So this happened:
I won a television in a contest that I did not know I had entered.
I received a call on a Tuesday telling me I had won a television from Orange Money, the mobile money service of Orange, Madagascar’s largest cellular network provider. The woman told me that I could collect it at 4 o’clock on Thursday. My first thought was that it was a scam. Common folk might be tempted into a con by the promise of a free devil box, but not me.
But the woman on the phone told me I could pick it up at the Orange headquarters, rather than at an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town. So it seemed legitimate.
I deliberately keep television out of my life. That’s right: I’m one of those guys. (But hopefully I’m not this guy from The Onion: “Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television“)
Apparently I was chosen at random from among people who use Orange Money.
Collecting my prize was not quite the out-of-body experience of my first time I had a customer-service experience with Orange. But it was strange.
The strangeness was mostly in my head. As I stood there before the cameras with my fellow champions, my rush of thoughts was something like this:
Relative to so much of the world, the accident of my birth is bathed in luck and privilege. And here I am, the Great White Grinning Dufus, receiving a free television for having done no more than enrich a French multinational corporation with some service fees. I’m a worker in international development, trying to help this country; trying to help people, possibly people like Pink Dress Woman on my right, who seems peeved that she only won a lousy smartphone.
I am holding in my hands a device that distracts and sedates more than it empowers and educates. Yet I’m the envy my fellow contest winners — except possibly Pink Pants Woman on my left who won a motorcycle. Oh the irony. Get over yourself, Johnson. Get over yourself. And keep smiling, Great White Grinning Dufus.
Resistance, it seems, is futile. This is the second time that my TV-free life has been interrupted by a free TV. The first time was when I lived in Takoma Park, Maryland. My sister gave it to me. For months I kept it in the box as though it were a kilo of heroine, afraid that I would spiral into addiction if I were to ever plug it in and turn it on. When I finally did start using it occasionally, I took satisfaction whenever I turned it on if it had to run through the initial setup sequence — scanning for channels and so on. When that happened, it meant that the TV had been left unplugged for a long, long time.
Not only did I win a television last week, I was on television. Some of my Malagasy coworkers saw me on the news and congratulated me the next day. And they gave me loads of shit about it. I should have a big party, they said. I should share it with them, or give it to one of them.
For now, it’s still in its box, in my living room, like a kilo of heroine. Lucky me.