Cell phones in Botswana

Everyone in Botswana has a cell phone, apparently no matter their socio-economic situation. In Botswana, you pay airtime when you make a call, not when you receive one.  This solves the problem that people often don’t have enough money to buy airtime, which is all prepaid. They also favor very short calls, which works for me.

Within days of arriving in Botswana, it was evident that I needed a cell phone.  In my view, this was unfortunate.  I am not that old, but I literally have no interest in cell phones, except as a time keeping device – and then a watch would be better, except I don’t have a watch. In my view, cell phones are too expensive and allow you to contacted wherever you are (who wants that?). Nonetheless, because I do lots of long distance driving, I have grudgingly come to the cell phone world as a safety precaution. At home, in the U.S., I share a cell phone with my husband and we piggy back our plan on his parents’ account. That way, we get cell access for about $15/month, which is how much I am willing to pay.

I digress with my views on cell phones to explain why getting a cell in Bots was a brave new world for me. There are cell phone stores on every corner here. So, I chose one that looked professional and walked in. Naturally I bought an inexpensive Samsung not-smart phone. The store owner installed the SIM card and sold me 60 pula (US$6) of airtime, which comes on a little scratch card that looks like a lottery ticket (see blog photo).

To add airtime to your phone, follow the directions on the airtime card. The directions are in impossible-to-read 2 pt font, but with a magnifying glass you will know to dial 103, followed by the 12 digit number revealed under the scratch part of the card, and then press the same key you use to dial a call. When finished, you’ll get a message from the cell phone company (Mascom in my case, because it has the best coverage in our area) confirming your new balance (very reassuring). Your remaining balance will show at the end of every call you make.  Being not a cell person, it took me days to establish these mechanics, which is why I’m writing about them here.  My ignorance amuses the locals because the process is so obvious for them.

I don’t use my phone much, but it is absolutely necessary.  Everyone asks you for a phone contact number. You also need it for the reams of government application paperwork related to any permits you might like to acquire. So far, I have put 180 pula of airtime (US$18) on my phone. I’ve used the phone for about 2 weeks and the balance hasn’t moved much.  I am content in the knowledge that my cell phone will not exceed what I am generally willing to pay. The savings can go to my internet expenses, which are so remarkable in their excess and inconvenience that they require their own blog entry – and I will write about that next.