A Run-in at the Bank

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A visit to the bank is an example of the old adage, 'You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.'

Submitted: July 23, 2016

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Submitted: July 23, 2016

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We created a joint bank account for Mama Upendo and Rosemary with what we reckoned was enough to pay for Rosemary’s secondary school fees plus expenses to cover the next two years. The plan was fine and dandy, but we did not count on the sudden death of Mama Upendo! Rosemary was just sixteen at the time and when she went to the bank to make a withdrawal, she was refused. Poor kid, not only did this cause embarrassment to her in the busy bank, the cost of bus fare into town was also a drain on their meagre finances. Not to mention the school waiting to be paid!

With the bank account locked up, we had to make other arrangements so hurriedly sent a bank draft. The mistake with that was that a large chunk of the money was siphoned off by some transfer bank in Los Angeles – our local New Zealand bank was totally unaware that this happened! Then the Tanzania bank sat on the money for three months, probably reinvesting it, before they released it. This was a very trick situation for young Rosemary and her siblings because we had also started providing a living allowance for them. We eventually found the more efficient method using Western Union.

Unfolding events saw us return to Tanzania and we facilitated, through the courts, the installation of Rosemary as the supervisor of her mother’s estate. Such a thing is fairly unusual, but the court was sympathetic to Rosemary’s cause, nevertheless the process was a rigmarole and lengthy.

With the court documents in hand, Rosemary and I headed into town. Actually Mags was unwell so we first took her to the hospital clinic were the bank manager was also waiting. We were nodding acquaintances, but no more. This is why the manager was not at the bank when we called, so instead, we were ushered into the accountant’s office.

The accountant looked to be a serious fellow, but he smiled at us and spoke to me in English, so I replied in English.

‘Hello,’ he said, ‘how can I help you?’

‘This is Rosemary,’ I introduced and they shook hands, with Rosemary offering the polite traditional greeting, ‘she shares a joint account with her mother, but the bank has locked it because Mama Upendo unfortunately passed away over a year ago.’

He offered Rosemary a *‘pole’ in sympathy and said to me. ‘Yes with a joint account there has to be two people signing the withdrawal slip.’

‘The money is for school fees,’ I said, ‘how do you expect her to continue her education without access to her funds? Surely the bank could be sympathetic to her in this case.’

‘We would need a death certificate as proof of her death.’ the man replied.

‘We have it here and a court order that places Rosemary as supervisor of her mother’s estate.’ I told him.

After reading the forms Rosemary handed him, he said, ‘Very well she can change the account to personal.’

‘No, we will withdraw the money and close the account.’ I replied firmly.

The accountant looked annoyed, ‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I will send a cheque to the Usa River court!’

‘You know very well,’ I protested, ‘that the process will take ages for her to get the money, if ever, surely you can give us the money as we are here now.’

‘I have told you what I will do.’ He said equally firmly, ‘Otherwise you can wait for my superior.’

I knew the manager may very well not return this day.

The accountant continued with his work at his desk, totally ignoring us, not even laughing when I bobbed up and down at desk level to try and attract his attention!

We returned to the waiting room and I knew Rosemary was looking to me to somehow resolve the situation. We sat for ten minutes after which, I told her we would have another attempt – she wasn’t so sure, but what could we lose?

This time I spoke using Swahili, which some say is a command language, but it can also be soft, polite and fun to use.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘English can sound severe and I humbly request your assistance on this matter. Rosemary is the oldest of three children who have been left on their own. She needs the funds to carry on with her education. Please can you help her?’

I was rewarded for my apology with a broad smile and he called his secretary.

‘Bring me the account balance,’ he ordered, ‘and bring me a withdrawal form.’

We sat silently while the woman collected the items.

The accountant checked the account balance, wrote out the withdrawal slip, signed it and passed it across for Rosemary to sign. He then gave the form to his secretary and told her to bring the cash.

While we waited, he asked, ‘How is New Zealand?’

The one word reply of ‘Fine.’ Is sufficient for Swahili users, but we did chat in a friendly manner because he had actually studied at Massey University, NZ!

I had just thirty hours of formal Swahili tuition, the rest was self-taught and picked up while I was teaching English to Rosemary and some other kids. They taught me more than any formal lesson could do and I attribute the success of my time in Tanzania to those who taught me how that ‘command language’ can be mollified to great advantage.

* Readers will find I often add bits of Swahili to my stories. Pole, pronounced ‘polay’ is an expression of empathy or sorrow. It is an important and often used word.


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