Six

It makes all the difference. A ‘6’ in front of the other digits.

Let me explain: I went to Nairobi on friday and one of the things I had to do, besides getting my last prescription for anti-malaria drugs and antihisthamines, etc. was to meet Katie and book a trip to the Kenyan coast for the new year period. Shouldn’t be hard, though I admit we’d left it a bit late. But we had guidebooks and telephone numbers, we even knew that the codes had changed, what could go wrong?

We went to a cyber cafe where they offer national calls a reduced rate and asked for their help. If we were lacking something vital, like for example a six, surely someone who makes (at leat part of) their living from telephony might be able to offer assistance? We sat in the office and a surly lady told us to write down the number we wanted to call so that she could dial it. Katie had a list of about a dozen. She gave the first.
Didn’t work.
Tried another.
Ditto.
What about the code? Maybe its wrong? We’d checked the code on the Kenya Telkom website. The woman took her telephone directory and… confirmed that the code for Lamu is 042. (don’t believe the many web sites that still exist that tell you its 0121, that’s the old one).

The lady dialed again but left the zero off for some reason. The phone, in loudspeaker mode, made an odd sound which I’m told is a ring tone.
So, they weren’t answering.
Any of them. We dialed about half a dozen of those numbers and always got the “ring tone”.

“It’s calling”, the lady told us, “but they’re not answering”.

We wondered if it was prayer time or something; every low-cost guesthouse in Lamu was dilligently ignoring its telephone.

We tried from mobile phones, landlines, you name it. No bloody luck.

I suspected that the code had been shortened from four to three digits to make for more local numbers in the town, but what was the extra digit to add to the five-digit Lamu telephone numbers?

Turns out, if we’d scrolled down on the Kenya Telkom new numbers page we’d have found the missing digit in a table at the bottom. 😮

But we didn’t.

And so it went on. Finally, on monday morning, having extended and extended our stay in Nairobi because neither of us wanted to book a flight without some confidence of finding accommodation, we were in the office of a travel agent who was very helpful but only dealt with hotels out of our price-range. Katie watched him dial the number and saw the extra digit go in between the code and the double-three at the start of the number. She walked out of the office in to the hall and tested her theory with her mobile. When she returned the agent was trying to get me to agree to high price accommodation and to book the flight with him for the sake of commission.

“We’ve got a place”, said Katie as she sat down again.
The travel agent looked blankly at her. She waved her mobile and repeated: “We’ve booked a guesthouse”.