Quis custodiet ipsos excelum

I’m trying to navigate through the bureaucracy of obtaining a work permit with an immigration officer, and my progress is interrupted by the officer’s ringtone. It reminds me of the ringtone I had on the phone I was given during my semester in Uganda almost a year ago. Moments later, someone else’s cell phone brings up the same memory, then again. Welcome to East Africa, pronounces the immigration officer as he stamps approval in my passport. Where all ringtones are identical.

If everyone’s ringtones are identical, how can people distinguish whether it’s their phone ringing in a 20-person dala dala (read: a most common form of public transportation here; a little, chubby, falling apart Toyota van with anywhere between 20 and infinite number of passengers)? Would they even care to check whether they should pick it up on the off chance that it is theirs ringing? What if it’s an urgent call, say, a medical emergency? So it is I begin my work with the Touch Foundation thinking about the management inefficiencies of the Tanzanian healthcare system as suggested by people’s ringtones.

Hypothetical exaggerations aside, the provincial East African environment here in Mwanza does make you appreciate the impact that minute details may have on quite important aspects of life or, for that matter, lack thereof. During my first couple of weeks here, I have learned, for example, that, much like a bug big enough to drive you mad by flying and buzzing into your eardrum is the single most prominent vector of death south of the Sahara, a couple of minor, easy-to-overlook errors in an excel spreadsheet may result in dramatically inadequate staffing of healthcare facilities throughout a country north of 50 million people.

It’s not bad to have an opportunity to affect 50 million people after 4 years of liberal arts intellectualism, especially while being merely one more health-related NGO worker in the developing world. Like a mosquito. Only, hopefully, with a positive impact. A nice mosquito. (?)

Until my next post, I will be assuming the duties of keen vigilante of mosquito-sized details. An excel guardian.