Phone Etiquette

This happens to be a repost from my old blog, but from what I’ve witnessed and heard of late, I think it’s necessary to remind Kenyans of  basic phone etiquette…

Ever wondered why the only food that isn’t another man’s poison happens to be… money? We all seem to want piece of it, and when we get it, we never seem to get enough of it! We live more than half of our lives toiling for it and ironically, at the end of our cycle, we realize that it’s not the most important thing in the world after all. What ends up being important then, happens to be the legacy we leave behind; what we’ve done with our lives, how we treated others, our relationships, the memories we possess, the feats we’ve achieved, the mistakes we conjured and ultimately, where we think we’re headed after that…whether it be the afterlife, purgatory, hell, reincarnation, Valhalla, Heaven or a slumber akin to death.

All of that laid aside, what I will focus on in this post is one particular gadget that our money constantly loves  catching up with trends and technological advances, though most importantly, to remain socially relevant in this rapidly changing oblate sphenoid … it’s a different kind of relationship… it’s the one most of us possess with our Blackberries, iPhones, Nokias, Samsungs…etc

There’s been a proliferation of mobile phone usage in Kenya since late 1999, the year I remember it was only my father who possessed that funky but monolithic mobile gizmo that cost as much as two and a half year’s rent in say, Jamhuri Estate, in the entire household. Today though, you can get a Kshs.500 second hand handset or the infamous ‘Kabambe’ at just less than 1500. The figures are so astronomically confusing and complicated that it would take an entirely different post to write about it. However, my concern is that while we were out purchasing our nifty gadgets, we were not taught how to use these little things that tend to be, if wrongfully used, a nuisance to both ourselves and to those around us, without us even knowing it.

Think of it this way, you buy a tube of Glycerin, not labeled, no directions for use: what would you use it for?… the outcome would be disastrous! Thus, here are my 10 Laws of Phone Etiquette which I recommend to all of us…

1. The phone won’t fly away!
When you’re at a meeting, date or rendezvous, don’t clutch on to your mobile handset, no matter how expensive, or how precious it may be to you. Its ok to keep in in your pocket or lay it on the table, just don’t hold it in your palm like it’s a white dove ready to fly off any second.

2. The handset is only used by one person at a time. Mind your own business!
Lots of us seem to have a tough time with this rule. A handset is your own possession. What you do with it is your identity and your own business. Don’t ever try and peek over to someone else’s handset screen either in a vehicle, a matatu, the cinema or a public convention. It’s very intrusive on another’s privacy and it won’t go down well if your caught peeking.

3. Using your phone at the dinner/lunch table is equivalent to chewing with your mouth open
When you’re having a meal, avoid picking calls or texting. It’s polite to finish what you came to do at the table and then going on afterwards to finish up your business or phone conversation. It also draws away your attention from the goings-on at the table and does not create a welcoming aura to your persona. If you constantly are on your phone, you may be perceived as a recluse or a snob and this habit may isolate you from the rest.

4. Discretion of the Ringtone
No matter how hot your ringtone is or how great or in vogue it may be, be cautious as to when and where you decide to change your handset’s profile to ‘General’ or ‘Silent’. Just because you like a particular tune does not mean everyone around you does. Measure the demographics and environs to discern whether or not they will be pleased to listen to your latest tune. Don’t take too much time picking up your phone, just for the sake of the ringtone, but if you’re sure that you are among tolerant friends, then by all means… Make sure you adjust the volume of your handset’s functionality to suit the environment you are in and you will find that you and your ‘best friend’ become less of a nuisance.

5. Always cordially reply any text message you receive
In this day and age of social media and emails, it takes a lot of effort for someone to send you a text message, unless of course they prefer a more personal or traditional touch to inter-personal communication. Therefore if you do receive a text message, ensure that it is duly replied, even for confirmation of receipt. It goes a long way towards improving the perception the sender has of you in relation to how it will go if you choose not reply.

6. Treat every phone conversation like a secret that has to be kept
When you receive a call, speak in a clear but ‘personal’ tone. Not everybody around you wants to listen in on what you have to say. If it’s a crowded area, like let’s say in a public service vehicle…consider covering your mouth to the speakerphone of the handset so as to be clearly but at the same time, privately heard. Always measure the tone of your voice and do not unnecessarily shout out or exhibit unwarranted emotions in public.

7. Treat the phone like you would your In-laws after marriage
It is your phone but do not discriminately use it. Answer all calls even if you do not want to speak to the person at the moment in time for various reasons. It is polite to pick up the call and say something dismissive rather than to leave it ringing. It may also not always be the person we think may be calling but a third party using the handset. So let us avoid embarrassing situations and face our problems head-on, even if we may be unwilling to. Acceptable calling hours are usually from 8.00am to 8.00pm and any time before or after that is usually reserved for relatives, people you know very well or are close to.

8. Always return your missed calls, unless otherwise
If for one reason or another you were unable to pick up a call or had stepped out for just a bit, kindly make the effort of calling back and do not assume that the caller will redial! It is your duty to call back and confirm. One ‘Please Call Me’ is enough if you do not have units on your mobile phone. Do not send multiple flashbacks, as this proves to be annoying or too persistent. Do not also persistently call a number more than twice because you may be in danger of being labeled a ‘stalker’. Also avoid hiding your caller ID unless under very special circumstances (which are yet to be known to me); this doesn’t encourage the person to pick up the call and if missed, the recipient will not be able to call you back.

9. Minimize the time you spend on your handset
Studies have shown that the amount of time you spend on your phone could affect different aspects of your life: from your level of productivity at the workplace to your eyesight going awry as you constantly stare at the screen on Facebook or Twitter. Manage your mobile phone usage, increase the time you spend out in the ‘real’ world, meeting and getting to know people and getting involved with your environment. We don’t want life to pass us by on a ‘mobile’ technicality after all! Preferably us e a hands-free or Bluetooth device on calls, at least occasionally, as persistent phone usage has been known to increase chances of getting brain cancer

10. Be Eco-Friendly with your phone!
Most manufacturers have come up with environmentally sound ways of disposing of your unused or old handsets. You can hand them back to either your service provider or the manufacturer’s office e.g. Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson etc. and their experts will do what needs to be done, with the least negative impact to our environment.
I hope this post genuinely helps you with your phone usage.

The Mshipi Chronicles

I still don’t know how to drive… shocking, I know, but there it is. Ok, thats a bit of an exaggeration… let me just say i don’t have a DL. When I ponder about it, I would conclusively say that it’s a matter of blatant disinterest rather than opportunity (or lack thereof). It is purely for this reason that I decided to aptly call the start of this series of articles, the Mshipi (Seatbelt) chronicles, only because I go through these experiences from the passenger seat, and more often than not, on public transportation: as popular in Nairobi as in any other global metropolis (make that any ‘third world’ metropolis).

The route I predominantly use is Kawangware 46, and yes, the journey home is usually as callous and uncomfortable as the title delicately suggests. At the central transportation hub of the city, Kencom Bus Station, one may observe the habits of Nairobians, especially during rush hours. If it were any other capital of the Western world, citizens would be deeply engrossed in one of the latest best sellers as they patiently queue to take either the bus or the train home…but not in Nairobi. To say it’s all akin to a zoo at feeding time would be putting it lightly. Firstly, the bus companies openly exploit consumers: the fare they charge is more often than not, exorbitantly high and continues to sky rocket when people need to get home the most… don’t even get me started about what happens when the floodgates of heaven open on the Central Business District; it’s as if the raindrops fall with currency fertilizer in commuter pockets. Secondly, the commuters seem assuringly unaware of their rights. Why you would make a ‘scramble for Africa’ for a City Hoppa or KBS just to be exploited, is beyond me and thats why I admire ‘the others’ on Route 8 to Kibera. There is no way in hell those individuals would pay anything above 40/= come rain or sunshine.

To say that I’ve seen it all on my daily commute home would be the hugest understatement of the 21st Century. (No wait. Kind of reminds me of this guy way back in the 19th Century who said that this ‘contraption’ known as the television set would never catch on with the human race). Anyway, there happens to be three kinds of people in the world right about now… there are the Arabs, the rest of the world and Kenyans… Kenyans, these very special people with peculiar habits and more often than not traversing global headlines in a plethora of ways. I digress…

This fine Thursday evening, just after a draining day at the office, the early Nairobi night chill ricochetting shivers down my spine as I meander through Kenyatta Avenue onto Standard, passed 20th Century and into Mama Ngina, aka the pedestrians haven within the capital. The treelings that dot the ca brio block tiles en masse seem finally at peace, after an entire afternoon of absorbing dust, sweat, saliva and toxic artificial fumes from cars, trucks and kitchens. Couples are hand in hand, cherishing the few moments they have together after a demanding day at work/college: strolling, standing, on the City Council park benches, pecking, observing and reminiscing. The domineering cylindrical structure that is the Nairobi Hilton beckons, with its chiselled and marbled facade, and as you turn round from it, the vessel-like KCB Centre swallows up the miniscule square peripheried by the National Archives, Galitos and Norwich Union Towers. Then you cross the street and your tranquility is squashed by the hoard of commuters at the Bus Hub. It so happens to be 8.00pm and I’m bewildered as to why there are still so many people here at this time of night, notwithstanding the 24-hr tag the government is trying to slap onto the city’s lapels.

I recollect, it’s end-month. Normally this would be a good thing, but the bus companies always turn this into a boon… it means the mwananchi will cough up an extra 10/= or 20/= just to get home. What happens then is every Tom, Wanjiru and Omondi decides to linger a little longer by the shelters, so that the prices come down. But KBS, City Hoppa and Double M are relentless in milking our mfukos dry; the result is a literal stampede for any bus that comes by. To my left, I witness this primly dressed lady, in a yellow cardigan and lime green jeans trying to outrun a 46-seater bus as she makes an attempt at crossing the street… the side mirror of the vehicle nudges her just enough to topple her over her pumps and honestly the wheel of that bus would have fractured her knee had it not been for the driver’s speedy brake. Meanwhile, a bus pulls up right infront of me and I embrace the opportunity and dash in, only to realize the driver hadn’t really stopped but was moving a couple of centimeters forward. This doesn’t stop the barrage of bodies from boarding the bus though. I comfortably get a seat right behind the conductor and blankly wait till the bus fills up. T-minus 5 minutes later and we are on our way home, the entire space engulfed with silence as everyone settles in and looks forward to reaching their destination. Shortly the conductor takes out his ticketing machine and starts charging the passengers. He happens to be right in the middle of the aisle when the driver sharply applies the brakes of the bus to meet a red light and consequently sends the guy sprawling onto the rubber sheathed floor.

The passengers waste no time in displaying their dissatisfaction with the driver. All sorts of insults hurled at him as the conductor picks himself up, dusts himself off and resumes with his duties. Quiet reigns again, but only for a short while, before this drunk commences with his load of nonsense for the day. Nobody has the energy nor the time to put up with him though, so we all tolerate his antics and outbursts, but what he does before alighting is what had me in utter disbelief. Before the bus comes to a stop at the next stage, he scurries down the aisle and takes over the entrance to the bus, usurps what the conductor was doing and hangs on the door’s edge as he yelps ‘beba gari beba gari‘. When the bus comes to a complete stop, he jumps off, unzips and would you believe it… starts to pee on the others who were alighting! Other distraught ladies vehemently refuse to alight and the bus has to move on to the next stage. All in a day’s trip I tell you. Travel safe folks….

‘Another’ African Tsunami…

Being an ardent Arsenal fan, the last couple of weeks have been kind of equivalent to the effect this terrible tsunami has had on the socio-economical landscape of the mighty Island of Japan. It so happens the Gunners are making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and aren’t the media (trained and untrained) having a field day at my team’s expense. Crashing out of 3 tournaments in two weeks is not an easy feat, trust me, and its not like Wenger planned for all this to happen. I’m cognizant of the fact that at a time Arsenal went without a trophy for 17 years, so what kind of a fan would I be if I didn’t stick by it if the others could that long?

Speaking of Japan, am I the only one who was experiencing this inexplicably hopeless feeling in my gut, as I watched the videos on BBC and Al Jazeera… the tumultuous waves sweeping away anything in their wake: men, women, children, vehicles, livestock, trees, trucks… I guess the only Hollywood blockbuster I can remember that came close to what I imagine the Japanese civilians are going through was Deep Impact. Picture a tower of water, about half the height of Times Tower, consuming the entire shoreline of Mombasa all the way to the tip of the North coast…and tourism being our leading foreign exchange earner, my guess is as good as yours what that would mean for our economy, notwithstanding how long it would take our semi-dysfunctional government to clear such a catastrophe up.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the tsunami, its that for Africa to forge ahead in its agenda to catch up with the rest of the world in the ideological revolution that is steadily taking place, there has to be a turn around from traditionally agrarian dependencies to innovation, science and technology. The tsunami has caused enormous havoc throughout the Japanese countryside…. there’s no hiding that, nuclear power plants are threatening to meltdown and its practically impossible to fathom how the government will clear up all the mess in the streets and piece back the economy together in a giffy. Then you might ask, what is left? I’m sure I’m not the only Kenyan who’s been left wondering how we would cope if disaster struck the same way, and being an African country, it wouldn’t be surprising that the world would be a lot less understanding and helpful unless it convincingly suited their national agendas. The only recurrent statement I hear and see is the fact that the Japanese can handle it…great engineers, solid planners, quality work and brilliant minds…with such a wealth of tangible resource, who could argue with that?

Western countries long ago discovered that the only way to move forward is to faithfully invest in its population, testament to the fact that most of the European, Asian and continental American countries have admirable social policies and ensure that the general population is taken care of… meanwhile our African governments are perpetually spiraling into a cesspool of self gratuity, with the agenda of individual and familial betterment, at the expense of the civilians they were faithfully elected to serve. To deepen this quagmire, Africans are generally slow to rise up to the occasion of fighting for their collective rights because of a rigid mentality brought about by a new form of segregation, ethnicity mixed with ignorance, which comprehensively claws across diverse peoples, tongues and sub Saharan nations.

Let me put the ethnic divide theory on hold for a minute and reflect on this: Africa is divided into roughly three categories IMO; the political class, the wealthy and the ordinary. The ordinaries are the predominant, as on any other continent, but instead of the wealthy being at the top of the food chain, we have placed the political class on such an elevated pedestal, that a subtle taste of its resultant potently alluring juices would corrupt even the noblest of souls. This then equated to political dynasties, dictatorships, misuse of public funds and a wide range of a cornucopia of issues that any citizen who knew their rights, wouldn’t stand for, or be hood-winked into. Whether it be a population that lacks a civic education or simply delights in being spoon fed with a barrage of excuses by biased forces, I have not yet come to that conclusion, but what is clear is that the world as we know it is evolving…

It’s not an agrarian revolution and neither is it industrial nor technological, I think we are way past that… it happens to be an enlightenment that transcends the physical and meta-physical.

As 7 billion earthlings (read a billion Africans) come to the realization that they can force the will of their elite governors, and as Mother Nature fights back with the very creation she was to support, it is a cataclysmically volatile race to a finish line that religion and belief has foreseen for thousands of years, dotted with uncertainty, a poignancy for the past and faith in the promises of the future.