My answer to that question is equivocal. If I wasn’t doing the tasks I do, perhaps. If I didn’t travel, maybe. But the phone has become a safety net of sorts for me. I want to have one available in case of emergencies. I’m not personally someone who wants to chat with people all day, especially about things that I tend to view as trivial (fashion, recipes, celebrities). But I do want to be able to call the fire department if the fire in the frying pan gets out of control when I burn dinner.
However, with the work I do, I am on the phone a lot – and most of it is not local. I am often talking to people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as well as sponsors in every state you can imagine. I even get to chat with co-workers in England and Norway! So the phone is important.
But, I asked myself today, is it more important than heat or food? You may think that an odd question, but I ran into an obstacle today that is directly related to the question.
I actually have been blessed to have several sponsors waiting to be matched at the same time. In order to do that, I speak to the sponsor, then call several families on the rez to see which one I think will be a better match for the sponsor. Today, I called several people to try to do just that. Every call was met with one of these responses:
“We’re sorry but 605-555-5555 has been disconnected. Please check the number and try your call again.”
“The number you have called is not a working number. Please check the number and try your call again.”
“The (company name) customer is not available. Please try your call later.”
I called the social service office in the area that I work in and left the names of people I need to reach. Someone will get back to me with the new numbers – soon I hope. I really need to get those sponsors connected. I thought the families I tried to call would be excellent matches. If I don’t get updated phone numbers, I may have to go back to the drawing board.
So why suddenly am I having so much trouble reaching people on the reservation?
Actually, it isn’t unusual to have phone numbers changed from time to time, when the bill can’t be paid. But this was certainly a higher frequency than usual. Why was that?
The answer actually occurred to me when I was speaking with my contact at the office on the reservation. We were talking about the weather. She said it was starting to get really cold on the rez and they had just that week opened their fuel assistance program.
And it hit me!!
Cold weather = increased use of propane and/or electricity for heat = more money spent on fuel costs
80% unemployment + government assistance = very little money.
Very little money – grocery bills – money for heat/electricity – phone bill = a deficit budget.
Now the government can exist on a deficit budget because they can print money. (The drawbacks of that will be left for others to worry about.) If you and I try to print money, however, the government gets downright cranky about it! So, what are we to do?
We have to make decisions based on our priorities.
What is more important?
Food? We may get food stamps but they expect us to feed each person on about $1 per meal. Anyone with half a brain (government officials excluded) knows that’s impossible. I might let myself go hungry (losing weight wouldn’t be a bad idea) but I refuse to let my children to hungry. So I will spend what I need to for the food basics.
Electricity? We might be able to do that in the summertime but not in the winter. The bill gets too high, it’s true. But what can be done about that? It gets dark about 4:25 PM now and in 4:42 PM in mid-January. How will the children do their homework in the dark? There isn’t much for kids to do here in the winter. How will I entertain them on the weekend without the DVD player? How will I use the electric heaters we need to supplement the propane so we don’t run out. If I don’t have propane, we’ll freeze.
Propane? We’d probably let the electric go first! Propane is heat. Propane is also for cooking meals. It’s cold enough in here, even with the heat on. There’s no insulation in the walls and there are a lot of drafts. No storm windows – unless you count the plastic over the window. The mattresses are on the floor and it gets really cold down there. We don’t have enough blankets for the kids and I refuse to let them freeze.
Phone? It’s good to be able to talk to friends and share troubles. But I guess I could live without that. I might need to call the fire department. Wait, why bother? The house will burn down by the time they get here anyway! Ambulance, maybe? I could have one of the kids run to a neighbor for that.
Well, I guess that answers my question, doesn’t it?
If you live on Pine Ridge Reservation, the phone comes in at the bottom of the list.
So I guess while our kids all have their own cell phones and some folks have more than one, it is a country of inequality when it comes to phones. Some people in this country don’t have phones because they think basic existence is more important than chatting about which celebrity is in rehab.