Thursday, August 17, 2006

Happiness is Western Union

Today, my money problems were finally solved.

Please remember several days ago, when I arrived in Africa to find that my bank card account had, for some reason unknown to me, been blocked. Once online bank services came back, I emailed my bank to find out what was going on. Apparently, they switched from Visa Debit Cards to Mastercard Debit Cards, and my former card had been deactivated. Of course, it would have helped if they SENT ME THE NEW CARD BEFORE DEACTIVATING THE OLD ONE.

So, what's a girl to do?

- How long would it take to get the new card? Approximately 10 business days.
- Could they send the card to Africa? No.
- Could they reactivate my old card? Absolutely no.
- How can I get money? Go to the bank in person.

Basically, in 10 working days (more days that I had money for here, by the way) the card would arrive in the United States, at my apartment. At that point, my roommate or some other kind person could activate it for me if I gave them the appropriate information. Then they could fedex said card to me in Nairobi and I MIGHT be able to use it. At that point, I would be one of the starving children in Africa that parents use to threaten children who won't eat brussel sprouts.

Enter my mother, who kindly wired me some money to Western Union. Western Union is a very happy place. The entire shop is yellow, both inside and outside. There are innocuous smiley faces pasted all over the windows that seem to look out at you and say, "Everything is going to be okay." I gave the teller my information, and I was told to wait while they assembled my cash.

Since it costs money every time one wires money, my parents wired me the maximum amount. After all, I need cash for permits and hotels and food and (possible) plane tickets for the next four or so weeks. There was much bustling around at the Western Union, as I sat and chatted with the armed security guard. Eventually I was invited into a little tiny cubicle with mirrored windows for the counting of my money.

I'm not going to tell you how much money in US currency was wired to me in Kenya. I will say that had the same amount been wired to me in British pounds, I would likely have gotten a tiny stack of three of four bills. In Kenya, the largest bill is 1,000 KSH. 1,000 KSH is approximately equal to $13.00. When I left the Western Union, I felt like I should have had one of those grey metal cases attached to my wrist with a handcuff.

But I have money! (for now)

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