Contemplating a Communication Shift Along a Rural Road Outside Arusha, Tanzania

Images depicting an African village on a tapestry.

Images on a tapestry depicting an African village.

It was August 2008, and I was on a rickety bus somewhere outside Arusha, Tanzania. Much to my chagrin, I had had to take a seat toward the back of this bus. Thankfully, I was well-loaded up on drugs from being very ill with some form of parasite or amoeba after having summited Mt. Kilmanjaro. Otherwise I would have probably been more worried about my horrendous motion sickness, especially in the back.

The drugs did not prevent me from waking up screaming at one point, although I did go back to sleep immediately (and yes, for some reason I do remember this, although it was also confirmed by my friend traveling with me). However, I survived, and we eventually made our destination Zanzibar. And any way, I want to write about a far more interesting story.

How Does This Relate to Communication?

I want to tell you about the small villages that we drove past in this rural area. From the bus, I had a view of mostly desolate dry land and every so often a few homes clumped together and then sparseness again. Sometimes I saw people and animals; sometimes gardens and children.

A rural village in Tanzania.

A rural village in Tanzania.

In my head, I wrote a story, a story of how a mobile communications company, Vodapod (before, you ask, I don’t remember how I picked that name), changed the lives of people in one of these small villages. Representatives from the company researched the traffic patterns on the larger roads in the area while searching for a prominent place to put a sign advertising Vodapod (yes, one of those horrible highway signs that dirty up the landscape).

After long negotiations for the perfect spot, they agreed to pay, what was for them, a small sum to the village yearly. Plus they also gave away mobile phones and contracts to the villagers. This money, but also this form of being connected to the world, changed life in that village. It also changed that village’s relationship with other villages.

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What Jolts You Awake?

You know the afternoon slump just after lunch when you’re sitting at your desk, your mind starts drifting, and you’re thinking of getting that second cup of a highly caffeinated beverage?

It’s ok. You’re still technically on your lunch break and not due to dig back into work for another ten minutes, so no need to feel guilty.

Well, what could make you sit bolt upright in your seat and snap you wide awake? In other words, what really blows your mind?

It might be an article on the alleged chemical attacks outside Damascus.

Or it might be an urgent appeal email like the one from Amnesty asking people to call for the release of 74-year-old human rights defender Kyaw Hla Aung, arbitrarily detained in Myanmar since 15 July for peaceful activities.

Or a blog or website that talks about human rights activist Filep Karma, who is serving 15 years in prison for raising a symbolic Papuan flag during a peaceful ceremony in Indonesia.

I’d like to think it would be one of the above injustices. Because, if you haven’t noticed already, that’s my thing; that’s what outrages me and motivates me to take action.

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