As Airtel joins TIGO and MTN here in Rwanda, the mobile telephone business appears to be booming. Everyone these days has a mobile phone and communication has become so easy.
But way back in the mid 90s, the best answer to mobile communication was the use of walkie-talkies. When Aggrey and I used to work at this NGO during those 90s, we used to carry around that heavy gadget so that our bosses could monitor our movements. And with these walkie-talkies, we were forced to adopt certain behaviors towards onlookers and prospective chain keepers!
That, of course, is when we labor scarcity was at its peak. Our bosses had never bothered to check our C.Vs thoroughly; otherwise, I guess, we should never have earned ourselves the jobs and we should never have had the chance to move around scaring people with our shiny walkie-talkies. Had our expatriate boss checked our papers, he would have been very disappointed. Our papers showed that we had completed a few courses here and there; nothing really tangible to boast about. Anyways, we managed to pass the job interviews and I earned myself the title of Supervisor of drivers. Aggrey became the new storekeeper.
Although these jobs appeared to be lousy on face value, our satisfaction was derived from other aspects altogether. Notably the good weekly wages in hard cash dollars plus the liberty of picking out any vehicle from the compound at any time! These were not just any types of vehicles. They were Land Cruisers straight from the factories in Japan. They were equipped with powerful radio communication gadgets. The fuel tank gauge was constantly pointing at letter F for “Full”.
Talking about fuel tanks, there was this pal of ours who used to drive a taxi in Kigali. For him, he was always convinced that when the gauge pointed towards letter E, it meant that he had “Enough” fuel. That is why he would drive on for more miles before his lousy taxi jerked to a stop. Despite many pleas from his dear friends, this guy stubbornly rejected the idea that E stood for “Empty” instead of “Enough”.
As for us dudes, we were right there on the summit. Sometimes, we felt like Rock stars in the offing. It was like we were up there at the stage while young chicks screamed out our names in ecstasy. Indeed, whenever we felt like having fun, we would each select some cool Jeeps and cruise around Kigali. Any lady who had the slightest chance to step into the Jeep was considered to be very attractive and lucky.
In order to have a lasting impression on the new catch, Aggrey and I would fake serious communication from one vehicle to another. He would start by calling me through the walkie-talkies “Calling Delta one Roger”. Once I picked this message, I would pretend to my companion by asking her to keep in total silence. I would tell her that this message was coming in from the headquarters in New York.
I would then respond “Charlie Tango copied. Roger”. Then Aggrey would engage into some verbal artillery in a language which seemed to be a mixture of Greek and Portuguese.
He would spell out complicated codes such as Alpha, Whisky, Oscar, Golf, Bravo and Foxtrot. In turn, I would reply in our secret language by punctuating in tough jargons like Echo, Yankee, Zulu, Kilo, Lima and Romeo. Phew! Such exchange of verbal bombs usually left a lasting impression on the chicks. That is why they always hunted for us on Friday evenings in search for yet another splendid weekend.
Having stopped at the main Post office to exchange some dollars, we would roll down to the famous Kiyovu Hotel for rounds of booze and roasted meat.
We would make sure that the whole world knew that we had arrived. Just press the accelerators thrice to produce a resounding effect before slamming the doors closed. Then, with our arms akimbo and the waistline heavily decorated by noisy walkie-talkies, we would storm the counter in a manner to suggest that we were from the wide Wild West itself! That is how we usually closed our superb weekends.
But now these days, things are different. Not only has MTN been around for ages but now TIGO and Airtel have joined in! Mobile phones are the answer. Bye bye dear walkie-talkies – we really used to enjoy you as you croaked all over the place…