Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Report from the field: Africa

Because I know lots of students and ex-students, I get reports from the field from non-profit folks. These kids go over their wanting to change the world, and end up just shaking their heads and thinking, "WTF?" This, I thought, was a pretty good one. It does put my own very minor irritations in perspective. (Note: It was typed on a blackberry, in Africa, by someone with bad stomach flu, so just think how YOU would do on spelling and punctuation)

i am having a really frustrating morning so i thought i should sit down, write a bit, and try to regroup. never ever again will i complain about waiting in lines at home. at the bank, at the post office, anywhere.

i just spent over 3 hours at the bank. and i think im a pretty patient person but this just tested my limits to the max. i concurrently fought back tears and the urge to scream.

i came in from [CITY] specifically to get my may living allowance out of the bank. it doesnt help that today is sweltering, probably 105 degrees and humid and i am super dehydrated, thanks to a lovely GI issue i've been fighting for a couple days.

even on good days, i have to psych myself up for the bank. i wish you could see this hell hole. people dont know how to form lines so its just a big mass of people pushing and shoving. its awful. and hot and sweaty and very inefficient. you push your bank book at the teller and then they look at it, look at you and hand you a small metal circle with a number on it. after about 40 minutes (usually) your number will flash up above the paying tellers desk. oh, but the numbers dont go in order. like 3 will flash followed by 356 followed by 74. and they often have mismatched bankbooks with numbers so you have to check that you are getting your bank book and the actual amount you requested back. Its lots of fun (insert major major rolling of eyes here)

anyhow, usually [organization] is pretty incompetent and while they tell us our living allowance is deposited on the 25th of the previous month (ie my may money should have been in april 25) it never is there on time so i usually give them until about the 2nd or 3rd til i go to the bank. seeing as today is the 6th i figured it HAD to be there by now.

i woke up early, headed to the bank. and guess what, no money! i walked out and called [organization]. conveniently our accountant is out of the office today so i was given another number to try. that number was out of service. so i called my program director. he was clueless but eventually had someone call me back. who told me the transfer number and what not, so i headed back to the bank to try and explain all this in [obscure language].

so a 20 minute walk back to the bank. stand in mass of people again. explain situation. and the bank lady tells me, well, the phone line was busy so they actually never checked with the addis bank branch to see if my money was transferred or not. she said i should come back tomrow. i explained that wasnt going to work. i live 30 minutes away and i have like 50 [small monetary units] to my name right now. i said 'cant we try and call them again'. so she asked if she could use my cell phone.

this is annoying and i thought for a moment before giving it to her (phone miuntes are one of the most expensive things i buy here). but finally i decided i just wanted to be done with this so yes, we could use my phone instead of the banks phone. to which she replied that she was busy and why doesnt she give me the number and i can call the bank on behalf of her (the transfer teller). so i did that but obviously dont speak enough [obscure language] so when the main branch finally picked up i had to run and hand the phone to the teller lady.

long story short, [organization] transferred my money to the wrong bank. i have an account at the smaller branch but they sent it to the main branch in [large city] so its going to take another couple days to sort this out and in the meantime im eating ramen for every meal.

and it only took 3 hours to figure this out. which was cool. especially when i was fighting to hold in explosive diarrhea the whole time.

ha. oh man. i know in retrospect this will be a funny story to tell and im sorry i know this was annoying to have to read through but i really neeeded to vent. this is THE most horribly run organization i have ever seen. both [organization] and the banking system. i know america is in an ecomomic crisis and whatnot, but its still america and organzed, so appreciate that.


Neil West said...

This reminds me of a quote from one of the best movies ever, Clueless. Just switch out "Environmental Law" with "working for a non-profit in Africa."

Yeah, you know, but I think I'd really like to check out Environmental Law.

What for? Do you want to have a miserable, frustrating life?

Shawn said...

the self-satisfaction (I really mean that non-pejoratively) must be HUGE for people to continue on in that sort of environment. I really don't see how you could do that without a religious motivation...

Poor dude...that just sucks. Reminds me of awesome CitiBank commercial (that was posted here at KPC?)

Lee said...

On the one hand I feel I should be condemning the "Africa is a country" attitude, but on the other I know this story could in fact easily be coming from probably the majority of African states (and definitely reminds me of Sudan). Goddamnit.

John said...

Reminds me of my time in Guatemala. Perhaps things have changed now, but back then when you opened a bank account, they made you sign a card. They would put that card on a microfiche, and the signature on any check drawn on your account had to match the signature on the microfiche.

Guatemalans know how to make their signature *identically* each time -- they would practice this in school according to my wife. I myself could never get the hang of it. I routinely had checks rejected because they claimed it wasn't my signature.

Once I wanted to get some cash (no ATMs in those days) so I went to the bank and signed a check in front of the teller. She duly pulled up my signature card. Sorry, she said, your signature doesn't match. Presenting my passport, driver's license, work permit were useless. Nothing would prove it was my account unless the signatures matched.

Mungowitz said...

I accept the "Africa is not a country" comment.

But you have to realize that I had to strip out all the identifying details, INCLUDING country, to protect the identity of the writer.

And there are at least 6 or 8 African nations where this story could easily have come from.


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