Instant Messaging in Africa:
Real-time Conversations over Satellite
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By Mark Krueger, Christian and Missionary Alliance
Communications have certainly changed in the 20
years that I have served as a missionary with the Christian & Missionary
Alliance in West Africa. When we first arrived in the country
of Mali, we had no access to phones. It would take at least three
months for us to write a letter and then get a response back.
Our link to the world around us was through the BBC via short-wave.
When we returned to start our second term we brought with us
a new computer, a Toshiba 1200 double floppy disk with no hard
drive. We were on the cutting edge! Still it took months to send
and receive correspondence and phones were only available in
the major cities.
Upon returning to Africa for our third term, we
brought a "fast" 486
processor with Windows 3.11. We didn't even bother asking to put a modem in
as we figured we would have no use for one of those things anyway.
About half way through the term we started to hear about a thing
called Electronic Mail or E-Mail. We also heard the term 'the
Web' thrown around and wondered what was all this about. We found
out that email could be a good thing and so got someone to send
us out a modem and got hooked up with CompuServe. What a difference
that started to make. Our children were attending an MK boarding school in
and we were able to start sending them regular updates via e-mail and to hear
about things going on there too. We also began to get in touch with our families
on a more regular basis. The internet was still out of our reach here.
As we began our fourth term, we found ourselves
in a remote area without any real phone system except for one
at the post office. We had to travel an hour's drive to the nearest
large city to do email and we also began to have internet access
there. However, that system was very temperamental and so sometimes
we would go and spend the entire day trying to connect without success.
It was at this point we heard about the RBGAN
satellite modems. We decided to investigate and when we heard
about their features and the fairly reasonable price of using
them, we decided to go ahead and get two to start with for our
missionaries living in remote locations. We were so pleased to
be able to sit in our own homes and do email. We were also glad
that we didn't have to wonder every time whether the connection
would work or if it would break in the middle of a transfer.
We had used the system for about a month or so when I remembered something
about MSN Instant Messaging. We knew that with it you could "chat" in
real time with people all over the world at the same time. We decided to
try it out, we have four children, two are studying in the U.S.A. and two
are attending a MK school in Senegal. So we had our kids all get signed
up for the MSN Instant Messaging. Basically, that means getting a free
Hotmail account and then downloading the program software to their local
computers. We did ours at a cybercafe as it would have been too costly
to download via the satellite modem. Once we did that, we sent an email
out to our kids and told them to be online on a certain date and time.
We were wondering if this would be really expensive since we pay by the
bytes not by time on the RBGAN modem. So we were prepared to cut it off
quick if that was the case.
However, we found that if we just used the simple
instant messaging format of typing and responding the cost was
kept very low. We figured that we could do up to two hours online
and it would come out less than $10.00 on our bill. That is quite
a bit cheaper than doing a conference phone call on an international
line. We were also able to 'talk' with all of our kids at the same
time and they could chat back and forth too. This tool has really come in handy
for us now in that there have been a few times that our kids needed to have an
extended time to talk through some things that doing a simple email would not
have been sufficient.
So we have gone from three months to less than
30 seconds to have responses to questions we raise. We would
recommend this way of communication. It shouldn't take the place
of regular e-mail and other correspondence but it is nice to
have when we want to talk with our kids or friends or family.
In fact our oldest daughter is right now in Thailand waiting
for us to "talk" on
MSN later this week. So if you have any questions let us know. You
may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information and assistance, contact us at email@example.com.
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