On Radio


The encroaching modernization of Kenya has seen radio entering an ever less
important role as a means of communication. Turkana Land missionaries that
might have had a radio antenna in their backyard a few years ago, may very
well have a Celtel tower in sight of their house today. The famous photos of
Maasai herdsmen with their cattle talking on a mobile phone are no
exaggeration. This isn’t too say that the art and science of civilian radio
communication is yet lost in the missionary to East Africa. I myself have
witnessed a five year old girl addressing her father by his radio call sign.
Still, things being as they are in present day Kenya, it is perhaps not a
surprise that one can live in the country for over a year before coming to
use the services of a civilian radio net.

The thing to remember when bringing questions to a person over a Kenyan
radio contact is that the amount of patience you need may be monumental. It
has also been my observation that it is important to be able to hear a
squeaking jumble of shouting and static and interpret it as human speech. I
was literally in awe of the radio operator who helped me make a contact to a
faraway place called Lokori. By the time we were finished, she was taking my
questions, reducing them to three words in phonetic alphabet, shouting them
hoarsely to a station in one corner of Kenya, and then waiting for them to
be relayed over our heads to the opposite corner, then waiting for what she
claimed was a reply.

As an example, one of my questions for my contact in Lokori was how many new
bathrooms were needed at the medical clinic. This was reduced to two words,
one English, one Swahili, and it still took nearly 15 minutes to get the
answer. Mr. Bell, I salute you.

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