Landlines Before Cell Phones; Life in Banana Republics

In 1989 Guayaquil, Ecuador telephones were always problematic. During the rainy season they were so problematic that they would just stop working for weeks at a time. You got used to it. No, really, you got used to it. At least, I did. And it did prepare me for a handful of years later in 1995 Mexico City when landline telephones were a problem there too. 

Once while visiting Gringolandia (the USA), I tried to call home in Mexico City. Unable to reach anyone, not even the always-on answering machine, my Sherlockian instincts surmised that something was afoot. Enlisting the help of an American telephone operator, she enlisted the help of her counterpart in Mexico City, who still couldn’t get through. Apologetically  the Mexican operator gave me the verbal equivalent of the Latin American “what can you do” shrug, saying, “there’s always a problem during the rainy season.

No kidding. In my six years living in Mexico City I noticed that in Third World countries landline telephones went out during the rainy season. So since the rainy season in Mexico City could last for up to 6 months, this was an ongoing, ‘pebble in your shoe’ problem. 

As for paying the landline telephone bill, that was just as convolutely problematic. First, the bill for the landline service was due the month before the service. The mercurial rules about how and where to pay the bill changed constantly, resulting in our home landline frequently being cut off. Or out of service, with the reason why on full view at the street corner, where spaghetti-like strands of telephone wires flapped outside of the telephone junction box in the wind and rain.

But be careful America, what you call the Third World. For whether it was in the City of Chicago, or smalltown Western MA, many a customer’s sub-strata internet infrastructure goes “down” during the rainy season here too. 

And given the current fiasco of American politics, isn’t this a Third World Banana Republic too?  

***


On a dark and rainy-season Mexico City night, I tried to call my friend who lived in a brand-new apartment building a five-minute drive up the hill. I dialed, then dialed again, ten times to no avail. Mysteriously the line connected me to two strangers' homes. Amusingly it repeatedly connected me to an automated message in Spanish. “Dear Client, the number you have dialed is no long (a) in service, (b) available, or (c) or both.” I gave up. 

The following morning on the very first try I reached my friend. So startled to hear her voice,  I completely forgot why I needed to speak to her.

***

When our daughter lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina landlines were even worse. A new telephone line was impossible to get for love or money. Throughout the city, stripped and peeled landline wires danced in the breeze, like fraying Christmas decorations hung by long dead Eva Peron. 

So when you had possession of a land line and moved, you literally took your landline with you by stringing the wires from the old place to the new place. If you didn’t do this you didn’t have a telephone access period

No wonder the few apartments for rent with a landline were easier to rent no matter what the condition.

***

For some expatriates, life without a landline telephone was better. When Ingrid lived in the Czech Republic in the mid-1990s, she didn’t have and couldn’t get a telephone. As she said, “Actually it was rather wonderful. No nasty ringing at the wrong time of day or night.”

As for other shortages of toilet paper, something Americans have recently endured? If she saw a line she said you just got in the line, you never knew if it might not be something you needed at the end of the line. She also learned to take a brown bag lunch whenever she went to the bank, given doing anything at a bank could take all day. It was also a great way to make friends.  

***

After living most of the 1980s abroad, we moved back to Gringolandia to live. Talk about your culture shock. No one haggled, except the seller of the house we bought. Prices in stores were the price. 

Stumbling over the town’s library, my husband and I ran inside. I wanted to get a library card--for all those books in English that I’d missed over the past 8 years abroad--my husband wanted to use the pay phones to get the services turned on in our new home. 

In the time it took for me to get a library card my husband had gotten the electrics and telephone service set up. What a delightful difference!! And we didn’t have to “tip” anyone to do it!

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    TIMELINE June 1972 to June 1973---Candace moves to Lima (Peru)----- June 1973 to May 1974---Candace and The Husband live in Glendale AZ----- May 1974 to August 1974---Living in Toronto, Ontario (Canada)----- September 1974 to May 1975---Living in Aberdeen SD----- May 1975 to July 1979---Living in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)----- July 1979 to June 1980---Living in Asuncion (Paraguay)----- June 1980 to September 1980---Living in NYC----- September 1980 to November 1982---Living in Connecticut----- November 1982 to January 1983---Living in Ponce, Puerto Rico (USA)----- February 1983 to July 1986---Living in Willemstad, Curacao (Netherlands Antilles)----- July 1986 to July 1989---Living in Guayaquil (Ecuador)----- July 1989 to July 1995---Living in Connecticut (yes, again)----- July 1995 to August 2001---Living in Mexico City (Mexico)----- August 2001---Return to Gringolandia (a.k.a. United States of America)----- I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew I met a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, fell in love and moved to Peru in the 1970s. WHAT an adventure it's been!! NOTE: I gave up Facebook, so apologies that I cannot answer any comments since it is only set up via FB.

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