In many ways, the island of Guanaja is a place that time has passed by. People here generally only have an elementary school level education, if that. They do not have driver's licenses and do not drive cars (chiefly because there are no roads). They have few technical skills or even technical knowlege for that matter. They do not bowl, nor golf. Many don't even swim! They are not computer literate. Those young ones who do know how to get online generally have to do it at a couple of internet cafes on the Cay.
But they have discovered cellphones. Boy, do they love their cellphones!
Because there is no such thing as billing-in-arrears down here, virtually all cellphones are pay-as-you go. You buy cards in various denominations and then talk until the card runs out. None of the phones tells you how much time you have left. You have to call a number that tells you. Nobody does that. What happens is, you go to make a call and a Spanish lady tells you that you don't have enough lempiras. If you have another card, you put it in. If you don't you're out of luck. Very inconvenient. (Smart ones always keep a fresh card in their pocket.)
Cellphone etiquette is something that has totally eluded and evaded the people of Guanaja. They seem to believe that if you have a cellphone it is their God-given right to be able to get ahold of you (and be gotten ahold of). My employees seem to think that they can call me anytime, day or night, seven days a week. My company phone has rung at 11:15 p.m. Do I pick it up? Hell, no. Most of the time, I don't even answer it on weekends. If people cannot for some reason reach you, they get all indignant and uppity when they finally do.
"I tried to call you FOUR times!" they'll complain angrily, as if I was obliged to take their call. Heh.
"Yeah?" I say. "That's too bad." Unapologetic but not rude.
They'll press the issue: "Was your phone off? Isn't it working?"
I say, "No, it's working fine," without further explanation. It freaks them out. They take it personally.
This absolute right-of-contact has a dark flip-side: They simply cannot *not* answer their cellphones. It is impossible for them to let a call go to voicemail if they can absolutely avoid it. The end-result is rather annoying. But it can be humorous, too.
Guanaja is a poor island, and people live well beyond their means, personally and professionally. Some here think we have big, bottomless pockets from which we'll donate money to every cause and company, whether it's a charity or not. We get so many requests for funds that a major part of my job is filtering and prioritizing them before presenting them to the boss. Recently, two ministers from a local church/school politely asked if they could "get together and talk with me." Of course I knew what they were after: Money. I told them to come see me on our cay and I'd try to be here.
We have a big conference table out on one of our decks. It was a beautful day, there was a lot going on inside, so we talked out there. Basically, they wanted about $20,000...as in DOLLARS, not lempiras. As we sat there and they gave me their spiel, one of their cellphones rang. "Excuse me," the minister said, "I have to take this." And he did. He backed his chair away from the table a little, then began chatting. We caught him up when he returned to the conversation. A short while later, the other one's cellphone rang. Sure enough, he took that call too. I was impressed at their blatant and blitheful rudeness. But not surprised.
I had purposely left my own cellphone on a counter just inside the house. I heard it ring (naturally, as I knew it would), but decided against answering it. Daniel, our cook retrieved it and came running outside. "Bob, your phone!" he said excitedly, holding it out for me to grab. I sighed and waved him off. "Just let it go to voice-mail," I said. "There's no call so important that I have to take it right now." Daniel left, looking very perplexed. I was trying to make a point specifically with the ministers, but I think it was lost on everyone.
I cannot single-handedly change this culture's fascination and obsession with their cellphones. But I'll have fun trying.