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Another dollar (Monday, 2010 Jun 7)

June 17th, 2010

Today we got our phones. I’m debating whether or not to use the handset provided or just use the sim card in my "old" phone, which is significantly nicer. Reasons against: the battery life in my "real" phone is much better when it’s in offline mode and not great when it’s connected; if my phone gets stolen, it’s a big problem. Reasons for: all my contacts are there already; saving a record of texts received would be a lot easier (unless, I guess, my phone gets stolen). I don’t have the numbers in front of me but my recollection is that property theft is pretty common here, or at least we can expect to be stolen from. (One person had her camera stolen already, actually.) But that said, I’m still likely to have my "real phone" on hand to take notes.. Right? Well, maybe I should rethink that too. I’ve been taking notes "by hand" so far.

I don’t have a lot of money on my phone (it’s prepaid) so I can’t really afford to call anyone. Texts are cheap-ish (150 CFA or 30 cents to the States; 50 CFA within country) but what is even cheaper is receiving calls (free). Unfortunately I have to be up early tomorrow, and an OK time for someone to call me would probably not be "free nights and weekends". I’ll get a message out before Friday so you can call me on Sunday (we have it off while in training).

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. Top right, my cellphone dilemma. Center: the medical kit. Not shown: all my newly-invalid purchasing decisions.

Also today we had some introductory "sessions" (lectures). At the health one, we got our cool Organization Medical Kit (see picture). A lot of things are included here that I didn’t think we’d be getting (and so brought) — including bug spray and sunscreen. We also had a lecture on homestay (our "host families") and got to find out who we’ll be staying with. Today’s topic for smalltalk has therefore been "What’s your host family like?" even though we haven’t met them yet. We just have these slips of paper naming the host parents, their jobs, and the number of people in the family. Mine are a Civil Engineering Technician (which I think probably means "road construction") and Housewife, and I have one of the biggest host families (11 people). We’re all excited to meet our host families (even though I think I should have brought more gifts).

We also got more local currency (those of us who brought extra money USD were able to exchange it, but it took a few days). For fashion’s sake, I took a picture of that too (fig. 2). The smallest note is 500 CFA (about $1); I had about $20 after the phone etc. so got a 10,000 CFA note (about $20).

Fig. 2

Fig. 2: some bills. I haven’t received any change yet so I couldn’t show coins. No idea what happened to the 2,000 note (pretty sure it was like that when I got it).

We also had a safety lecture with some dudes from the American embassy. It turns out there is a 1000 CFA fee for filing a police report (in order to get a "stamp" which is apparently the essence of bureaucracy here) but we are not under any circumstances supposed to give the police or the Gendarmes anything more than that. It damages the whole American mission here when we do that — it invalidates our attempts to push them to be more tramsparent and democratic. Apparently officials will try such gambits as "I don’t have any paper and need to buy some" or "I need to hire means of transportation to look for the criminal". In such situations it seems the thing to do is to tell them to call the Organization or the Embassy.

Lastly: it seems "the Organization doesn’t let me do that" is a pretty good gambit to get out of stuff, even though it’s not strictly honest. The country code here is 011 (and the area code for our phones is 237, and phone numbers have 8 digits) Trainees have a 7PM curfew (right now we’re like pre-trainees and we sit in the hotel courtyard and drink). Apparently lemon eucalyptus IS effective against mosquitoes (or, effective enough). And although you can say "Bonjour" or "Bonsoir", you cannot say "Bon matin".

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