Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Toward Africa: Forms and Finances

It is Tuesday. I am running errands as part of my preparation for Africa.

  • I must have my new contacts and glasses.
  • I must have letters from my bank certifying I have enough funds to travel, (in order to enter certain countries).
  • I must have my Visa applications complete and my Passport returned from the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

I am simply trying to go about my business as efficiently as possible, checking these items off my "To Do" list and happily engaging all that I encounter in this process of "doing."

So. First things first. Pearle Vision in Highland Park. I have had new contacts and a lens on order since the last week in July, when my eye sight went to pot, (all conveniently in the midst of trying to prepare for a wedding for two African friends). My eye doctor announced then that my vision in one eye had changed drastically. Just in one eye. He wrote up a new prescription, gave me replacement contacts and instructions on caring for my aching right eyeball. (My friend April, the reggae-loving-dancer in my life, joked, "Ah! It's your Rastafar-eye! You must look at the world in a new way!" Jokes!)

I return on Tuesday. I try out the latest contacts, and then the doctor announces, "But your vision has improved! It's changed again since July. This right eye is better! " I laugh. I am annoyed. I am happy. I am not sure what to make of all this. I leave with new contacts in, and a strangely altered perception of things....What is correct vision anyway?

Next is the Bank. Teacher Federal Credit Union in Roseville, MN. Following the advice of Ernest Darkoh in South Africa, I decide not to send my entire bank statement (sans account numbers) to the respective African Embassies for Visa approval. Instead, I am simply forwarding them an official letter stating I have sufficient funds for traveling there and home. (No one wants a squatter in their country, right?) Melissa, the bank teller who accommodates me with this, is happy to do so. She was born in the Phillipines. She knows all about such letters for travel. The letter is waiting for me when I arrive.

What I am not expecting is this latest news on the accessibility of funds. I have been watching the economy, I have been thanking God daily for my own financial situation (that I sold my house, paid off my debt, and have a chunk of change for retirement and investment that hasn't dropped one cent since this gigantic downturn in the market occurred.) I have been curious about economic philosophy and about how all the market driven policies have been turned on their ears. I have wondered about how this has affected people in the world, in my family, in communities outside my own, who have planned or not planned for such events. I have wondered about the practical applications of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae failing and the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions and lending companies.

On this day, I glean this much: My deposits are not accessible for five days from date of transaction.


I am there to deposit two checks, in addition to gathering my letters for travel. I have a routine business check, and my federal "stimulus package" check (which only just arrived) to deposit. I hear from the teller, "Just so you know, the Federal check is available now, but this other one will not be available for five days. It's our new policy, since the market crashed."

Have you heard of this? Have you experienced this at your own lending institutions?

I am okay. I am simply curious about this and how it might affect anyone else. I am thankful I have enough money to not be crippled by this five day freeze or hold on assets.

"Yea, I know it's tough," Melissa says, as if reading my mind. "It's been a law for quite a while, but we just never implemented it, as this credit union hasn't had problems with its members...until recently.. People are coming in and depositing bad checks, and we are losing money, so we had to enforce this."

Okay. I feel bad. I feel full of questions. I feel fortunate to be where I am financially.


Next, I am headed to the Post Office -- to finally get this blasted Visa Application in the mail, so that it can return to me before I need to leave the country. I walk in to the familiar long lines, and start to search for the proper table where I'll assemble my quadruple forms to the Ghana Embassy. I have all my Africa Documents in one folder. Visa applications, a certified check, multiple current passport sized pictures of myself, records of my immunizations, print outs of my flight itinerary there and home, these letters from the bank, copies of my bank statement, my one and only passport. There's a LOT in this file to keep straight. If you know anything about me, too, you'll know that I am not one passionate about holding such a random stack of information. This is my organization at its finest: all in one folder!

I set it all down and try to positively assemble, what to me is, this highly sensitive and valuable information. I am reading the instructions about how to mail it to DC, I am looking for the proper certified or express delivery envelope, the proper address label for this envelope. I am looking for the proper envelope and label to fit inside this package that will then return this sensitive and valuable information back to me. I am filling out forms. I am mindful of the line. I am mindful that if I dropped any of this, or left any of it behind, someone could steal my identity, or make my life a mess. I am trying to be careful. I am trying to print clearly. I am taking note that someone else has just left behind their own slim yellow note sheet with an address scribbled on it. I am taking deep breathes, hopeful that I'll have this in the right hands with the right postage in a moment, and I'll be all that much closer to having my passport back and on my way to the Motherland.

I return to the end of the line and smile, happy with my hands full and all items accounted for. I turn to my right, and I recognize this gentleman next to me. "You are my economics professor from St. Thomas, " I say. I don't take a beat. I just know this man -- though I've not seen him in 20 years.

"Why, yes, I do teach economics at St. Thomas" he says and then inquires about my name and years I was there with a big smile on his face. Professor Stein. I can't recall if it was Macro or Micro economics that I had with him, but I recall his vests and the bicycle he'd ride to class.

"Professsor Stein, I've been thinking about you, about all economists lately, about what I learned in college, and wondering.... Well, how do you make sense of what's happening in our market place?"

He nods, he laughs, he says,
"Oh, none of it makes sense. We are all scratching our heads and throwing out our theories."

We visit the duration of our wait in line. I learn he's now working with the MBA students. I glean his dissatisfaction with unmotivated business types - "just doing this to advance their career, but not really caring about the work." I learn of his daughter - who graduated from Cretin Derham Hall - and who is now a public school teacher on the South Side of Chicago. I share with him my own journey through St. Thomas, public education and now the world of his MBA's in downtown St. Paul.

We visit. We laugh. We marvel at where we stand. We part ways. Who can predict any of the journey? What theories do we have to govern any of our navigations?

I turn back to the line and the open counter where Mark, the Postal Clerk, works, and I present to him the package that I need to send off. I'm getting so close to breathing easier.

But Mark tells me I have failed. "You have express address forms on a regular mail envelopes. You need to start over. It's okay. You just need to fill this out." He rips things apart, and I feel a whole wave of nausea come over me. "What?"

I start filling out things again. I am not asked to return to the back of the line, which makes me grateful, but I am anxious again with all this documentation - as I scramble to get this right. I am not sure why, but I feel I am really close to crying. I am trying my best, but it just seems I can't quite get this all straight. Forms. The world. Love. Finances. (Silly, silly, silly, I know, but this is what goes on in my body and mind.)

Mark returns to take my now, almost-complete document, and he notes another snag. "Are you sure this is your address? You have the wrong zip code written in here."

"What? How do you know?"
"It's my job. I'm a trained mail professional, right?" he says smiling.

I am embarrassed now, and realize that I have been filling out my address incorrectly on all recent applications and forms. My zip code is off by one digit. I have been putting on the number from my St. Thomas-college-days' dwelling zip code, rather than my current location. I pull out my new driver's license and confirm Mark's correction.


The postal clerk is the most patient and sweet fellow you can imagine. He counsels me on the safest and most inexpensive way to mail these documents. I think he senses my tears and frustration, and my embarrassment. He is kind. He seals all the envelopes and forms, one at a time, putting them like nesting dolls inside each other, and now all together. "This is ready to go." As I pay, he assures me I have done everything correctly. He underlines his number on the receipt and guarantees me I will be getting my passport back, but I can "call and double check on things here at the office." He sends me on my way.


And it's a day of errands to prepare for Africa, you know? It's a day of errands that are about living right now. It's a day of navigation around seeing, gleaning, learning, reflecting, holding, connecting, wondering....
How do we know we are doing things right? Seeing correctly? How lucky are we to have any resources and information and support for our journeys? But what about people who don't? What then?
Do we all get bank tellers and professors and mail clerks who show up and are like angels? How do other people see and make their way?
How do you know if you are you in the right zip code? And -- what is the right zip code?!
What economic point of view is one that will help us move forward successfully? How do you make sense of your day and your tasks at hand, when things don't go all according to plan? What theories are we to apply? hold?

I wonder a lot of things.

I am thankful to be exactly where I am. And to know you are on the receiving end of this.


1 comment:

Jill Timmer Teehan said...

Hey Miss,

What a lovely list... Sounds fun and exciting and all the frustration you can hold in one body - all wrapped into one.

The bank thing: Yes, Brendan and I have learned to never close a bank before our new one is opened and functioning. Por Example: We closed our Chicago bank accounts with a certified check worth $10,000 in our hot little hands; when we moved to Atlanta we tried to open an account with said check and get access to some cash. HA! 7-10 business days!!! We had no access to any money for 7-10 business days... No Chicago and No Atlanta. That was not neat, special or fun. Borrowed from some friends, used the credit card ad nauseum....

The joys of travel, moving and growing. Salut!

Jill Timmer Teehan
Newbury Park, CA 91320