post, no, I’m not sorry for being in Africa — I love the place and can’t seem to tear myself away from its uniqueness. To my family, friends and colleagues living in well-connected countries outside Africa, I can only say that you’re missing out on an amazing experience — but you need to cut me some slack.

In response to your frequent questions and rants I decided to compile a list of reasons why some thing’s won’t be possible. Hopefully it will give you an insight into the challenges of conducing business in this modern electronic era on the African continent and spare you some aggravation.

  1. It’s probably unlikely that we’ll be able to have that Skype call today, or tomorrow for that matter. There simply isn’t enough bandwidth to allow your voices to traverse the intercontinental divide.
  2. When I do have Internet access by way of some individual’s WiFi hotspot (freeloading), it’s usually going to be available only until the next power cut — probably within the next 10 minutes.
  3. Synchronizing my mail may take a couple of hours; and if you’re sending me 10 MB documents please understand that it takes days not minutes to download them onto my computer. Chances are I’m going to only download the headers rather than the whole message and won’t read the rest until I’m back in a well-connected country. Of course I’ll devote every available minute to ensure it comes down that same day but there are no guarantees.
  4. I’m really happy that you have just purchased the latest 20 Megapixel camera, but seriously, if you’re sending emails emblazoned with high-resolution graphics know that compressing the images before you sent them would have saved me a lot of aggravation, time and 3G credit (assuming that I can get 3G) — 800×600 pixels is plenty to get the message across.
  5. Africa has some wonderful telecommunication companies all swarming with advertising banners peddling 3G, 3.5G and 4G — none of them deliver on the promise of fast Internet access; mainly due to the fact that the pipe to the rest of the world is not wide enough to meet demand.
  6. When I do reply to your mail from a device that’s not HTML-enabled don’t be upset. Plain text messages get the point across in one tenth the bandwidth without the bulky overhead of colours, font sizes or wingdings.
  7. For the benefit of connectedness I carry two battery packs strapped to my laptop; collectively they give me about eight hours of usable time. Of course, batteries need to be charged at one point or another and if the power has been out for two days straight I’m not going to be much use to anyone. Not my fault and again, don’t be upset if I don’t answer your mails.
  8. Yes, I do have the latest smartphone and I can use it to reply to your mails. But just like any mobile device it is dependent on the battery — No power, no phone and therefore no reply; or written mathematically (Phone – Battery = zero usage).
  9. Poor or electrically-challenged countries frequently engage in Load shedding (rolling blackout) in order to provide at least some power to their citizens. Usually, this can be seen as predictable power cuts either throughout the day or every second day. Understanding that the power will be on from 2-6pm gives me enough time to plan my day so that I can charge all the required devices before the next interruption. On the odd occasion these cuts are unpredictable and 3G dongle or not I’m not going to be able to stay in touch.
  10. It doesn’t matter how many stars the hotel I’m staying in has or whether there’s a generator — they still don’t have a direct line to a divine being of your choice and are just as inept in dealing with a city-wide power cut as the rest of us. Simply put, if the ISP is down so is the Internet and usually mobile networks too.
  11. Running around the city to find a working Internet cafĂ© or hotspot takes up a large proportion of my time. I do this not because I want to upload my latest copulating giraffe pictures but because I don’t want to miss any deadlines or worst still put a frown on any of your faces.
  12. If I do miss a deadline it’s not that I’m unprofessional or that the work hasn’t been done, but that I’ve exhausted every possible means of physically delivering it to you.
  13. If all else fails I will try to reply from a friend’s Kindle (thanks Waiching & Joe) — for some reason Amazon’s agreements with Telco’s allow me to send an emergency mail to at least let you know that I’m still alive and will be able to reply to your Facebook status update within a day or so.
  14. That message you sent me 3 days ago is still in my Inbox unanswered — truly we should be thankful that it arrived within a few seconds rather than the usual “snail-mail” three weeks. Isn’t technology wonderful to deliver a letter within a blink of an eye? Don’t be upset if the reply takes two or three days — it’s still much better than the traditional mode of delivery.
  15. And while you are able to stream YouTube videos please understand that a transcript or anecdote would have delivered the same message in much shorter a time. The truth is I can rarely view videos or listen to an MP3 (although I still love receiving your mails) — I will view them when the infrastructure allows me to.
  16. You’ve tried to call me on the 13 numbers listed in my signature but couldn’t reach me. It’s OK, don’t panic, chances are I’m in a country that isn’t listed there yet as I’ve still to purchase a new SIM. If you feel that you’ve been victimized in this way just spare a thought for my poor mother who tried in vain to contact me on my last birthday.
  17. If you’re asking why I have so many phone numbers the reasons are: (1) roaming is expensive and since I spend most of my time in Africa it makes no sense to roam; (2) keeping in touch with in-country contacts is much easier, taxi driver, takeout, friends; (3) some of my clients are unable to call international numbers due to barring; (4) the cost of sending an international text message is prohibitive to most people in Africa; (5) and lastly because I travel a lot.

At times I feel there is a huge disconnect between people on the ground in Africa and those calling the shots in well-to-do countries. I just wish there was an easier way to educate and impart logistical knowledge of this kind without resorting to sarcasm – you must admit though, it’s rather entertaining and therapeutic.


, , , , , Africa, Business, Humour, Travel

5 Comments → “So So Sorry for Working in Africa”

  1. Ina 12 years ago   Reply

    yeah, me too. can we just start a list and you can apologize on everyone’s behalf?

  2. Micah 12 years ago   Reply

    that’s still no excuse as to why item 17 doesn’t have a nested ordered list agreedisagreewhat?!

  3. Mar 12 years ago   Reply

    really resonnated, this post! very true stuff Shem! it’s like a parallel universe, really…. back in Oz, I am still SO impressed that I can finally watch video clips! something that was so totally not an option whilst in Ghana….

  4. Aleks Andra 12 years ago   Reply

    Hmmm, so now I have to stop imagining you slurping your cocktails with your feet in the sand at one of the landlocked country beaches with free Wifi and your own private generator??? Damn!!! But yes, apology excepted!!!

  5. Colin M 12 years ago   Reply

    shem – love it.

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