Monday, February 14, 2011

Going back in time... with cell phones

In some ways, working here feels like going back in time. I imagine in many ways this must have been what it was like in many parts of the U.S. about 100 years ago, especially places like rural Appalachia.

For example:
There are a few local stores, one or two in every village, that sell a little bit of everything. One man stands at the window and measures or counts whatever you ask for. It's basically a "general store". 

Roads are poor. It's a constant battle to keep the roads in good condition.

Hitchhiking is common. If you have to walk miles and miles with your milk, produce, or firewood, you'd be thrilled to catch a ride from any passing vehicle that would take you. Since there's just one bus per day, hitching a ride can be the only other option, and everyone does it.

It's a cash economy- and you'd better have small notes because nobody wants to change the big notes for a few bananas.

Market access for cash crops and produce is made difficult by the poor roads.

Families are big. 

Kids play with anything, and mostly make their own toys from cast-off items. Chickens, knives, leaves, old bottles, rope, sticks, plastic bags, broken buckets, anything. I think this is just something that kids do instinctively- the difference in the U.S. is that usually they aren't allowed to play with such "dangerous" items anymore.

The kids who are able to go to school often have to walk very far (an hour or more). 

Many people (kids included) don't know when they were born.

People suffer from many diseases and parasites and children and adults are smaller as a result.

Death in childbirth is unfortunately common, and a hospital is a long way away. 

Households than can afford it (such as mine) often have domestic help, instead of mechanized modern conveniences (e.g. a woman to help with cooking and laundry instead of a washing machine and a oven/microwave/fridge).

Yet, at the same time I have cell reception in most of the areas where I work, and I can sit here, miles from a paved road, on the internet over the cell network. It's kind of surreal, and makes stark the extreme inequality in the world.


African Fieldworker said...

for me, one of the most surreal parts is that a lot of people, even if they have few resources, have their own cell phones. And I must say, having phone reception in the field has been very useful; I got lost one time (animals decided to go somewhere new, got seperated from the field assistants) and couldn't get anyone on the radio...used my cell phone. we always carried ours as a backup for situations like that!

All of this reminds me of my field site...

Karina said...

Yep, lots of people here have cell phones too! Even many people who live out of range have them if they work or transit through areas with reception. Women often carry the phones in special little pocket necklaces around their necks since their clothes often don't have pockets.