Mama returned from market on friday, ‘kasuwa day‘ under the hot Kaltungo sun! After she had drunk 2 cups of cold water straight from “randa“, she opened her purse and brought out a little paper she had written the GSM (V. mobile) number of Nancy on it.
She handed it to me and said, ” Go to Kalorgu tomorrow and place a call to Nancy, tell her I got her message and I want to know how they are doing at school (ATBU). Tell her to study hard and take care of her younger sister, Abigail. Tell her that by month’s end Baba and I will send something for them. We love them and we are happy she’s got a mobile phone now. Baba also sends his greetings”.
Those words were stamped in my head! I was over excited! I had never used a mobile phone before so I did not know what to expect! “Tomorrow is gonna be a big day for me” I said to myself.. I held onto that piece of paper as though it was a Million Dollar cheque to cash the next day. I rehearsed Mama’s words carefully in order not to forget any line…
The Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) is approximately 19 years in Nigeria. The mobile system was introduced into the Nigerian market and society precisely on 6th August, 2001. That was in the third year of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term. But it took 2 to 3 years to find it on the streets. Mobile phones were not as expensive as SIM CARDS! Sim cards were the main koko those days. One could buy a mobile phone worth #12k and buy sim card at #20k to #25k! It’s that serious.. So when you heard someone bought a phone, that means he/she must have spent a fortune to obtain it.
Its Saturday! The D day! – 19th of November, 2005. A day I will never forget. A day that my voice travled from Kaltungo to Bauchi within seconds! I was more than excited. Mama had given me all I needed for my journey (the phone number and #300 naira for both the call and transport). At about 12 noon that day, I was all set for my fisrt experience, I took a bike from Kalaring to Kalorgu. (Kalorgu is a near by settlement about 1km from Kalaring).
On getting there, I saw a table and a chair with 2 Nokia 3310 phones on the table, an antenna hanging meticulously on a tree, a working generator( I pass my neighbour), a long queue of about 20 people and a woman standing 6 meters from the table, making call and screaming out her lungs! I walked straight to Molli, the owner of the booth to inquire. Molli gave me a brief orientation, he told me it’s #40 naira per minute and that if I exceeded that time with a second or two, i’ll be sure to pay #80 naira, lastly, I must shout on top of my voice to enable the receiver hear me very clearly… That was no problem to me, I’d planned my speach already and I was sure it wouldn’t exceeds two minutes!
Two hours later, I was next to place a call. Molli had collected the phone number and dialed it. Immediately it began to ring, he quickly handed the phone to me. My hand was shaking profusely, I could hear my heart beats in my ears! And boom! I heard.. “Hello”… Wow! “That was my sister’s voice” I said quietly. Then I tried not to freak out. I tried to put myself together. “Aunty Nancy, na me, Lizzy…” I began offloading Mama’s message to her, I did not wait to hear her speak one more word. I wasn’t expecting to hear her talk back. All my concern was to pass the message of which I did perfectly! I talked so loud that the last person on the queue could hear me with ease. I finally brought my call to a stop, I forcefully pressed the red botton and handed the phone to Molli! It all happened so fast. Molli checked the last call duration and said, “your call is 3 minutes and it cost #120 naira!” I was a little disappointed, I gave him the money and biked home.
As we rode on the bike’ I was happy, I grinned from ear to ear. I couldn’t believe my voice just reachd Bauchi within seconds! When I got home, Mama was waiting for her feedback. “How is she? When are they starting their semester’s exams? Was she happy to hear from us?…” questions kept pouring in. I was mute and confused. I managed to mutter these word “she only said ‘hello’! So i told her all you asked me to say.” Mama was disappointed in me. “How could you pay 120 naira on phone and you could not hear her speak! How sure are you that she even heard the message you gave!” Mama laughed so hard and I felt so embarrassed. Baba called me and said calmly, “sorry, its our fault. We were supposed to give you a little orientation. When next you speak on the phone, wait for the receiver to respond before you hang up the call. It is not a voice message, it should be a conversation!”.