Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Victim of pickpockets!

Lessons learned! I was in Gaudalajara yesterday morning touring sites with my teacher when at the bus stop someone bumped into me hard. Turned out to be a planned distraction. His partner I guess retrieved my wallet from my front pocket & made off with about $65 and my credit, debit, health cards, license etc.

20 minutes later when I got off the bus to go to the school to go online to begin reports, I discovered an alert from Mastercard. Seems the guys had gone into HSBC - British bank here - and attempted twice to retrieve 3,000 pesos = $237. Fortunately the bank blocked it. I never get cash advances, so the system probably has a flag for that.

At that point about 11:40 a.m. began an odyssey that is still running its course. The following is shared not to ask for sympathy but to alert you, esp. if you are traveling internationally as to the problems. Believe me it has been a very painful & frustrating 30 hours.

The first thing you'll want to know is that you are stuck. It is impossible to get new cards. In Latin America, the mail will likely take weeks or more, sometimes months! Europe isn't much more help, at least a week - assuming they would even send them. Nope, no overnights to here! That means then almost everything from hereon out is cash. Wonderful!

Debit card with Bank of America.

Simple right, just call 'em. HAH! First of all, you have to be able to call. Lady in whose house I'm staying has no idea how to reach an international operator, assuming there is a collect call feature which B of Am says it has. (It's not the Mexicans alone. In Norway, there are NO telephone operators! I discovered that myself.) Oh, apparently no one in Visa checked to see if the feature works here. It doesn't!!

Ok, assume you can get through. Well, calling cards in Mexico are expensive, given minutes. Remember all those #'s you have to punch & wait time? It can easily take 6 or more minutes to get to a person. Running out of money yet? Oh that's right they took it all - except for some change.
  • Lesson 1 - obviously, do not carry much, and keep cards & $ separate.

Need emergency cash Sir? No problem. Well, think again! Of course you have to have cash in the bank - goes without saying! BUT, you may have to fax a copy of your passport & other information. This means you have to track down a fax place, make a copy, and arrange it to be sent. Not major, but time consuming.

Woo. Don't think you're ok. To get that info I had to be on the phone a lot. So great, B of A will send fax to Visa who will process wire & call you. THAT's what you think! They do not call you. Will call in an hour, will call in 15 minutes - NOPE! Nunca! Jamais! So you are back to calling. Each call takes about 45-60 minutes. Security check, hold on, please, transfering you to, oh we need this info - except previous 5 people from previous calls earlier today and yesterday did not say they needed that...

Today after faxing at 9 a.m., expecting a confirmation call at the school in 1 hour, 3 hours later, nada. I go home & call again. Ah, sorry sir. Fax did not come! Are you sure? I'm about to go out and fax again when he says after looking more. Oh, here it is! ARGH!!! You did not include needed info on fax. I included exactly what you all told me 3 times before. Oh, sorry sir, but...

So finally, right my money is on it's way. Indeed, but there are more hoops. First of all, they do not use Western Union even though previous 15 people did not tell me that! So let's see Walmart. Oh but sir, it's closed! At 3 p.m.? We use Moneygram & as a courtesy it costs you nothing - DON'T BET ON IT! Turns out currency now is 12.65 pesos to the dollar. Not at the Bank! It's 12.20. So you lose about $30.

Sir, you can go to Banorte near you. Take passport, # I'll give you and be sure to tell us now exactly how your name is spelled on the passport - exactly - otherwise, they will not cash moneygram - fraud security.

Ok, I say & off I go. You do not think it's going to be that easy, do you? I get to the Bank. Sorry sir, we are unable to cash it here. You have to go to our branch in the main plaza.

Looks like I'm not going to get to the orphanage for volunteering today. Off I go. At the 2nd branch, Ah sir, we need your address here? News to me, I only know street, but here's complete school address. Hmm, not sure that's ok. Calls Supervisor. I convince Supervisor to take it.

Ah sir, another problem. AND this is a big one. Seems Visa, even after repeating spelling of first, middle, and last name - DID NOT spell out middle name, just the initial. Calls Supervisor again.

Now I know this is not good, but I convince her that the initial obviously stand for the full name. Well, ok. PHEW!

Think it's over? Nope! Teller miscounts a little, plus it's not easy counting 17,340.13 pesos. Oh and by the way, it's not 17,643 like I figured. Bank does not pay full exchange rate.

So this part of the saga comes to an end with me carrying 3 stacks of money in different pockets to my house. Was I on the lookout!

Saga 2 - Mastercard Credit card. No! I'm not going into all of it. Just keep in mind it required MANY, long calls. BUT, here's the kicker! Good thing Laura is on my account - did that so she could make wedding purchases without hassle, esp. when I was in Europe. IF she had not been on the account, I could use no credit until I got home to call validation #. She can, then she's got to get info to me so I can make final payment for schooling & housing. That will hopefully happen tomorrow.

Es la vida! I tried to rememeber my asylum friends who had to go to a foreign country not speaking the language, knowing no one & having no access to any money, food, a roof etc. Perspective.

So hang in. Hopefully after tomorrow I can stop calling & thinking about cards etc. If you read of a gringo acting very strangely in Mexico, it's probably me - stealthily moving about trying to not get robbed any more! Cheers or is it Buen Dia!

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Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.