I really enjoyed the quiet and calm of Same. Sure, there were roosters, motorbikes revving, and I even saw a billiards table under a lean-to on the side of a house. But none of it was within metres of my bedroom, so I slept a lot better than I usually do in Dili (despite Elfrina’s incessant late-night texting). Same doesn’t even have electricity – a few lucky places, including the guesthouse where we stayed, had generators running between around 6.30pm and 11pm, so there was light in the evening, you can charge your mobile, etc.
What? Charge your mobile?
Yes. Your mobile. I discovered that my mobile had service on the Friday evening, when I got a text from a friend, asking about the room in my place (welcome news). It seems incongruous, but in places of poor sanitation, wet season floods and dry season starvation (i.e. lots of developing countries), mobile phones flourish and are an important and common tool. Landline communications infrastructure, rather like roads, takes a lot of maintenance. Maintenance which governments like Timor’s couldn’t hope to keep up with. The rusting, broken telephone pole, across from our guesthouse, that was drunkenly leaning on its neighbouring pole, is the perfect example.
But, the infrastructure required for mobile phones is a completely different matter. All you need is to be able to set up the towers in appropriate places to reach the majority of the population in an area, and even in mountainous places, they can get great reception. (Take note, idiots running phone companies that provide ‘service’ in rural and regional Australia.) The key, of course, is that a huge part of the costs are offloaded to companies (who make the phones) and citizens (who buy the phones). All the government has to do is make sure there’s a phone company and towers (and come to think of it, I have no idea if Timor’s sole communications company, Timor Telecom, is government or internationally owned).
Of course, there are negative side effects. I discovered one that affects me: almost all calls I make for work, I have to make on my own mobile, and of course I can’t claim calls because my Timorese mobile is pre-paid, and anyway I think it’s a volunteer thing. So I spend way more on phone credit than I would just texting mates and family.