Digicel Rolls out Mobile Internet Service

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Update for online readers: Digicel Vanuatu’s Manager for Commercial Operations did finally contact me, too late, alas, for the publication deadline, which had been pushed  forward this week to accommodate the Good Friday holiday. We had a thorough discussion, and he cleared up a few things that were left as question marks in the original column. I’ve updated the text below, and have tried to show what’s changed between the original version and this one. – DM

About 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday this week, an email hit the VIGNET mailing list, announcing that Digicel had rolled out its long-awaited mobile Internet service. Using radio waves to send data over the Internet, Digicel’s GPRS service significantly increases the value and flexibility of their services.

Charging rates cheaper than many in the US and Australia, Digicel have raised the bar in terms of customer expectations once again. Now, Digicel subscribers can send multimedia messages to one another or browse the web from their laptop or mobile phone. You can now take a photo with your camera and send it to a friend, send them a ring tone they like, read your email from your phone, or check out an important web page.

Sending photos from your phone may sound frivolous, but think about it for a second: Hubby is sent to pick up some baby products at the supermarket. Faced with a dizzying array of choices, he take a photo of one, sends it to his wife with the question, ‘Are these what you meant?’ Domestic harmony is well worth the expense.

A caveat before I go on: I’m composing this column less than 24 hours after the initial public roll-out, and Digicel management have yet to reply replied too late to my requests for information, so whatever information you find here is of necessity incomplete and possibly mistaken. Some of the information in the print version of this column is incomplete.

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Pidgin Poetics

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I have a terrible confession to make: When I was young, working towards a degree in English Literature, I not only studied poetry, I wrote it too.

Now that I’ve got that dirty little secret out of the way, I can talk a little about one of the enduring delights of living in Vanuatu: The poetry of the language.

In literature and linguistics, pidgin tongues usually come across as the simple country cousin of ‘proper’ languages. That may be, but too many people seem to think that ‘simple’ and ‘stupid’ are synonymous. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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Vanuatu – The Missing Manual

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition. Some of you will recognise this as an amalgam of some earlier blog posts to a visiting friend. I’ve also updated it once or twice as the inclination struck me.]

At a dinner party recently, I met a lovely young couple, newly arrived in Vanuatu. On learning this, I started into my standard ‘welcome to Vanuatu’ spiel, illustrating the many interesting ways Vanuatu differs from Westernised countries.

But there are always things we forget to mention. After a few years living here, one begins to take for granted any number of Vanuatu’s mundane peculiarities. Here, for posterity’s sake, is a brief listing of things you need to know, but don’t get mentioned in the tourist literature….

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Tales of the North Atlantic

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Tawi blong mi;

I write to you from the enthralling, magical island of Manhattan. This jewel of the North Atlantic is a marvelous place. It is visited by all the races of the world. They are drawn by its legendary abundance and wealth. Here, one can achieve one’s every desire. One has only to learn the curious local rituals to gather a bountiful harvest.

The Manhattoes – as they’re known – seem peculiar to us, but we should not judge them based only on a passing glimpse of their kastom and tabus. We can’t expect everyone to be like us.

The people of this lovely island have a peculiar cargo culture in which they equate meaningless numbers with material goods. I confess it’s a difficult concept to grasp. Let me explain….

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Au Péché Mignon

[Editor’s note: The author was afflicted at the time of writing with a pinched radial nerve, which has led to chronic pain in his right hand. As a result, he has left off his normal florid prose to write in the concise ‘telegraphic prose’ of the young Earnest Hemingway. We apologise for the inconvenience.]

[Editor’s other note: Originally posted in October, 2005. Copied to the Scriptorum because the author [sic] thinks it’s worth keeping.]

The café is a clean, well shaded place. The kind of place a man appreciates once he’s lived long enough to appreciate good, honest coffee. The kind of coffee picked by hand by the good, honest people of Tanna.

The cafe is named Au Péché Mignon. The man likes to call it the little sin. The kind of sin worth living for. The kind of sin people forget about when they are searching for something to die for. It is a good sin, the little sin. An honest sin.

The waitresses are both named Marie. They stand together at the end of their shift, waiting for the man to leave. Their dark faces take on a copper hue as the sun sets over the bay.

Marie, the younger one, says, ‘There he is. Just like yesterday.’

‘And every day,’ says Marie, the older one.

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Yahoo! Confirms MS Merger, Name Change

April 1, 2008

Sunnyvale, California

Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang told reporters today that the board of directors of Yahoo! Inc. had met earlier that morning and agreed to the sale of the company at a price of USD 66.6 Billion. Yang took the opportunity to defuse speculation about what this move means for the company.

Said Yang, “Honestly, it’s not that big a deal. The truth is that we used to show up at the company HQ every day, see that Yahoo! sign up there and get excited. But recently that just hasn’t been the case. I must be getting old or something. Anyway, I figured, ‘they want it? They can have it. I’m stinking rich anyway, why should I have to work?'”

One of the conditions of sale was that the Yahoo! name be changed.

“Let’s just admit it,” explained Yang. “It’s a stupid name. It was fun for, like, 20 minutes. Then we all sobered up and realised we felt like dorks whenever we told someone where we worked.”

Yang then took the opportunity to unveil Yahoo!’s new name: Meh… Its logo, Yang said, will be a giant emoticon consisting of the ‘8’, ‘-‘ and ‘/’ characters. When pressed by reporters, he admitted that it would not be easier to spell, and would still cause problems with grammar checkers.

“On the bright side,” he added, “we might finally be able to fix this, now that we’re part of… Meh… Microsoft.”

Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, was not present at the press conference, due to a ‘minor’ chair-related injury. He instead released a taped message stating his satisfaction with the negotiations, which ended with a cryptic reminder to Yahoo! employees that their families would be safe, now that they’d shown some sense. Yang would not speculate about the comment’s meaning.

MEME: Bitsharks

I’m going to start blaming random network- and computer-related problems on Bitsharks. Get everyone believing in the idea of predatory bots cruising the network, dining on people’s digital transmissions.

USER: “Why didn’t my email go through?”
ME: “Did you receive a failure message?”
USER: “No.”
ME: “Uhhh, you didn’t send it alone, did you?”
USER: “What do you mean?”
ME: “Well… how big was the message?”
USER: “Just a paragraph or so. Why?”
ME: [Dismayed] “And you sent it onto the Internet alone?”
USER: “What, why?”
ME: “Don’t you know what can happen?”
USER: “What? What are you talking about?”
ME: [sighs] “Poor little thing. Probably never had a chance. Hang on a sec….” [Types random commands into console.]
USER: [alarmed] “What’s going on?”
ME: “It’s what I thought. Bitsharks.”
USER: “What did you call me?”
ME: “Nonono. Bit. Shark. A Bitshark got your email.”
USER: “A Bitshark?”
ME: “Yeah. Predatory bots cruising the shallow parts of the Internet. They single out the smaller, more vulnerable bits of data, then consume them.”
USER: “Oh my God.”
ME: [Pained, patient] “Look, just do me a favour. Next time, send your email out in groups. Sometimes the numbers confuse the Bitsharks and the little guys manage to make it through.”
USER: “Oh, the poor thi- I, I… of course.”
ME: “You won’t forget?”
USER: “Heavens, no.”
ME: “Good. Tell your friends.”

The Centipede


Franz Kopra

Friday 19 September


I woke this morning to discover a centipede in the kitchen. He was leaning in a nonchalant manner against the counter, regarding me incuriously as I lay there in my bed.

I’d been told that centipedes on the island of Efate are very large, but nothing could have prepared me for this. With tremendous fangs and stinging pincers, he was a fearsome sight. Five of his legs tapped idly against the counter as he whistled a quiet tune. (Bartok? I couldn’t be sure.)

I lay frozen in my bed. Above all I did not want to antagonize him. I attempted a smile, then realized with sudden dread that some animals regard bared teeth as a challenge. Had I made a fatal mistake? I observed him carefully. His posture hadn’t changed, but he was now clearly whistling Gershwin. What to do?

Fully 30 minutes passed before I mustered the courage to sit up. I cursed myself for renting such a tiny apartment. Whatever small moneys I had saved seemed insignificant now that I had to share this cramped space with another. My first concern was that the toilet was located directly beside the counter where he stood.

Yet I did not dare approach him. I pulled on a pair of trousers I had left draped over the only chair, tucked my nightshirt into them, and stood up. Taking great care to shake out my shoes (what would he think of me if I squashed one of his brethren?), I donned them barefoot.

Thank goodness the icebox stood only feet away from the bed. I opened the door as discreetly as I could, and retrieved a jug of milk and yesterday’s bread. Clutching this modest breakfast, I backed carefully to the door, opened it quietly and slipped out.

Leaving the bread and milk on the steps, I trotted around the corner of my building, unbuttoned my fly and relieved my bursting bladder. I heard children laughing from the alley on the other side of the bushes, but I could not stop what had already begun. I finished as quickly as I could, then returned to the steps to retrieve my breakfast.

The bread was stale. I found that if I poured a small amount of milk onto the crust, it became soft enough to bite. The milk had begun to turn, but hunger made it palatable enough.


Work was a purgatory. Fraulein Schimmiefaster, holding court in the staff kitchen, exclaimed that no self-respecting young man should allow his night-time debauches to affect his day-time appearance, loudly enough that sniggers could be heard throughout the office. Herr Brupt, the office manager, gave me a pointed glare, and did not speak to me all day.

Saturday 20 September


How can I live like this? I am in constant fear. When I returned to my apartment, the Centipede was still there, and what’s more, he’d eaten the last of the eggs. He stays mostly in the cooking area, and leaves the area of the bed more or less to me.

I must remember to buy cold cuts. He seems to like them.

Sunday 21 September


I have had the worst day of my life, I am sure. I came home Saturday afternoon, laden with groceries, only to discover that he’d invited friends over. Without so much as a by-your-leave! Imagine how I felt.

I was sitting – sulking, I’ll admit it – on the bed. I’d only just lit a cigarette when the mosquito swaggered over and snatched it from my mouth, explaining, ‘These things can kill you.’ He flipped the cigarette into his own mouth, and all three of them laughed uproariously.

Of course, they ate all the Timtams.

This morning the Centipede blocked the door as I tried to leave and asked me if I intended to visit an exterminator. I pled innocence, but let it slip that they were closed on Sundays. He knows.

Now his friends are back – four of them this time. I must make canapés….

Monday 22 September


I am overcome with remorse. My mother came to visit Sunday evening. Naturally, she took the Centipede’s side in every argument. Then he stung her and put her in the ice box. I complained that she was too stringy for anything but stew, but he wouldn’t listen.

Thursday 25 September


These endless demands are ruining my life! The landlord just called to say he is doubling the rent, and warned me that he could sue me for keeping a lodger without permission. I was enraged and accused him of allowing vermin to run free in his ill-kept properties, but he threatened to tell the Centipede what I had said. In the end I had to accede to the rent increase. What choice did I have?

I don’t dare approach Herr Brupt for a pay rise. What shall I do?


Insult to injury! The Centipede said he was having guests over, and he told me to leave. I’m not invited to a party in my own home. Who prepared all the food and paid for the floral centerpiece? Answer me that!

Monday 28 September


Despair. He changed the locks last night. I overcame my fear and banged on the front door until the police came. They were responding to a complaint, they said, and would lock me up unless I left quietly. I was about to explain the situation when one of my neighbours appeared and identified me as the man who had exposed himself in the back alley. I spent the night in the lock-up. I arrived at work unkempt, smelling of that ghastly cell, and Herr Brupt sacked me on the spot. Fraulein Schimmiefaster laughed at me. At me! The trollop.


I cannot go on. He won’t even give me my clothes back. He says they fit him better anyway.

I have pawned my shoes and bought a gun.