Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I read you loud and clear

There is now a new addition to my bag – not only do I have to carry my mobile phone (though the network is often off for days at a time), my satellite phone, and thick wodges of grubby cash, but there is also the cumbersome chattering radio.

The radio is like a high-tec walkie talkie. Only one person talks at a time, you have to use code language and say vaguely comical things like ‘that is a good copy’, ‘affirmative’ or (my favourite) ‘Roger Roger’. And of course everyone can hear what everyone else is saying, 24 hours a day. You overhear confused conversations as people try to avoid mentioning specific names or places.
‘November Juliet Kilo One, this is Yankee Foxtrot Three Two, how do you read me?’
‘Five by five, I am now at the location, over’
‘Is that the first location? Over’
‘Negative, it is the other location, ready to be picked up, over’
‘Did you remember to bring the thing I asked you to bring? Over’
‘Was that the thing you asked me for yesterday or the other thing you wanted me to bring for the meeting tomorrow? Over’
‘It was the thing that Two Two wanted you to bring to the next location’ etc etc.
And if you slip up and mention a name the faceless Big Brother who is always listening may well interrupt with a ‘PLEASE BE MORE SERIOUS, PLEASE BE MORE SERIOUS’ and you are swiftly and publicly humiliated.

Every evening there is the radio check, and Big Brother goes through the list of NGO workers to check everyone is alive and well. You have to listen for your call sign, and then respond with a ‘loud and clear, goodnight’. At Thursday night parties there is a momentary interruption at 19.30 as people fumble for their radios and dutifully respond to BB as best they can, trying to avoid too much background noise. Though the party has usually only just begun, the radio check means it is nearly over... Soon after it’s curfew, and you find yourself driving back home again, bumping along the quiet dark streets, ready for another early night.

Over and out.