Bank is a four letter word

You hear the expression “laughing all the way to the bank” but you don’t ever know what happens when you actually get there. In Pemba, we call it “Ranting, raving, and sometimes bawling” in the bank. For all you people in Westernized countries that complain about the bank line-ups (What? did you have to wait a whole 10 minutes?) listen up! Being out of the bank within a half hour is a very rare and precious thing that Pembonians (Pembanians? Pembanites?) then feel the need to text, email, and chat about for at least a week.

This is generally what happens. People start lining up in the morning from 7am just to hopefully get near the front of the line. When the bank opens at 8, there is a rush of bodies trying to get in only to line up again inside. It’s not pleasant being pushed and pull and everyone is smelling particularly ripe from standing in the sun for so long. Luckily most of the banks have some sort of aircon so there is a bit of relief from the B.O. Most people then must stand in line for at least 45 mins. I have taken to bringing my e-reader to pass the time. Things may be running smoothly but there is a bad habit where most people come in, look at the line-up and then as someone at the front of the line to do their banking for them. You will start with 10 people in front of you but end up with 30 transactions going on instead and your 45 min. wait turns into an hour and a half. There are no more than 3 tellers at the bank at the most. A lot of times only 1 or 2 will actually be serving customers. There is also the fun of having people bring in huge piles of cash to be counted. There is no special business line so sometimes you are waiting for 15 mins. and the line doesn’t move at all.

The atms sometimes are no better. There are 10 different locations in and around town. Some days I go to almost all of them just to get money out. Near the end of the month, most machines are programmed not to accept foreign bank or credit cards and so you can’t even withdraw. Most times the atm cash is depleated and so there is nothing to take out. You always know which ones are actually working as the lines in front of them are at least 15 people deep. I drive away at that point as I really don’t feel like spending 20 minutes standing in the hot sun.

I do get amused tho, even with all these problems. There is a poster up in our bank that teaches you how to treat your bills when you have them. “No crumpling, tearing, stapling, or putting them in your socks”. I think that last one is being polite as I am sure there are other places worse than that that the money ends up being stored in. While doing the counting of the money, the tellers actually wear masks. So many of the bills are actually disintegrating and still firmly in circulation. You try not to think about it too much when you are handling these bills.

We are moving ahead, tho. We are now getting those new plastic bills. I do think they are the best idea to ever hit Mozambique and hopefully they last longer. The first few times I paid using the new bills, I had a very (not joking!) hard time letting go of them. They were so shiny and smooth! It was close to the shopkeepers having to pry them from my fingers. Thankfully, there are plenty more coming in to circulation so have gotten over that.

Anytime we go back to western civilization, banking is one of those exciting experiences that we go thru. Imagine! You go into a short line-up. You wait for about 5-10 min. max if at all. You have quick service and you leave with a smile on your face. And ATMs on every corner! Bliss!


A long time coming!

Well, here it goes! Finally putting fingers to keyboard in an attempt to keep all of you updated. Unfortunately, it also gives away too much of what goes on in my slightly skewed brain. We are firmly settled here in Pemba with no departure date in sight! For us it means the longest we’ve kept our things in one place. For our children it means they only know this place as home. I want to give you all a taste of what life is like in ‘Nowhere’, Africa so hopefully my blathering about everything and nothing actually educates you on some level. I promise no pearls of wisdom but am aiming for a few laughs. Let me know if I accomplish this as I will know I am on the right track. P.S. I hope you all know how to read the sarcasm behind most every word I write.