Sometimes, on days like today, I think of customer service in the US, and I sigh because I know that there's a world out there where there is, indeed, good service. In Kenya, customer service is at times as foreign as ideas like Facebook, Skype, or Fast Food.
Here's the deal. My cell phone mysteriously disappeared the other day. Long story. I know where I last used it. And when I checked again, it was no longer with me.
Later that day, I stopped by a phone shop.
"Can you please stop my Safaricom account?"
The lady behind the counter looked at me as if I just asked her if she'd like to sign up for a colon check. Then she made me write down all kinds of personal information on a small scrap of paper. "Come back in 3 hours," she said apathetically.
After seeing a movie, I went back. It was about 4 hours later. Seeing me, she had a look on her face as if to say, "Oh. You again. I forgot about you."
"Any news?" I asked hopefully.
"We couldn't get through yet."
"Through to whom?"
"So by now, all the credit on my phone may have been used up."
"Is there anything I can do to stop my account?"
"You have to wait."
"Wait for . . . "
"We tried calling. There was no answer."
"What else can we do?"
"You can go there tomorrow, to a Safaricom center. And stand in line. And then they can stop it for you."
"But tomorrow I have guests all day."
"So can you keep calling?"
I took her name and number, but have not yet been able to reach her to find out if she's succeeded in getting through to Safaricom.
In the meantime, I got my other phone back, an older phone someone has been borrowing, and just happened to have in Nairobi with them. But without the charger. So by last night, the power in that phone ran out. So I stopped by another phone shop today.
"Do you have a charger for this type of Motorola?"
The clerk gave me one of those looks again, as if I'm asking her to run a marathon after having a baby. She got up and mozied over to the counter with the chargers.
"Can you please check again? Lots of the phones in this counter have the same connection."
She came back with one that would fit.
"How much is it?"
"I don't know."
"Can you look it up?"
"No. Our computer is hanging."
"Can I just buy it?"
"No. I don't know how much it is."
"When will your computer be fixed?"
"Come back in 2 hours."
So here I am. Getting some work done for which I need a high-speed Internet connection. And waiting for the time to pass so I can buy a new charger. And then, when my guests are done shopping in the Maasai market, go to a real Safaricom shop, stand in line, and hopefully get a new sim card so I can retain my old phone number.
There's no hurry in Africa. Got to remember that... Some days, though, I miss fast service. Fast food. An expression of "I love that you've come to MY store. Now, how can I help you?"
But I also have to remember that the laid-back-ness of life here can be good, too. Like when I took my guests to the animal orphanage yesterday and asked if we could pet the cheetahs, because I know they let people do that. "No, sorry," the clerk said. "They are big now. They can just JUMP up and eat you."
Which I knew isn't exactly true. Nevertheless, they're cats, so I said, "OK. That's fine. But we're not going to go in then."
"It's just a zoo. My friends have seen a zoo. I wanted them to touch the cheetahs. So no problem."
"No. You come. I arrange."
So we paid the entrance fee and got to pet the cheetahs, the cats resting their big heads on my knees and purring gently. The one even licked my hand!
As she lay there licking my hand, I smiled. How ironic. Truly, this cat COULD simply decide she liked me enough to just take a huge bite. And my hand would be gone. But here we were, stroking them, scratching their chins. No waivers of indemnity signed. We simply were there, loving the moment.
And I thought, perhaps I wasn't supposed to have my phone with me then. Maybe it would've rung and it would've upset my cat friend.
So now, I need to find a Safaricom customer service office, go stand in line, and hope for the best. Who knows, I might actually have my old number back by tonight, when the next team arrives and may need to urgently contact me...