Modernity is mind-boggling at times. At least, for me it is. Part of the issue is undoubtedly the fact that I’m a casual Luddite, who doesn’t put in the effort to stay up-to-date with the various technological breakthroughs going on around the world. Innovations, such as “the cloud,” “air-dropping,” and “4G,” are all shrouded in mystery for me in my ignorant little corner of the world. This techno-laziness often makes me a fairly easy individual to impress.
Like yesterday, for example. Yesterday, Rochelle called her sister and talked with her for 45 minutes. To me, this was about the equivalent of recreational, inter-planetary space travel.
To really appreciate the situation though, you need to remember that my wife’s nuclear family is something of an oddity, in that they are very close relationally, but extremely distant geographically. Having retired from NTM, her parents still bounce back and forth from New Hampshire (USA) to West Africa for several months each year. Her older brother is with NTM in Guinea, West Africa. Her older sister is with NTM in Brazil. Her younger sister married a Canadian and lives in Ontario. And we, of course, live in Papua New Guinea. Add in to the equation the fact that the areas where NTM missionaries often locate are not usually known for their internet cafes or 3G cell networks, and you can start to get an idea of how difficult it can be to contact any of them.
On our end, here in Iski, we are able to use an antenna to tap into a weak cell signal to send and receive small emails, and we have a 6-inch wide area, 2 feet off the floor, in our living room that we can sometimes make phone calls from.
Rochelle’s sister, Danielle (whom she called the other day), has an even less-luxurious set-up. Her family is living in a village in Amazonia that is a 4-day boat ride from town, with no cell service at all. Their only means of communication with the outside world is the village’s public, satellite-phone booth that the government installed a few years back for the community. It’s good for emergencies, but since it gobbles up phone credits like our cat eats lizards,* they are only ever able to use it for short “business” calls.
Anyway, we figured out recently that our network provider over here offers a special international per diem bundle that allows us to talk for 50 minutes for $5.00 USD, flat rate! Brazil being one of the countries on the list, we tried calling the lonely little phone booth, and, lo and behold, it actually worked!
Incredible. Of course, the Amazonian villager who answered the phone on the other end didn’t speak a lick of English, but through the persistent and pathetic efforts of my wife saying “Danielle!” over and over, with an attempted Portuguese accent,** we were eventually rewarded with the sweet sound of her sister’s voice!***
There we were, on Sunday morning: my wife sitting on the floor, huddled against our bookshelf, in the middle of a PNG swamp, laughing and talking to her sister, who was standing at a phone booth in the middle of a jungle village in the Amazon, on her Saturday evening!
So, there you have it: that was the scene that made me think, “How is this even possible?”
I know, this probably isn’t an impressive feat to someone who is accustomed to Western conveniences, but to someone like me, who spends every day within a society that doesn’t have roads, electricity, plumbing, or machines, it stands out as kind of a big deal.
* I’m pretty sure the phone booth doesn’t puke the credits back up on their porch afterwards though, so the analogy breaks down eventually.
**We found out later that the villager didn’t speak Portuguese either. Only her people group’s language.
***Out of breath, from running from her house at the summons of a village kid. 😛