Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Third day of tutoring sessions. Our crew gets to work on schedule, but Beth and I need to run into town to try to take care of this ATM card situation. Jana and Mrs. Gass (Laura) come along too, and Laura brings Ian, the baby. With some trepidation I climb into the estrogenmobile, and we head into town.

Jana is having trouble with her ATM card too, so our first stop is at a bank. Neither of our cards works. Now this is odd; I sent my bank a secure email through their website, and they responded asking for specific dates and places where I’d like the card to work. I replied with the info they wanted, and they sent me an email explaining that the cash I get will be in the local currency, not US dollars. Sounds like the card is all set, right? But it doesn’t work.

Great. I’ve brought the laptop just in case there’s a problem and I need to go to the bank’s website. Beth drops me off at the coffee shop in the hotel lobby where I got that really good bandwidth the other day. The last two days I’ve been getting nothing. Literally. So I set myself down in a large, leather recliner, kick up the footrest, and prepare to see the web.

But nothing happens. Five bars on the cell line. Zero download bandwidth.

Well, fortunately, the phone place is right next door, so I go over, stand in line, and finally get to talk to a company rep. She pulls the SIM card from the modem and checks it. “There’s no money on this account.” “But I paid $20 last Thursday for a month of unlimited access. And I had access until Monday, but now I have nothing.” “Well, there’s no money on the account.” At least, I think that’s what she said; the rock music on the PA system, my bad ear, and her Swahili accent all conspire to render me effectively deaf. Well, I clearly don’t know what to do. I can give them more money, but if the last money I gave them didn’t work, what assurance do I have that more will?

So I head back to the hotel lobby, and fortunately, Beth has arrived and is sitting with some wazungu friends, waiting for me. I tell her what I think the lady said, and she looks puzzled. After brief introductions, we leave her friends and walk back next door. On the way, she tells me that the water company, from whom we were planning to pick up 7 5-gallon jugs, has just told her that there won’t be any water for an hour and a half. So we have lots of time.

Long story short, VodaCom has changed the procedure for putting the money on your account. The old way, the way she used, gives you a different system, which effectively made all my money disappear at a more expensive rate. We need to buy another month, and submit it the new way. We do. Got access. I go to the bank website and send another, slightly more irritated, message. I’d like my money, please.

That’s not going to happen today—it’s 4 am back at bank headquarters—so we go to a backup plan, get the money temporarily from another source (I actually have several possibilities to choose from), and take the cash over to the safari place to sign on the dotted line. Ben, the agent that this mission crew regularly uses, tells us that he has 6 extra seats in the cars, that he’d like to donate to the children from Tumaini. Wow. We arrange to have the Tanzanian supervisor of the home, Ferdinand, take a seat—he’s never been—and choose the 5 oldest children to go as well. This is going to be a remarkable opportunity for them. Cash paid, receipt in hand.

Back to the water company. Sorry, it’ll be another half hour—1 pm. We sit on their front step, watching the traffic go by and waiting for Jana and Laura, who are off on some sort of excursion. 1 pm comes and goes. Several minutes later, Jana and Laura show up. Beth is ready to tell the water company to deliver the water this afternoon—we need it today—and they’re saying, “It’s almost here, it’s almost here.” Suddenly the truck drives up, and we load 7 jugs into the back of the van.

So where are we? The safari is paid for, but I still don’t have reliable access to the team funds. I’ll need to call back to the States and try to figure out what’s wrong. We’ve solved the internet access problem. We have water. And a few groceries. Three-fourths of a day.

Why all these details, when none of your kids’ names are even involved? Simple. This is what life is like in a developing country. This is what many missionaries, and lots of other expats, put up with every day. Nothing works the first time, nothing is on time, much of your day is spent waiting around for people to keep promises they’ve made without intending to keep them. Oh, and that phone nonsense? The basic reason is that you can’t get service on credit here; if the phone company extends service and bills later, they won’t get paid. So everything has to be prepaid. And that means that every cell phone customer—every single one—has to go down to the phone company every month and stand in line to get more time on his phone. The system is broken.

Now, I don’t mean for this to be a jingoist rant. Plenty of things in my beloved country don’t work right either. But it’s also true that Americans can take certain daily things pretty much for granted, and much of the world simply doesn’t live that way.

We had hoped to be back early enough in the day that I could teach my afternoon classes. That was pretty naïve. My Standard 5 kids get the whole day off. The rest of the crew says the day was mixed; a few are pretty frustrated with a general lack of interest, cooperation, and respect from their students, while others say today went a little better than yesterday. The kids seem to think we’re celebrities when we play with them, but we turn into the bad guys when we expect them to work. We all talk about the real purpose of our being here—to represent Christ to the kids, and only secondarily to achieve a given curricular goal. We can’t do that without divine help. That will be a key emphasis of our prayer time tonight.

I fire up the laptop to update the blog with my newfound internet access. Three bars. Zero download speed. OK, maybe later; maybe it’s a sunspot or a cold front or something. (Work with me here, I’m desperate.) I’ll call the US number of the bank and try to get the card working. I call. The call immediately cancels itself. This international phone I got has been sending and receiving texts, but I haven’t used it to call, because the rates are pretty high. So I call customer support (it’s an internal system number, so it works even when real calls don’t). I don’t get my second cousin’s ex-wife, as I did in Ghana, but I get a nice guy named Charles. He gives me several things to try. None of them work. I call back, and get Phil. He gives me several things to try. None of them work.

I assess the situation. None of my ATM cards work. My interaction with the bank’s website has been ineffectual, and in any case my web access is down, though it worked fine a few minutes ago downtown, and though I have a clear signal at the cellular modem. I can’t call the bank, ‘cause the stupid phone doesn’t work. And I have no way to text the bank, my only operating method of communication.

I think I’m going to move to a mud hut in the middle of Chad. Technology is evil. I’m an eremite.

I wander up to the girls’ house, and Beth is sitting on the couch. I mutter something about stupid technology, stupid, stupid, and after I essentially recite the previous paragraph to her, she insists that I use her phone to call the bank. I hate borrowing from missionaries, of all people. But with options pretty well gone, I take her up on it. Five minutes on the phone, and the agent tells me the card will work now. Apparently it was attached to another account in my name at the same bank, which had been closed for years. (Why did the bank think I emailed from Africa to access an account that doesn’t even exist? Does anybody think anymore?) Now, she says, it will work. We’ll see, on our next trip into town, scheduled for Friday.

But I still don’t have a working phone or working internet. I think God’s trying to rid me of the baggage of this world. It seems to be working.

Supper is mashed white sweet potatoes, in portions roughly 4 times as much as we can eat. Well, they have a pig here, and he gets the leftovers, so nothing goes to waste.

After house devotions with the kids, I tell the team that I bought a 4-liter tub of ice cream in town today. They rise from the seventh level of Dante’s inferno, arms outstretched, singing the praises of my name. It’s in Beth’s freezer, so we all go down there, in the dark, gather silently outside her kitchen window, and break into a rousing rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” It works; we get the tub, and, after leaving her a bowlful, head back to the house. It’s really good.

Team devotions, with prayer being a highlight again, and some games with a bowl of popcorn, and the day is done.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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