Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not so very Congolese

A guy I met a few years ago in Gabon told me that in Africa you have to be careful where you stick things in, you never know what you may find. What he was actually referring to was his credit card that he never wanted to stick into any ATM in Africa. Never mind for what he was talking about, it was a good rule to live by for more than one reason. 

This morning I realized that I came to Congo without enough Cefas on me. I usually have dollars on me, but I have used most of it on my previous trips and never 'topped up" again, so I was running low on that too. At least I had enough on me to survive this week if I control my food intake and live on Coke and chips. This morning I went to a bank with a colleague who also needed money. We stood in the queue for about ten minutes and didn't move an inch forward. The bank's money counting machine was broken and the lady behind the window had to count the thickest pack of Congolese notes that I have ever seen in my life one  by one. Add the paper work and African urgency and you are bound to stand there for at least an hour. This was definitely not going to be quick. As a rule and as taught by someone who apparently knew best, I never draw money at ATM's in Africa either. I have done so once or twice in Tanzania, Uganda and Gabon, but I have never done it in Congo. The colleague of mine who comes from another country in Africa tells me that in their country when something is really bad or not working at all, they say it is "so very Congolese". If that's anything to go by then I guess sticking your credit card in an ATM in Congo might also not be wise.

After about 20 minutes I got tired of waiting, so I asked where I could find an ATM. I have two worries when I use an ATM in Africa; one is that my card might be swallowed and I won't get it back and the second is that something might go wrong with the transaction and I won't get my money back. Like the time in Tanzania when the whole process went perfect; I got the statement stating that my withdrawal went through but I never got the cash in my hand to prove it. I had that checked out and fortunately it was corrected within minutes. I don't know how I will explain that in French in a little town like Pointe-Noire, so I prefer to avoid situations like that to happen to me in countries where my lack of communication skills might leave me card-less or cash-less. But today I needed money, the bank was open and I had someone with me who could speak French as a back-up. I stuck my card in and waited a while. It looked like the machine was checking the world over to see if he could verify the account. Then suddenly, in French and English I was instructed on the screen to go ahead with my transaction. I was amazed that it worked, but more for the fact that it was in English too. I drew 50 000 CFA, asked for a receipt and got my money with no problems. I left with a smile on my face. "Not so very Congolese after all" I had to say with a smug face to my colleague when I went back into the bank to find her still waiting to be assisted.

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