Missing Kenya #5: Kenyan Cell Phone Plans

Eric and I often look back (fondly? or not...) on our first full day in Kenya. We spent something like 8 hours shopping for food, appliances, housewares, and phones, totally jet-lagged, unsure of the exchange rate, overwhelmed at the money we were spending. Eric and our friend Steve Manchester spent something like 2 hours at the cell phone counter (OK, maybe not that long) at the grocery store while I stared at the spice aisle unsure of what to buy. I remember thinking, as Eric handed me my new cell phone, boy I just miss Verizon. It was so known and familiar, and I had a nice phone with an Indiana Jones theme song ring. BUT little did I know how wrong I was to miss Verizon.

Let me say this: Kenyan cell phone plans are AWESOME. We spent $20 apiece on phones, which are basic but do feature flashlights, calculators, timers, and calendars. Then every plan (basically) is pre-paid. We buy a credit card looking thing for $12 or so and with current calling rates of 4cents/min to the US, and 4cents/min anywhere in Kenya, with no roaming charges, that money lasts us MONTHS. Texts are about 1 1/2 cents apiece. PLUS you only pay for outgoing calls, and incoming calls and texts are free. We figure that for both of our phones, we spend less than $10/mo. I went online several months ago to price out verizon's plans and the cheapest options will run us $70/mo for 2 phones (which we need to buy ourselves). Yikes!

Cell phones have revolutionized the Developing World. And I don't think that's an overstatement. I remember going to Cambodia in 2002 and seeing a guy talking on his cell phone riding a rickshaw with kids running around drinking beverages out of plastic bags with straws thinking, what a bizarre contrast. But consider the cost of running thousands of miles of phone lines vs the cost of putting up a few cell towers. With these Kenyan calling plans, everyone can own a cellphone, whereas a land line could cost hundreds of dollars and be subject to fallen branches and slow repairs. My househelpers, who make about $50/mo, own cell phones. They have no electricity in their homes...so they charge up their phones here.

Who knows. We will probably come home to the US after 2 yrs and stare at the new smart phones (I did have to have my cousin explain to me what that was) like hicks from the sticks. But hopefully we can jump back in smoothly. When we get those monthly bills, though, we will look back at Kenya oh so fondly.


Annette said...

so true, I miss the great Kenyan cell phone plans, I also love the picture you have with the post

Timothy said...

For that great price, can Maggie call Mimi and Bapa?

Clayton Ingalls said...

It's not $10 a month, but we use Virgin Mobile and only spend $25 per month per phone.