Feature Article of Sunday, 4 April 2004
Columnist: Nkrumah-Boateng, Rodney
My holiday is going rather well. After two weeks in town, I think my rate of assimilation is pretty impressive. I am quite used to the heat now. I bargain hard for almost everything I buy. I know all the popular FM programmes now, and I know who presents them. I know what ?Auntie Dede? buses are, and I know where to catch the Abeka La Paz taxi at Circle. I am still grappling with the political scene, trying to figure out who is minister for what, and who is MP for what constituency. I can even list the names of all the members of the National Reconciliation Commission. Slowly, but surely, I am absorbing the social nuances and habits that make things tick one way or the other in this land.
One social habit which I have found very amusing is the fine art of ?flashing?. Days after my arrival, when my cousin told me she would give me a flash the next day, I stared at her uncomprehendingly, my face as blank as a fresh sheet of blotting paper. A Flash? What in heaven?s name was that, I wondered. Noticing my confusion, she laughed and patiently explained it all to me. She would allow her mobile phone to ring only once when she called me on mine, and then deliberately cut it, thereby indicating that she wanted me to call her back. Obviously, because I had just come home from abroad, the automatic assumption was that I could afford to call her back.
I got loads of flashes on my phone in the days following my arrival. So many flashes, dear reader, that I almost got blinded by them. And ever so dutifully, I called them back as soon as they flashed. Sometimes I did not even know the number that was flashing me, yet I called back. Apparently, even if one does not have ?flashing credit?, then it is socially acceptable to borrow someone else?s flashing credit to flash someone. It can get a bit confusing, all this flashing business.
But then, we all know units do not come cheap, and that unlike the kingdom of heaven, they certainly do not last forever. I quickly realised that 400 units sounds like a lot, but in reality, it lasts about as long as the life cycle of a mosquito if you keep calling back whenever you get a flash. To survive, and to deny Spacefon any abnormal profits, I learnt a new trick. You flash me, I flash you back. Counter-flashing no be crime. We could flash each other back and forth from sunrise till sunset. Whoever gets tired first can then make the actual call.
I decided to conduct some unscientific research and to observe things around me. I concluded that the dynamics of flashing in modern Ghana is directly proportional to one?s economic well-being, gender, and the nature of the relationship between the caller and the recipient. Of course, if you are a businessman and you need to make a business contact, you do your image no good by flashing your client or supplier. After all, if you want to make money, you have to spend it first. However, a cash-strapped student on campus is likely to flash his father rather than spend his precious units calling him, knowing daddy will always call back.
Interestingly, I observed that no self-respecting man would dream of merely flashing his wife or girlfriend. And so Miss ?Apuskeleke? Akua Rosina sees no reason at all why she should actually call her sugar daddy when a quick flash to him will ensure that he calls her back pronto, unless of course the missus is lurking around rather suspiciously, her ears pricked to full attention. Never mind the fact that it was Sugar Daddy himself who bought the phone for Akua Rosina and regularly buys her units. But will he dare question her regarding who she calls with the very units he buys her? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.
Another interesting observation I made was that sometimes, very like a rhetorical question, one is not supposed to call back after receiving a flash. This is where the sole purpose of flashing someone is just to say ?hello, how are you doing??, or ?goodnight?. The idea, apparently, is to communicate without spending units to call or send a text message. This appears to be a common trend on the university campuses and among the youth.
In the main, however, if the caller?s perception is that the recipient is in a better position to afford to call back, then the caller will always flash the recipient. Maybe the mathematicians at ?Kumasi Legon? can express this better by way of an equation. Or perhaps the Philosophy, Sociology, and/or the Economics gurus at ?Accra Legon? can put it in technical parlance by way of an academic theory. The mobile phone companies could pool resources together and fund the research. At least it could help them to establish who their core purchasers are when it comes to top-up units.
I was flashed twelve times last night. I ignored nine. Of these nine, I did not recognise four of the numbers. Of the three I called back, two were just saying hello, and as for the remaining one, I had specifically asked her to flash me upon reaching an agreed venue so I could make my way there. I can only hope that the whole flashing business will unravel itself to me better in due course. Time will tell.