Can you hear me now? Posted on October 25th, 2009 by

One thing I’ve noticed here is the surprising regularity of cell phones.  In a developing nation one thing you would not expect to see is phones.  But they are everywhere here.  At the college most people seem to have them as do many in the city.  And, as I’ve been told, the coverage is very good even in rural areas. 

So we’ve joined the bandwagon.  While in Arusha we got our own cell phones, which was an adventure in and of itself.  The electronics store we went to had three large ceiling-to-floor cases of phones. From the very basic to the most advanced, they had them all.  The cost of a phone in Tanzania is, for the most part, similar to the cost in the States, though it might be higher for some phones.  As some of you will be happy to know, I’ve upgraded from my brick that could barely make calls to a fancy new phone that can do just about everything except clean the dishes. (It even has the Arabic alphabet in addition to the Latin one.)

But the similarities in phones end there.  In Tanzania you don’t get a ‘plan’ with your phone.  Instead you buy ‘credits’ as you need them.  Once you’ve set up an account with a phone company, all you need to do is periodically by credits as you need them.  Available in 1000, 2000 or 5000 shilling amounts(roughly $.77, $1.50 and $3.80), the credits can be bought nearly everywhere.  They are sold at the open air bars you find everywhere down here and they are sold by vendors in the market place.  Recently, I bought a credit from a cleaning lady at the college who in the middle of sweeping the sidewalk, pulled out some credits from her pocket to sell to me (which seems kind of black-market-like if you ask me). Though phones are as expensive as they are in the States, the cost to make a phone call or send a text message is much less.

Now I suppose I should explain these ‘credits’ in greater detail.  The little cardboard squares look like the scratch card games you would buy from under the counter of a gas station.  Printed on each is a number code which once programmed into your phone will provide you with that amount of credit good for talking or texting.


One Comment

  1. Greg says:

    That sounds really familiar. I found it really interesting how cheap and available cell phones, and especially pay as you go plans were in China. Except when we needed to buy more credits we would either go to any China Mobile store and write down how much we wanted to add, and then the people behind the counter would magically add them in, or we would buy scratch-and-win style cards out of a vending machine. Not quite as black market, but still, really, surprisingly easy. $7 would last me a month.

    Here in Korea it is a little different, more plan focused but still really cheap. People use their phones for everything here, even watching broadcast television (