Friday, January 27, 2012

A nice story about Africa, social media, and the speed of global communications

So, there I was, in a lovely house on a farm in Letsitele, a small South African town with a big output of citrus fruit.

Just as I was finishing my (third) sundowner and we were all preparing to go into dinner my mobile phone rang. I excused my self and answered it. "Hello, Tony speaking."

"Hello," said an African voice, "are you the owner of this phone?"

Groan. The phone company calling me to try and make me spend more money, I thought. "Of course I'm the owner of this phone. Goodb..."

"No, sorry, the owner of this phone, the one I am calling from, not your phone. Do you know him."

Now I was confused. Did I know who? This was like Abbott and Costello's who's on first. I took the phone away from my ear and looked at the number. It had a country code of +254. Something clicked. "Ah," I said, "You want to know if I know who owns the phone you are calling from?"


"What's your name, and where are you?"

"My name is Jackson," said the caller, "I am a security guard in a village market in Nairobi. A man has been having lunch here and he has left his phone. I am busy calling all the numbers in his phone to see if someone knows who he is."

"Mzungu?" (White person).

"Yes, sir."

The wheels of my mine whirred. I know of only one white man who would be in Nairobi, and who would have consumed enough Tusker beer at a long lunch to cause him to forget to pick up his phone. "I'm sure I know this man. Thank you for calling, Jackson, and for your honesty. I will get a message to this man and try and get him to call you. Please leave the phone switched on."

"It is my pleasure," he said.

We ended the call and Mrs Blog asked what all that was about. I explained to her and my South African friends, who were mightily impressed that Jackson hadn't just pocketed the phone or sold it. "So whose phone is it?" Mrs B asked.

"It has to be JR."

JR is a good friend who I met, virtually via email, when researching my first book, FAR HORIZON. Like Mike Williams, the lead character in the book, JR was an Australian Army officer serving with the UN in Mozambique, clearing land mines. While there he fell in love with Africa (and, as it turned out, one of her inhabitants). While JR's heart may be in southern Africa (and with his beloved), his ass has belonged to a series of military contracting companies who have sent him to such charming places as Afghanistan and Somalia. I knew that he often went to Nairobi on business.

Looking at the number in the 'received calls' on my phone I also knew it was him, for sure, because he had called me from Somalia only a couple of months ago, when I was on tour promoting my new book, 'AFRICAN DAWN'. I was speaking at Exclusive Books in Nelspruit, South Africa, at 6.30pm one evening and at precisely 6.37pm my phone buzzed in my pocket. Fortunately I had switched the ringer to silent.

After the talk I checked my phone and saw an SMS from JR's Kenyan phone that read: "I hope you remember to switch your phone to silent when speaking in public". That's the sort of zany funster he is.

"If he doesn't have his phone," Mrs B asked, "then how are you going to contact him?"

"Facebook." We used Mrs Blog's phone to get online and send JR a message on Facebook telling him to call his own phone and advising him it was in safe custody. I was fairly sure he would be travelling with a laptop."

He did, and he got his phone back, and Jackson supplemented his no doubt meagre pay with a nice little reward.



JR said...

Yep, that was how it happened.

A good story with a trans-African effect and a great result. Gotta love Africa.

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Crookedpaw said...

I guess the Universal Translator must be on the phritz

Flea said...

That's a great ending to the story.

naturesmark said...

Anybody know what's happened to Tony??