Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?

7/06/2006

THE GREAT PANDA ... I MEAN CELL PHONE ADVENTURE

This past Saturday I was on a Chiva truck heading downhill to a township about 40 minutes away to experience my first real life Latin American cockfight.  I knew I had the phone because 1) I always have it just as a part of my general emergency preparedness and 2) Because during the ride I checked a text message and distinctly remember clipping the phone back into my pocket using the billfold-style clip that is on the case.
 
When I arrived at my destination, all ready to witness the bloodsport (purely as a curious bystander of course, I wasn't about to blow my just-barely-sufficent Peace Corps allowance by betting it all on what in any other place would have been considered playing with one's food), I realized that my phone pocket was empty.  There was an eighth of a second when I thought maybe I had stuck it in my backpack and somehow forgotten, but a quick check proved that hypothesis false.  I wandered around the area where I disembarked the Chiva thinking maybe the act of jumping out had dislodged the phone, but nothing was to be found on the ground.  I was up shit creek without a paddle.  Then I realized I was still much better off than the roosters I was about to watch and I felt a bit better.  After the feathery spectacle I headed back home with the wheels in my head turning for a solution to the problem.  If it was just my phone that I'd lost, that would be one thing, but the missing cell had inside of it the CHIP from the phone that PC had issued me, so it was government property and it was my ass if I didn't get it back.
 
---Insert frustration and doubt and drama here---  (I didn't know whether the phone had jumped out of my normally secure pocket and was just plain old lost or if someone sitting behind me had skillfully swiped it from my pocket.  Wasn't sure whether I should hire a taxi and scour every meter of the roadside to see if I could locate it or if I should file a police report for a thief I couldn't even be sure existed.)
 
Back at home late that night, after picking up some tamales de carne (a man's still gotta eat), I hunted for my old phone, the one I'd bought during training before PC decided to issue everyone a fresh one.  I charged it up, since it had just been collecting dust since I arrived here, and went to bed, thinking of what I would say to someone if I actually got a person on the line when I called my number the next morning.
 
>>FF>> to the next morning.
 
I dialed the number of the missing phone on the phone I sitll had lying around and held my breath.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Then "Alo?"  It was some kid.  That kid passed it off to another kid, who giggled.  Then a woman came on the line.  In hurried Spanish I explained to her that my phone was missing and that somehow she had my phone and that I would very much like to get it back.  She explained that yeah her husband had gotten it on a Chiva and brought it home.  I said where I lived and asked where they were located.  Crud.  She lived even further from me than where the cockfight was.  Well, I asked, is there any way that I can meet you out there somewhere or might you be coming to my neck of the woods some time soon?  She said her son attended a colegio here and that I could meet him outside of Colegio X at 6:30 that night.  I said thank you very much, that will work and I will give him five bucks for his trouble and for his honesty.  Then the call was dropped.  The phone I was using to call had run out of prepaid minutes.  I didn't have the woman's name, or the name of her son, and she didn't know my name.  However, I had a time and a place to meet up with him and I figured that that was sufficient.
 
That night I went to the agreed upon meeting place and at 6:25 I tried calling the phone.  Nothing.  The phone was unavailable.  I tried again.  Same message.  I sent a text to the number saying that I was waiting, that I had on a green shirt and a big hat and to please let me know where you are.  No reply.  Now I was getting worried.  One possibility was that the family had decided that they had a good thing going and they were just going to keep the phone and so were disarming my attempts to contact them by just turning the phone off.  Another possibility was that the kids had broken it while messing around with it, rendering it unavailable on the network, and so even if I got it back it would be useless.  A third possibility, and one that worried me, was that the phone's battery was dead and the family was unable to charge it since they didn't have the charger.  If that were the case then any attempt on my part to contact them would be in vain, and if I didn't meet up with the student son that night, without a name or a precise location in which to search for them, I might never get it back.  Time ticked by and 6:30, then 6:45 came and passed.  Every kid in a school uniform who came into view got a good lookover by me to see whether he had a cell phone onhim, and if he did, whether it resembled mine.  No luck, no luck, no luck.  At 7:30 I felt confident that the kid was not going to show up and ploddded my way home to rethink this problem anew.
 
If I couldn't call the people who had the phone, and I didn't know their names, how could I get them to get in touch with me?  If the phone's battery was then they couldn't use it to find out the number I'd called them from.  I pondered this for a while early the next morning, listening to the radio for some musical inspiration.  When the news came on I turned it to another station since I usually don't care much which store has a sale on diapers or whatever, but this time my finger lingered near the button in thought after the station changed ... I had an idea.
 
I threw on some clothes and took a hike up the street to one of the local radio stations, the one with the best reception in my experience.  I walked into the office and explained who I was, that I was working with the municipality and had lost my cell phone and now couldn't seem to contact the people who had it, and would they be able to do an announcement on the radio encouraging the people who have it to either call me on my other number or to drop it off at the radio station with their contact info so I could give them a small reward.  Sure they could do a spot like that, and it would cost me four dollars if I wanted it to run three times.  Deal.  I wrote the spot up, cash exchanged hands, and I left, feeling like I'd done as good a job as I could with what I had to work with.
 
While eating a late lunch that day, that little feeling of "what if" started to gnaw at me from the inside.  What if the phone had been off because the kid was already in his class at the colegio?  What if they had turned it back on just to try and use the phone for soem personal calls?  What if I called the number right now...... so I did.  And it rang.  And it rang.  And a boy picked up. 
 
My heart was racing now because this was a bit unexpected and I knew I had some quick work to do.  Hi, hey there umm, you guys still have my phone, what happened last night?  I have your five dollars right here, and I waited for you for an hour.   Silence.  What is your name?  Javier, he said.  Hi Javier, I'm ______, when can we make an exchange?  Meet me outside of the school at 6:20 this evening, he said.  And bring ten dollars.  Yes, yes okay.  I'll see you there.
 
Well at this point I was a little unnerved.  He hadn't met me the night before, hadn't returned my call or my messages, and he wouldn't explain what had happened.  Now he was telling me to double my reward.  Did this kid plan to have some friends jump me in the dark as I waited?  Did he want to RUMBLE?  I'm just not the rumbling type...  I didn't know how old he was, whether he was some hulking farm boy who would snap me like a twig of balsa wood or what.  Judging from where he lived, there was a good chance that he was quite handy with a machete and I didn't want to find that out the hard way.  I thought of all sorts of things I could do to prepare myself.  I could bring a police office with me and have the guy hide over in the shadows.  I could bring a brick and hold it behind my back.  I could go find a stray dog, feed it a lot of meat and stuff to get it used to me, then spend some time training it to attack on command, and bring it with me as backup.
 
---Then I realized that all those thoughts were absolute ridiculousness and were probably the result of the psychotic effects related to the antimalarial medicine I am taking.---
 
AS IT TURNED OUT, I met the kid last night, who happened to be a scrawny little preteen nearly catatonic with his own nervousness.  Is my voice that deep on the phone, I didn't know?  We chatted for a minute, then he handed me the phone, I checked it to verify that all the contacts and stuff were there (he had futzed with a bunch of settings but all seemed to be intact), and I gave him a few bucks, shook his shaking little hand, and thanked him heartily.  He headed off to class, and I headed off to the office to compose yesterday's blog post, and I don't know if I'll ever meet up with him again while I'm here.  So that's that.
 
(Hey gang, to tell the truth, this written version of the story was probably not worthy of being called "the great cell phone adventure."  It's hard to convey all of the jitters and anxieties that these events allowed me to experience, from the imagining of a street brawl to the questioning of how exactly the phone got into the hands of someone else to the uncertainty of why noone showed up the first time around at the school.  I was freaked that I'd have to pay Peace Corps to replace the phone and would have some black mark on my name for having lost government property.  I dunno, there were lots of other things flying around my head for a few days there.  But now the cell phone is safe and sound in my ... umm .. I could have sworn I'd stuck it in my pocket ...  umm, I'll get back with yall another time.  wtf)

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