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Meryl Cusinato <merylcusinato@yahoo.it >

Phone and how it comes to affect our lives

I was living in Lagos, Nigeria, probably one would think “Wow, in Nigeria, in Africa! That’s great!” Well, it wasn’t so.

My parents traveled from Italy to Lagos when my brother Emanuele and my sister Greta were very small (three years and a few months old). They had chosen to go there to change their life and thinking it would be a good solution for the problem having to raise two children both working and having not enough time for them, and considering that grandparents didn’t help.

My father worked as a mechanic for a company that produced plastic sheets used to cover furniture or other stuff; while my mother stayed home and looked after my brother and sister. After three years in 1979 my other brother, Patrick, was born. Then finally in 1986 I was given birth.

My family lived a simple life, my father worked a lot, sometimes even on Sundays and my mother looked after the house, went shopping and tried her best to give us every thing that we needed to stay in good shape. During those first years Nigeria didn’t import many things, well as a matter of facts it imported very little, only some powder milk from Holland and a few other foods from India, but all the rest was made locally. My mother couldn’t find bread and so she regularly baked it and so we had fresh bread every day, they didn’t sell pasta, so every two or three times a week she dedicated a lot of her time to prepare home made pasta and I remember that sometimes we helped her and it was really nice, it was something that united us and made us fill more loved.

We stayed 11 months per year in Lagos returning to Italy only for the time my father had some holidays, but that one months really flew and I couldn’t really appreciate anything about Italy, or really have the idea of having traveled so far.

Lagos was a really hot place, people were very nice, I mean Nigerians, because as for Italians, well, I have to say that they weren’t so good with us because they envied the fact that my family had good relationships with locals, but throughout the years we managed to survive the envy.

While I was still little things were rather okay, but growing up things got different and difficult, but that is to say because I growing up, so things differently and as every one of us I tended to complicate them.

In fact things were not simple even when I was still a child, I remember in fact that television, and phone were two very precious things, the first well would at least give us some information about what was happening in Nigeria, since we couldn’t afford cable TV, only very rich people had the money!

And the second gave us the chance to communicate once in a while with our relatives in Italy.

For me every things had to be examined in order to find out how they worked, but my curiosity some times went a little too far. Once I came to think about the phone and I couldn’t understand how that strange thing could give me and my family the way to talk with other people, were they inside that thing? Did they shrink in some way and entered there? As I said before my father was a mechanic, and at home we had a lot of mechanic instruments. Well, I chose to take one of the screw-drivers and aimed to the phone.

I thought of doing nothing wrong so I didn’t try to hide, instead I simply started to open the phone comfortably seated on the sitting room carpet. My mother was busy preparing food for my brothers coming home from school and for my dad. I put all my effort in the work and when I finally managed to open it, well I was really surprised: no people inside, nothing only wires and other strange things.

My mother came in the living room to prepare the table and she so me: “Meryl what have you done?” I remember that the way she said that sounded terrible and also left me puzzled, what did I do wrong? I thought. She didn’t hit me, she only went on saying that I shouldn’t have done such a thing and to not touch anything until my dad came back home.

Well, that episode really left me, a little child, confused. I couldn’t realize how that thing worked and how people managed to hide inside there without letting me see them, and way did they have to stay inside there, couldn’t they come out. Fortunately I grew up and came to understand how the phone worked and also I came to realize that in Lagos it was very expensive and that was way we couldn’t call Italy very often but only once in a month.

As I grew up, Emanuele and Greta moved to Italy to attend university, and me and Patrick stayed with our parents. When my father was given the sack, we had to move to another company, a new house and a new way of life. In the new home we didn’t have the telephone because the company said that the lines there didn’t work and if we wanted to phone we had to go in the office 50 km away. Well, we had no other chance but to do that once a month.

After three years I was left alone with my parents to live in Lagos. All my brothers were studying and living in Italy. It was Easter time in 2000 or 2001, my family and I went to phone to my brothers for the Easter greetings. All had gone well and we were already entering the gate to our house when a car stopped just next to us and to men, one with a gun came out of the car. I came down from the car, taking with me my mother that was like an ice block, my dad came down from the car and moved away from it, but the armed thief started shouting “You go inside the car and drive us away”, my father looked at the man and told him that they could take the car, but he wouldn’t go with them. The two had to do things fast and so they jumped inside the car and run away, but before the one with the gun, shot in the air some blows.

My mother fainted and we had to take her inside the house. What to do now? Who could we ask for help? We didn’t have the phone and the also the radio the company gave us for the emergences didn’t work. Some of the people working inside the yard came to see how we were doing and somebody had gone to the nearest police station, but well nothing was of any real help and for the following weeks my mother was really shocked.

Personally I had realized for the first time how we were living isolated from the rest of the world, without having anyone to help us if we had some problems, and that episode made me realize that if anything would have ever happened well we were alone and if any accident happened well who could help us? If something happened we couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t let my feelings and my worries come out, since I had to stay near my mother and provide a lot of comfort for her.

After that episode became more apprehensive and more and more worried about me and having me away from home when I went to school 56 km away from house. Some time later that same year the company installed a phone in the house, but it didn’t really work well.

While I was in that situation other Italians that came to school with me had a simpler life, they had cable TV, Satellite, phone, mobile phone, Internet and they lived very near to each other and to the city centre and the school. Their life was really much more simple then mine.

I remember that going to school always gave me the nerves and I couldn’t wait to reach home. In 2002 for Christmas time as every years my brothers came to Nigeria to see us and to spend some time together. Christmas Eve, time to open the presents: I was given a rather big present to open, it was also a little heavy and I was really puzzled and curious so I opened the package with great haste. It was a mobile phone. “Wow!” I was really, really happy, I couldn’t believe it, a real cellular for me!!! The only problem was that I didn’t have a line and that it was very expensive and so I thought immediately that my father would never buy me one, but recalling what had happened the year before my mother insisted and my dad had to buy a line.

I was only allowed to use it to call mum and non to call Italy, but at least I was able to give mum some news during my trips to school and we didn’t feel too lonely anymore. Having a cell for the first time introduce me to the strange world of messages, in fact now that I had the possibility I sent messages to my brothers in Italy and so we could keep a little more in contact and we were all very happy.

In 2003 my dad had some really big problems with the company and was given the sack, but the cause of it was not a good one and so my father went to the unions and they told the company that if they didn’t want to have problems, well all they had to do is to give my dad his job back. So they did, but this time they hired him in Italy and so we definitely moved to our house here.

Here all changed, I had not only the phone home, but the mobile and the internet!!!! A lot of things with which to communicate and now I wouldn’t have all that fear of “What would I do if something happens, who can I call to help?”

It was last year’s summer, during the evening I went out with my boy friend and after midnight, well I think it was about three in the morning, I was driving back home when the car stopped. ”Oh no! Now what, don’t tell I’ve ran out of fuel!!!” I was in the middle of the road and without fuel. What to do?

Fortunately I had my precious cell-phone so I called my boyfriend and told him what had happened, I felt so ashamed. He came to help me taking with him some fuel inside a glass bottle he had managed to find. He couldn’t believe it, how could I remain without fuel???

And that episode really gave me the idea of how important is to have a mobile and how it can really help in risky situations. It made me realize that even though sometimes we abuse the use of it, well it still is a great invention and it really helps in life, especially if you happen to forget to fill your car.

16/05/06

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