Just when I started worrying that island life was getting almost normal and that I’d run out of absurd situations to write about, the universe reminded me otherwise. Specifically, that I do, in fact, still live on a tiny rock in the middle of nowhere. Ridiculous situations included.
On what should have been a mundane trip to the grocery store recently, I discovered that my cell phone provider (Digicel down in this part of the Caribbean…or DigiHELL as it is commonly called) turned off my mobile data. Which seemed strange. After all, my current bill was paid. And I hadn’t received any notifications that I was nearing my monthly limit (something that usually happens when I get close to the max, at which point I turn my data off and rely exclusively on WiFi…which basically defeats the purpose of a post-paid plan.)
Now, if you’re reading this and wondering what data limits are, I can only assume you live anywhere other than a Caribbean island – you know, like the first-world, where unlimited data has been the norm, say, forever. Not the case in the tropics, my friends, at least not on this rock. Here, for the privilege of a few GB of data each month, you will send a crappy service provider very large sums of money. In exchange, they will parcel out a tiny morsel of data and a whole lotta questionable customer service. Awesome.
Thinking I’d resolve the issue quickly (and be able to download the ingredient list I needed), I dialed the customer service number while standing in the grocery store’s health food section (it was the least crowded aisle…go figure). Oh, the folly of my optimism.
When I did eventually reach a customer service representative, I was told a series of increasingly confusing things. With me growing more and more frustrated (and taking my aggression out on an innocent bag of organic granola), I listened to the agent as she eventually stated that I needed to go to the store and sort it out there.
Well…there went my afternoon. And my recipe. But whatever…I need data, so I must willingly submit to the punishment for my unfettered downloading to date.
Straight to the Digicel store I went, lugging along my heavy shopping bag. Because one thing you quickly learn in the tropics is that if you go grocery shopping and buy anything perishable, that’s a guaranteed one-way ticket straight home. So if I was planning a detour, it was going to be me, some fresh chicken breasts and that slab of soft French cheese I couldn’t resist.
Time of Digicel store entry: 12:15 PM.
ME: Hi. It seems my data is turned off. I need to sort it out, please.
GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: (After asking for my phone number, furiously clacking on her keyboard with her quite intricately decorated dragon-lady nails and then a very protracted silence while she stared at the screen.) Yes, you exceeded your data plan. (Followed by even more silence and an expectant stare leveled in my direction.)
ME: Yes, I know. How can I resolve this? I need working data as soon as possible.
GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: (Turning to the girl sitting next to her and consulting with her animatedly in the local island language before answering.) You need to pay $80. You don’t have any account credit.
ME: Wait, what about the deposit I paid when I started my contract? Isn’t that the credit?
GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: You don’t have a deposit.
ME: Huh? Yes, I do. I have the receipt at home. (I’ve learned the hard way to save these things.)
ISLAND BOY: (Yes, he got to join me on this unplanned escapade.) You wouldn’t have started a contract for her if she didn’t pay a deposit. (Good point. Well-played, Island Boy!)
GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: (More furious keyboard clacking. More consultation with her neighboring cashier.) Oh yes, you’re right. You have a deposit. (One point for Island Girl! Yay!)
OTHER GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: But you’ve used it all up. (Holy shit! How much data did I use after I ran out?! I knew I shouldn’t have lent my personal hotspot to Island Boy the other day. Evil side-eye glance in his direction. At this point I’m starting to get worried.)
ME: But how can I be out of data? (My brain scrambling to determine what, exactly, I had downloaded on 3G recently.) Plus, I didn’t receive any notices. Usually, I get a message alerting me that I’m close to my data limit. It’s that bit on my bill called “Bill Shock Avoidance Service”. You always send me a message when I’m about to use up all my data. (I dramatically whipped out my iPhone and pointed to the green Messages icon. No message alerts there. Proof!)
OTHER GIRL: (Not impressed with my dramatic offer of proof. In fact, she totally ignored the lack of Bill Shock warning.) You should change your monthly plan. 2GB is not enough data.
ME: (Thinking to myself, obviously not…here I am.) Ok, fine. Can I change my plan? (Anything to avoid going through this again.)
OTHER GIRL: No. You’re already under a contract. You can’t change your plan until your contract expires. (Excellent sales tactic…dangle the carrot then tear it away. She’s promotion material. Seriously. Make me want something I didn’t even know I wanted. Wait? Do I want it? At this point, I’m no longer sure what I want. Or who I am.)
ME: No, I’m not under contract. Definitely not. I started my contract in June 2016 and it was for one year. Now I’m just on a monthly plan. (And free to leave your evil clutches at any moment. At that point, I somehow still thought I was in the lead. Ha.)
ORIGINAL GIRL: (More furious clacking on her keyboard. More local language consultation with her colleague.) You’re right, you’re not on a contract. (Current Score: 2-Love in favor of Island Girl, but…OMG…is this really happening?)
OTHER GIRL: You’re going to need to start a new contract for a year, then you can have 6GB of data for $50 a month. That’s a lot better than your current plan. (Hmm, yes. 6GB is definitely better than 2GB.)
ME: (Quickly deciding whether I will flee the island permanently in a fit of rage in the coming 12 months.) Fine, I’m not planning on moving away anytime soon (and every other cell provider here sucks equally), so a new 1-year contract it is. You own me once again. I concede defeat. (Laughter from both girls. Paperwork was S-L-O-W-L-Y prepared and eventually I signed my life away – again – to DigiHELL.) When will the new contract go into effect? (a/k/a when will I have data again?)
ORIGINAL GIRL: Well, my manager has to approve it when he gets back from lunch. But it should be today. (At this point my optimism about getting data quickly begins to fade.) We could call you, I guess.
ME: Um, yeah, that would be great. Could you please call me when the new contract is active? (Raise your hand if you think she’s going to call. Nobody?)
ORIGINAL GIRL: (In a very disinterested tone.) Yeah. (She won’t call, I’m sure of it now.) Oh, wait…you get a free phone with your new contract, too. (Cool…iPhone X, please.) You can pick from these three models (across the counter she slides a chart with options for very basic phones. Awesome.). But we only have the first one. (Righty-o. The first one it is, then.)
ME: Um, OK. I’ll take that one, I guess. (Game, Set, Match to Digicel. Again.)
More paperwork. More trips to the back office for the girl. More waiting. To be totally fair, the girls behind the counter were very nice throughout the entire transaction. Had they been otherwise, I suspect my chill-Island Girl persona may have disintegrated in the middle of the Digicel store. Much like the gentleman who was ahead of me in line. Not pretty.
Eventually, with my transactions completed, a colorful red bag holding a new phone I’ll never use (I’m gifting it to Island Boy, the man without a data plan) and the vague promise of having data by the end of the day, I turned to exit the store. At that point, I noticed the queue of 15 guests who had been waiting for me to finish. I felt a strange compulsion to profusely apologize to every single person standing in line. Even those I didn’t know. Why might I feel that way?
Time of Digicel store departure: 2:24 PM.
Yes, I spent over two hours standing at the service counter, trying to resolve an issue that would have taken 30 minutes anywhere else. And with that, the universe reminded me that I do, in fact, still live on a surreal little island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Thanks, Universe, for that reminder.
Oh, and the issue wasn’t resolved. I still don’t have working data. I’m expecting it sometime next week. If I’m lucky. And only if I go back to the store to follow up.