One bright Saturday morning, Silly Azungu decides to brave the two-minibus trip to town to go to the bank. Her volunteer organization has requested she pay back funds lent to her when she arrived, and so, armed with the bank account information, she assumes this won’t be a difficult task.
Dressed inappropriately (because of heat, not modesty) in jeans, she arrives, sweaty and sticky, at the bank. Silly Azungu did not realize, unfortunately, that the entire Malawian population of Blantyre has picked this morning—in fact, this hour—to complete their financial transactions at this branch of the National Bank. After squeezing into the bank, she waits for a while in what she thinks is the line before someone takes pity on her and directs her to the actual end of the line.
Silly Azungu waits for forty-five minutes in the line that snakes back and forth several times in the little bank. After bumping into several people with her backpack, she grips it in front of her, and as she waits she can’t help but notice that she’s the only white person in this room of perhaps a hundred people. It feels like people are staring, but in fact Malawians probably have better things to pay attention to than the Silly Azungu in her silly outfit with her silly backpack.
Finally, as she gets near the front of the line, the Silly Azungu realizes that all the other bank customers are holding small slips of paper. She notices that when people enter the bank, they head to a side counter to fill out a paper before joining the line. And as people at the front of the line step up to the tellers behind glass walls, they simply slide the paper and cash through a slot to the teller who processes the transaction—no talking. Silly Azungu does not have a little paper.
She reaches the front of the line. “Can I deposit cash?” she asks, fearing that she already knows the answer.
“Do you have a cash deposit slip?” the teller asks with a frown.
“No,” says the Silly Azungu sadly. She is directed to one of the counters at the back of the room and told she must fill one out before getting back in line, which is longer than it was when she first arrived. The bank closes in ten minutes.
Silly Azungu tries to reach the counter but the throng of people has become too dense; she cannot make her way through. Now turning a worse colour than white—a deep, blushing red—she gives up and turns to leave. Too much embarrassment for one day. Sometimes, when you’re a foreigner, even the seemingly simple tasks turn out to be far more complicated and frustrating than you think.
Silly Azungu Goes to the Bank, Part II
Thinking she knows how Malawian banking works now, Silly Azungu marches into the bank again on Monday morning and attempts to fill out the cash deposit slip before getting in line. What is the service centre? What kind of account is it? How does one fill out the “denominations” line? Silly Azungu has no idea but hopes for the best.
She gets to a teller eventually, and slides the paper and her cash through the slot. The teller, unamused, takes a look and slides the paper back. “You need to put the amount here, and your phone number here,” he says, marking the spots with errors with his red pen. “And it’s 2014, not 2013.”
Silly Azungu doesn’t care how stupid she looks. She’s so close to completing this bloody transaction. She scribbles her corrections and pushes the paper back, looking hopeful. The bored teller slashes the paper with his red pen, stamps it, and hands back a receipt.
Success for the Silly Azungu!