there were days when black wires crisscrossed the village, each wire destined to the other villages but only two terminated in our village. the dense sagging multiple wires, supported on wooden poles were the most efficient but scarce means of communicating-albeit at a price. it was not just any other homestead that could be connected to the telephone, it was only the chosen village elite who could afford the bill at each month end.
the telephone then was fixed, unlike the walking mobile device of today. the villagers would go to the telephone rather than waking with the gadget as is the current practice. then, before placing a call, you had to talk to a fellow then known as a telephone operator. this was the interchange guy whom you would tell ‘kindly connect me to Y4 Kanja‘ when your wish was to be connected to your neighbor in the next village known as Kanja. i guess the numbering was so simple as there wasn’t a village with a 100 lines which would confuse the operator.
despite being a measure of success, owning a Y 3 Kanja line was a bother. being the villagers that we are, at times, even without such an arrangement, a villager wishing to sip a cup of tea with sugar would arrive unannounced i the homestead with a telephone line and claim that he had been promised a call. since it was unafrican to hostafellow and not give him something to warm him, the host would be forced to brew a cup of tea as the visitor awaited a non existent call. an hour and half later with no call coming through, he would depart, but his stomach full and warm.
another challenge was the host being forced to be an operator of kind, receiving all kinds of messages to the villagers, all hours of the day and even at night. once i a while, the kid in the telephoned home would be seen rushing to the far end of the village to deliver a particularly urgent message- whose gist would be lost on the way anyway.
when the exhausted host at last gave up on the telephone, the them post and telecommunications company- which also produced a huge book known as the directory or yellow pages then- decided to put up a telephone booth in he village centre. this contraption would produce only one kind of ringing sound when called. you still fed it with coins to accept your request. then, in case you were calling a person or company and didn’t have enough coins, requested the operator to tell the other party to call back.
this was a risky venture as you were not assured of a response. you also hanged up the receiver and guarded the booth so that nobody else used the device before you were called back- or else the cal would find the only line engaged.
talking on the phone was not for everyone. there was a believe that the telephone could not transmit the local dialect so one had to try hard with many many ‘hallo halloo”
but the tiny talking device came and cut the black crisscrossing wires.. today they are mostly used a clothes line. how times change….