Almost everyone here has a cell phone, even the poorest of the poor. I remember working in rural Kenya in the 1990s and thinking how are these people ever going to modernize without telephone and electric lines? It’s amazing to me how somehow a technology you never even dreamed can eliminate what once was thought of as a problem. Now, those in the most rural areas can access the internet with their cell phones (as long as they’re very rich) and there are even solar chargers for said phones.
Unlike the U.S. where your children stay on your family plan until it’s too embarrassing to do so (we’re still waiting for that), most people here — even the well-off — use “pay-as-you-go” phones. (There are exceptions to this — my husband has a work cell phone and that’s paid for on a plan.)
The common way to “top up” your minutes is to do it on the run as you’re driving. At almost every intersection you’ll see people like the one below standing in the middle of the road who sell scratch cards in various increments. They usually wear vests indicating which cell company they’re with.
I always look for a yellow vest like the one this guy’s wearing because I use MTN.
The red vests below are for Airtel. However, if you only see one color of vest you can still stop and yell your preference and usually they just happen to have the competition’s scratch cards too (and if not they whistle and someone’s over in a jiffy with your company’s card.)
They sell these tiny little scratch cards in increments up to 50,000 kwatcha. These guys are fast — what you do is have your money ready, preferably exact change (so you don’t get lots of honking cars behind you), slow down to a crawl (but still keep moving) and yell out how much you want while you’re handing them the money. They just as quickly hand you your scratch card and off you go!
On the back of these little pieces of cardboard (they range in size from 1 cm x 3 cm to the one I just got which was 0.5 cm x 1 cm) is the silver-colored scratch-off area. On the teeny-tiny card I got the instructions were given in microscopic writing too small for even those with 20/20 vision (like myself; I had my eyes tested before we moved) to read. I think they think we must have the instructions memorized by now. For MTN it’s enter *111#, then the code you just uncovered followed by a #, then your green call or OK button. Immediately you’re sent a text message telling you your new balance.
I always try to buy 100,000 kwatcha at a time which must not be very common because last time the roadside guy gave me ten 10,000 kwatcha cards.
Here are some other common street-side sights in Lusaka.
Newspapers are still sold roadside — here’s a group of men reading the newly delivered papers.
And, the “street-sweepers” are woman who sweep the road with brooms while wearing reflective vests. This seems like a very dangerous job to me — they just stand out in the road and often you come upon them with no warning (especially if there are cars ahead of you blocking your view) at high speeds. They don’t even bat an eye at the cars whizzing past them but I fear for their safety!