Almost 11 years ago, when I left the D R Congo, there was barely anyone with a cell phone. Walkie-talkies were the best means of communications for non-govermental organizations, churches and members of the government. Most Congolese could not afford owning a walkie talkie or joining a network in order to communicate with others. So they used the traditional mouth-to-mouth and impromptu visits to communicate.
As the cell phones began to develop, the culture of communicating began to shift. Most people that I know carry a cell phone. It is not surprising to find that in a family of 10, five family members carry a cell phone. Most people can’t really afford a cell phone. It is expensive by the living standard here, but in the D. R. Congo, cell phones have become one of the most consumed commodities, a must-have kind of thing. If the majority live on a dollar or two a day, it may cost more than 5 dollars a day to communicate on a daily basis. Impromptu visits remain the most cost-efficient means of keeping in touch.
So what do people do with cell phones? They initiate a call and as soon as the person on the other end picks up, they end it and hope the other person will return the call. That is the definition of “Beeping”. Everyone beeps everyone, hoping someone will give in and spends the money for the call. In most cases, when you make the call you pay for it, but when you receive a call there is no charge.
Ironically, the war for the coltan in the east of the Congo, that has devastated the country for the past few years continues to hurt the consumer’s pocket in the form of cell phones.
No worry, I will call you when I need to talk to you. I won’t beep you.