“My first – err, no – my MTN line was given to me by my cousin some time in 2005. The special thing about it is that my friends would [now be able to] call me directly, without going through my dad… so there was a sort of personal connection to it. I’ve since bought a few sim cards from other providers but somehow I cannot do without my MTN line. The others don’t seem authentic enough… I cannot, for example carry a Warid line alone and feel comfortable… if you know what I mean… like what they say about the first cut!”
That’s part of a few stories my wife told me when I asked her to tell me her MTN story. She told me about her connection to MTN’s TV commercials and billboards, and the fact that she could now chat with her boyfriend directly, as opposed to having to borrow the dad’s phone. And that, believe it or not, her dad was the only one in her family with a phone.
A lot of people feel this way about MTN.
I bought my MTN line on March 19th 2005, approximately three months after I had started working my first job. As a practice, most parents (or relatives) only used to buy phones for their children after they finished Senior Six (High School) as they’d then be considered adults.
But more importantly, it was a kind of symbol of progress for one to own an MTN line (often this would be before they actually bought a phone), as they would now have a kind of address. Their close friends could send them messages that they would read later when their parents got home. Strange as it seems today, this was still a faster way of communication than having to write a letter and send it through the postal service, a more conventional means of communication for everyone who was in high school during those years.
My 0782- line cost me Ushs. 45,000, exactly 75% of my salary at the time (and even then, this was still the cheaper option compared to competition), so in terms of importance and eventual treatment and care, I can only compare it to the way iPhone owners appear to handle their devices these days. It’s always a function of both the cost of obtaining it and its relative importance. Most iPhone owners remember exactly when and how they bought their first devices. That – again, strange as it seems – is how important an MTN simpack was those days.
So for a lot of people – in millions – this is what MTN means to them.
Then there is the career aspect. Those days (probably even today), there was a perception in some communities that if you want to work for MTN, you study Telecommunications Engineering. In fact, such is the career guidance we received back in 2004 as we filled in forms for possible University selection. More than a dream, it was an inspiration. To the extent that I ended up making that course my first choice at that time, never mind that I didn’t make the cut.
So here I am. Almost 12 years later, a lot more exposure, no longer dreaming about being a Telecommunications Engineer, but wiser, with better perspective and a lot of connectivity all-round. Aware that some times it’s not about the destination, but the journey; the experience of getting there. Because after all, life is only but a journey.
That journey has offered me the opportunity to work with MTN – something I thought was only possible one-way, through Engineering School. The journey has taught me that what I dreamt of as a teenager was probably not high enough. Or at least shown me that it’s easy to take it for granted. Just like it’s easy to take it for granted that MTN has kept a promise – promises, in fact – for 18 years.
So this blogpost is in recognition of the fact that in the 18 years, dreams have been inspired, careers created, innovation stimulated and relationships built. Families. Businesses.
Even in bad times, you’re still connected to someone who cares about you. We should never take that for granted.