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Phoneless in Mongolia

by Stephen Lautens

July 25, 1997

More than half of the people in the world have never used a telephone in their entire lives.

Astounding but true.

My immediate reaction? The Third World isn't all bad.

But their phoneless paradise can't last forever. Someday soon, even the furthest reaches of the back of beyond will get phone service.

Imagine a small mountain village in Mongolia. Ghengis Khan (no relation) is the first to get a telephone installed in his hut. Because of their policy, BM (Bell Mongolia) couldn't give Ghengis a specific time to come and install the phone. They could only give him the choice of the first half or the last half of the rainy season.

No sooner had the installer left when Ghengis got his first call ...


"Hi, I'm Mongo and I'm calling from MT&T. Are you happy with your long distance company?"

"I don't know, this is my first call."

"We'll just mark you down as undecided. With MT&T long distance is only fifteen groats a minute and if you sign up now we'll throw in a free bucket of water buffalo milk as a bonus. So, can I sign you up, or should we send over a horde to burn down your hut?"

Although Ghengis didn't know anyone outside the village, he prudently decided to switch to MT&T.

He had just settled down to a big bowl of gruel when the phone rang again.

"Hello. I'm calling on behalf of the Frostbite Relief Fund..."

"Sorry, I already gave three toes and a finger at the office."

Ghengis was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of installing a phone when it rang again.

"Hello, I'm doing a survey about Yak cleaning products. Is the lady of the hut in?"

"I'm sorry, she's down at the river beating our clothes on a rock. Can I take a message?"

"That's okay. I'll call back."

Ghengis had only just sat back down to his gruel when...


"Hi, I'm calling from the Save the Yeti Foundation. Do you know that paranormal investigative journalists have hounded the Abominable Snowman almost to extinction? For the equivalent of just a groat a week, you can adopt ..." Click.


"Hi Rick, I got tickets to the Marilyn Manson concert."

"I'm sorry. There's no Rick here."

"Is this Mongolia 50124?"

"No, 50125."

"Sorry, man."


As Ghengis reached for the phone again, he was experiencing a new feeling. A tightness in his chest. A throbbing in his temples. He wanted to strangle someone.

It wasn't the ancient blood lust of his fur-clad warrior ancestors who made Europe tremble beneath the pounding hooves of their war ponies.

It was called stress.


"I'd like to tell you about an exciting business opportunity. If I told you that you could make money without ever leaving your hut ..."


Ghengis went back to his dinner. It was stone cold. He shoveled it morosely into his mouth.

The telephone was supposed to improve his life. After all, he wasn't getting any younger, and yelling from the mountain tops at his cousins in the valley wasn't any picnic.


"Hi, this is Bell Mongolia. Now that you have the benefits of phone service, you need call answer, call waiting and call forwarding so you won't miss any of those important telephone messages."


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