What would we Peace Corps Volunteers do without cell phones? Although Nicaragua is still a developing country, it has been able to make one of those infamous “technology leaps,” as it goes from having limited to no phone service immediately to cell phones, skipping the land line phone in-between. You see leaps like this with internet as well: the country has no internet whatsoever, and then the next day you see someone has a Netbook laptop and wireless connection in their house. No slow dial-up modems here! Developed countries did all the dirty work and now technology is cheaper and faster, making it accessible to the masses.
Probably nowhere is this more evident in Nicaragua than with cell phones. Just about every Nicaragua, rich or poor, young or old, has a cell phone. When phones start at about $10, they’re not too expensive, even by Nicaraguan standards. Every Nica teen can be found chateando – sending text messages back and forth to friends, in their spare time. Often you’ll see a person who looks otherwise somewhat poor (used clothing with stains and rips, the hardened look of someone who works in the field, strong calves from hauling water)… but then you notice that, Hey – isn’t that a $100 camera phone in their hand?? Nicaraguans place great importance on their cell phones.
Although cell phones have arrived in all their glory, sadly cell phone etiquette has not. Here are few informal “rules” that Nicaraguans like to follow. 1. Whenever your phone rings (and yes, you will always hear it ring because it is NEVER to be put on silent mode or turned off), you WILL answer it. No matter if you are at work, teaching a class, in a doctor’s appointment, riding a horse, driving a bus or in a meeting with the Director of Peace Corps: that call must be answered. And if possible, answer it while you are still in the room in which the meeting is taking place – just ask everyone’s pardon and try and make your conversation short, but of course don’t lower your voice. The person on the other end of the line might not hear you! 2. As mentioned before, driving while talking or texting is perfectly acceptable. One’s social life doesn’t wait! 3. It is perfectly acceptable to ask to see a friend or even a stranger’s phone and search through their text message history. You don’t have anything to hide now, do you?? 4. Whenever you are without music (out in the villages, in a car without a stereo, on a farm…) you must play the songs stored on your cell phone at full volume. Background music here is a must, no matter where you are. And you must strive to have a well-rounded music selection: ABBA, Air Supply, the BeeGee’s, bachata, salsa, meringue, reggaeton, and of course, the Titanic theme song.
One of the annoying things about the cell phone companies here (there are only two, “Claro” and “Movistar”), is that it is very expensive to have a cell phone, compared to the U.S. Here, cell phones work on a pre-paid system. You go to any corner store, restaurant, grocery store, etc. to put some dollars on your phone every week. Calls to other Nicaraguan cell phones can cost up to $0.25/minute! Sometimes there are “promotions” where you can send 500 text messages for $2 or something, but I usually end up spending quite a bit on my cell phone every month. All Nicaraguans understand this, and the constant complaint you’ll hear is, “Ay, no ando saldo!” “Dang it! I don’t have any cell phone credit!” This is often a lie; since the person is probably just being pinche (cheap) and wants you to make the call for them on your phone (you’re a gringa right? That means you have lots of money, yes?) Also, phone calls are made very short to the point of almost feeling rude. Both parties in the conversation know that time is money and only the important details are shared before the conversation is rushed to a close. Here is a sample conversation between the Head Nurse at my Health Center, Hileana and I (she is calling me):
Hileana: “Hello Penny – you know what? The pregnant women’s’ meeting today has to be cancelled. There’s an emergency here at the Health Center…got to go. Talk later.”
Me: “Uhh…okay? I’m out here in the middle of the village waiting for you… Are you alright? What happened??”
Hilean: “Adios Penny!”
Hm… Well, it looks like if I want to find out what happened in this story, I’ll have to call her back. Tricky little devil – she’s not going to get me to use my credit! It goes without saying that the person who is making the call has complete power over the conversation: what the topic is, how long it lasts and who does the talking. It’s their money after all!
In Peace Corps, we use cell phones as our main mode of communication to the main office, the safety and security officer, and of course to other volunteers. Since text messages are much cheaper than making an actual call, we usually communicate by texting. Some of the texts we send and receive I’m sure would be quite confusing and/or hilarious when seen by someone who is not in our inner Peace Corps Nicaragua circle. Here are some variations of texts that I have sent and received:
WAS JUST WOKEN UP BY A BAT FLYING AROUND MY HOUSE. CURRENTLY COWERING UNDER MY MOSQUITO NET. DO THEY SUCK HUMAN BLOOD??!!
JUST HAD 7th BOWEL MOVEMENT OF THE DAY. NOT NORMAL, RIGHT?
NO RUNNING WATER FOR THREE DAYS. SILVER LINING: DON’T NEED TO WEAR SUNSCREEN ANYMORE SINCE I’M FORMING A PROTECTIVE LAYER OF DIRT.
JUST SAW AN OLD WOMAN ON THE BUS WITH A USED T-SHIRT THAT SAID “I LOST MY PHONE NUMBER…CAN I HAVE YOURS??” NOT SURE IF I SHOULD TELL HER WHAT IT MEANS OR NOT.
OMG-JUST FOUND OUT THAT TIGER WOODS HAD AN AFFAIR! DID YOU KNOW THAT??
(Five minutes later….)
OH WAIT…I GUESS THAT HAPPENED LIKE 2 WEEKS AGO…
JUST GOT PUKED ON BY A BABY ON THE BUS…GREAT WAY TO START THE DAY.
I’M GOING TO BE LATE TO THE MEETING; I’M BEING HELD HOSTAGE IN MY HOUSE BY A STRAY DONKEY THAT IS BLOCKING MY DOORWAY, EATING PLANTS IN MY FRONT YARD.
WHAT’S THAT RHYME ABOUT POISONOUS SNAKES AGAIN??? IS IT RED AFTER YELLOW KILLS A FELLOW? RED AND BLACK, OKAY JACK?? TEXT BACK QUICK!
JUST SLAUGHTERED AND DEPLUMED BY FIRST CHICKEN. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TODAY??? :)
Well, that’s all for now. A new blog entry will be coming soon about my Holy Week vacation which starts tomorrow. I’m planning to canoe the San Juan River which separates Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a group of friends. It’s like Nicaragua’s mini-version of the Panama Canal. Should be beautiful!