The communications revolution in Kenya continues to amaze me. As I have probably said before it was very difficult to stay in touch with the outside world when we first came to Kenya ten years ago. Throughout the year that we lived here, (July 2002 to July 2003), a small space within the radius of a banana tree outside the girls dormitory was the only place on our whole compound where it was possible to pick up a mobile phone signal. Even then it wasn't always a sure bet. We often found ourselves cut off completely – much to the dismay of our nearest and dearest.
Since then mobile communications have improved rapidly. At first we were amazed that we could pick up a phone signal in our little house. Then we thrilled to the excitement of our first hook up with the Internet. Tonight the evolution of our communications capability reaches a new peak. Skype has arrived in Kosele.
Having taught ICT for more than twenty years I am ashamed to say that I had never used Skype until today. There are a number of reasons for this. While based in the UK I never really knew anyone who Skyped. While living in Kenya it was, until very recently, difficult to get a strong enough signal with sufficient bandwidth to support even a basic Skype call at an acceptable level. I suspect it's also a generational thing – both my children use Skype routinely.
I'm sure the video camera on most laptops has a built in tendency to make anybody looking into it look like a terrorist. The video image I managed to send briefly to my wife Judi and daughter Ellie made me look like I hadn't eaten properly for a while with a bit of fish eye distortion that caused me some self image problems. Judi and Ellie's on screen appearance was also a bit strange – exacerbated by a slow Internet connection my end. It soon became apparent that sending and receiving video is still expecting a bit too much from the infrastructure here. It was nice to catch a glimpse of life at home though.
I think the most astonishing thing about Skype is the cost, (or rather lack of it). I do have to pay per megabyte for my Internet connection here. I worked out that my Skype call tonight cost eight shillings, (about £0.06 or ten cents). Sending a text from Kenya costs ten shillings. The 'freemium' business model used by Skype obviously works for them but I still find it hard to understand. It isn't difficult to work out why some people are suspicious of 'free' Internet services. They're just too good to be true.
I'm now a convert. A bit late in the day, perhaps, but currently bubbling over with ideas about using Skype to make lessons more interesting in our school, to promote Hope and Kindness and to keep in touch with the family at home.As I am now a fully paid up missionary, (should be receiving my work permit very soon), it is astonishing to think that the first missionaries to Africa had to wait months for their mail to catch up with them. It must have been very tough for them. It's so easy to take the immediacy of modern communications for granted. I am not about to complain about it though. One small step for man …........