Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I took the payment vouchers from the Finance Ministry straight to the south-end branch of the Zambia National Commercial Bank which handled all the foreign payments of the Ministry. I was accompanied by my wife. We were supposed to get the vouchers converted to the foreign currency of our choice. As there was one day only between then and the day of departure from the country, we did not have any time to waste.

We went up the elevator to the third floor where the bank's offices were situated. We were directed by the smart lady in the outer office to the person who handled matters related to the Finance Ministry. We found a lady in her late thirties behind the desk marked "Foreign Exchange" and took our seats. We told her the purpose of our visit and handed her the payment vouchers.

The bank official glanced through the papers and assured us that they were in order. She put the bank's date stamp on them and filed them neatly in a box file marked "pending". Then she told us to call back after a couple of weeks, but should phone her first to find out if the papers were processed.

We did not understand what she was saying. So I asked her politely what she meant by saying to come back after two weeks. Our flight to India was within two days' time and we were leaving the country for good.

She tried to explain by pointing to the "pending" file and saying: "There are about thirty-five people in the waiting list and we are treating each case in the order of priority. It will take at least ten days before we could process your papers and issue a bank draft or traveler’s cheques as you desire".

However, we were not prepared to leave the matter at that, especially after all the hurdles we had gone through at the Finance Ministry. We told her of our predicament and how crucial it was for us to have this money in our possession before we board the plane. She would not even listen, but after pestering her for some time, she told us to go and see the manager if we were not satisfied with her reply.

We walked to the partitioned off office marked "MANAGER" and knocked at the door. We were told to go in and found a very smart young lady in a well-tailored dress suit behind the manager's desk. We were rather surprised to see so many ladies in that place, but it was none of our business. Zambians are very polite people and this lady was no exception. However, she told us that she could not accede to our request as it would mean overlooking the priority of many others. As a last resort I told her that it would be a disgrace to this country if a foreigner who had worked here for the last thirty years had to go home empty-handed so that he would have to depend on the charity of his fellow countrymen once he returned to his own country. My last remark struck home and the manager told me that she would have to talk to her superior officer whether the rule could be relaxed a bit and she asked us to meet her at 9 a.m. on the next day for a definite answer. With an air of trepidation, we left the bank as there was nothing else for us to do.

On the next day we arrived at the bank a little earlier than 9 a.m. and rode up the elevator to the third floor. As we walked in through the main entrance of the bank, we saw the manager, as smart as ever, trotting out through a side door and walking briskly away with the 'clack, clack' of her high-heels. It was precisely 9 a.m. and we thought ruefully,” well, so much for her sweet promises!" There was no doubt that she was now going away in order to avoid us.

However, we decided to wait even if it was for the whole day for her to return. We found a pair of comfortable chairs outside the manager's office and sat down heavily. We did not even feel like talking to each other as we were engrossed in our own thoughts. Only when someone approached us after about twenty minutes or so with the words "Excuse me, are you Mr. and Mrs. John?" that we were awakened from our reverie. We answered in the affirmative and looked up inquiringly at the speaker. He had a sheaf of bank-slips in his hand. He asked us to indicate in those slips the type of currency required, denomination of traveler’s cheques etc. as well as the address of the overseas bank and signature of each person. He collected the bank-slips from us, scrutinized them and said the traveler’s cheques would be ready within half an hour.

We finished the business at the bank by 10 a.m. and came out with our "life's savings" tucked away safely in the V.I.P brief case I was carrying. Even though we wanted to thank the manager for what she had done, she was nowhere to be seen even by the time we left the bank.

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