It's been the better part of a week since we've received an email or skype from Claire, though when I stop to think about it, it seems extraordinary that I should expect instant communication with someone who's working in a jungle 4,881 miles from Columbus, Ohio.
So if Claire had by luck of the draw been sent to one of the fortuitously situated clinics we'd probably be emailing or skyping every day instead of sporadically.
But even though we can't skype or email, we could still have daily instant communication by phone if we wanted to. For about $1 a minute.
The only problem with that option is that you're so distracted by the cost that the fleeing minutes and dollars end up being the focus of the call.
It was Claire's husband Miguel who came up with the idea of looking for a pre-paid phone card for Africa that would hopefully lower the cost of a call. He'd been asking friends around Chicago if they knew of an African market or shop that might sell a phone card.
Though such places surely exist in Chicago, none of his friends knew where to find one.
But I did.
Here in Columbus, and not far from where I live, there is a is a large African community. There are over 75,000 Somalians living in Columbus, along with many Ethiopians, Eritreans, Ghanans, and people of other African nationalities.
The main East-West artery on the north side of Columbus is Morse Road, and if one were to take this road for about 5 miles west of my suburb of Gahanna, one would start seeing commercial establishments on either side of the street with names like African Paradise Restaurant , Dabakh Restaurant, Halal Market, Berekum African Market, Afric Market, Africa Euphoria Braiding, Jubba Travel Center.
I often pass these places in my comings and goings, but had never thought to visit one until the issue arose of finding an African phone card.
I knew that if a phone card was to be found in Columbus I'd find it in one of those shops.
So last Friday I headed west on Morse Road until I came to the African commercial area. I randomly picked a promising-looking store nestled back in the corner of a shopping center:
At the counter sat a friendly lady with a lovely lilting accent who told me when I asked that she was from Ghana.
It turned out that she did carry several varieties of phone card that could be used to call anywhere in Africa and she asked me where I wanted to call and for what reason. I told her about Claire and explained that I wanted to buy some cards to send to her husband in Chicago. Most of the cards she sold required that the call originate in Ohio but she did have one card that could be used to call from anywhere:
The card worked well enough, though, perhaps because of the torrential rain falling over the jungle at the moment when Miguel called Claire, the call was dropped several times and so they ended up with only 12 minutes worth of talk.
But 12 minutes was 34 cents a minute, an improvement over the $1 a minute they'd been paying.
So I went back to the Berekum Market and bought more cards, sent most of them to Miguel but kept a couple for myself.
I tried calling Claire on my card and, this time the weather being agreeable on her end, we were able talk for 18 minutes without undue minute-dollar anxiety, during which time Claire assured me that she and her staff were doing fine and well though the work was intense.
So soon I'll be heading back yet again to the Berekum Market. I think maybe this time along with more phone cards I'll buy something else from the store, some kind of food that I've never had before. I may also check out some of the other little stores and markets, maybe try an African meal at one of the restaurants.
I suddenly find myself with an interest in all things African.