Peace Corps automatically deposits my monthly allowance into my Ghana Commercial Bank account and I ride a tro to Nkwanta to withdraw money as needed. To avoid multiple hour-long tro rides and waits in the bank line, I usually go to Nkwanta once a month to withdraw whatever Peace Corps deposited.
For the last couple months I’ve spent more money than Peace Corps provided. Opps. My brother Larry agreed to transfer money to me.
Ghana Commercial advertises MoneyGram for international money transfers. MoneyGram has an internet site. Larry could use his credit card to send me money. I could pick up the money on my next trip to Nkwanta. Larry performs a few mouse clicks; I pick up my cash.
A little more cumbersome than I imagined. Here’s Larry’s story of sending the money and my tale of receiving the money.
Larry’s experience sending the money:
First try was my mistake: setting up the account I used my middle initial and a card that did not include it. That resulted in my account being locked out. Elapsed time, maybe 15 minutes.
Over a couple hours of work, I tried a few more times thinking the cookies would expire, but gave up and called the help desk. After proving my identity by confirming where I had lived for several years (tip here: the user agreement for MoneyGram granted them access to my credit file with all that info), my account was unlocked and I used a different card which included my middle initial. Bingo: transaction processed; credit card charged, and it looked very promising. There was some fine print that said the first transfer may take twenty minutes and additional steps to confirm identity—seemly to prevent money laundering or sending money to a Nigerian prince to get my inheritance. I thought perhaps my earlier “proof” would avoid that. Elapsed time: maybe 20 more minutes.
Finally got an email that let me log in again and retrieve the six digits Linda needs to claim her money with, but it also said something more was needed, and I needed to call another agent. She asked who I was sending money to, and whether I had talked to her. (Again, protecting me from sending money to a stranger; or, there are scams around here where a “grandchild” calls a grandparent from Mexico in need of money and bilks the unsuspecting grandparent out of funds while real grandchild is still next door at the house.) She also asked if the recipient was living there, or just visiting; I proudly said she’s living there as a PCV. Anyway, they approved it, and said the funds would transfer and be available later in the day—actually, I think they said “20 minutes” at that point. Elapsed time: Maybe 5 more minutes.
Then I finally got the email that said the money would be available at any WalMart in Puerto Rico. My confirmation stuff clearly said Ghana, and our guess was that using the MoneyGram site through the WalMart Portal directed Linda to the nearest one.
So, I am less than 45 minutes shorter, all from the comfort of my office. I just hope my experience with the middle name/initial doesn’t carry through to Linda.
My adventure retrieving the money:
When all the stars were aligned so Larry successfully sent the money, he received an email confirmation with an eight-digit reference code and the amount of Ghana cedis I’d be able to pick up. The confirmation said the money would be waiting for me at any WalMart in Puerto Rico. I didn’t ask Larry to buy my plane ticket; I hoped I would be able to pick up the money at my bank in Nkwanta. The website Larry used indicated the Ghana Commercial Bank in Nkwanta was a valid location and I had seen the red MoneyGram logo at my bank.
Monday I went to the bank in Nkwanta – a thirty-minute walk from Jumbo to Kpassa, a thirty-minute wait for the car to fill, an hour ride over the dusty road, and a ten minute walk from the Nkwanta station to the bank. As I approached the bank, I saw a half-dozen people in a queue outside the bank. I braced myself for a long wait.
Just outside the bank door, a customer walking from the bank told me “The network is down.” The receptionist/guard confirmed the statement: “Network down. No money.” The bank’s link to the main computer in Accra wasn’t working; customers were waiting in line hoping the network connection would soon be restored.
Instead of waiting, I walked around the Nkwanta market. I bought lots of fresh produce so I could eat breakfast like a queen. I bought an electric kettle, copying a luxury other PCVs enjoyed. I held a young baby who didn’t scream in terror at the sight of me. I bought an extension cord and phone credit.
When I returned to the bank, the network was still down. I went home with less money in my pocket than I had when I started the day. Not the purpose of my trip to Nkwanta. Monday’s result: Five hour trip. No money.
I went back to the bank Thursday. The trip from Jumbo to Nkwanta was about the same – except I rode my bike instead of walking the first leg of the trip. When I arrived at the bank, the receptionist/guard directed me to the “MoneyGram” window where I stood behind three customers. While I was in line, the receptionist/guard found a MoneyGram form for me to complete. By the time I finished the form, I had moved to the front of the line. I handed my Peace Corps ID card and the form to the man sitting behind the window. He looked at the paperwork, typed a few things into his computer, frowned, and walked away to talk to the manager who was sitting at a large desk behind all the teller stations. The manager and teller returned to the service window and reviewed the information on the computer screen.
The manager pointed to the computer and explained, “We are having challenges.” Although the bank branch was connected to the main Accra bank, the “remote” to the MoneyGram cyberspace was not working. He directed me to a nearby bank that would be able to help by pointing toward the front door. “Across the street. By the junction. ADB.”
I left my bank and walked catty-corner to a bank I had noticed earlier. They had the same MoneyGram logo on their front door, but it was an older and smaller bank. I walked in and greeted the handful of employees who looked up from what they were doing when then heard the door open. I told them why I was there, one clerk said, “The manager will help you. Please have a seat.” I sat on the soft couch and watched a tiny TV screen showing a dramatic soap opera in English. The clerk walked out the front door – presumably to let the manager know there was someone who needed his assistance –and walked back in a minute later. “The manager will come soon.”
Ten minutes later, a well-dressed man walked in the front door and immediately went through the partition separating customers from employees and walked to a large wooden desk in the corner. The clerk pointed to the man and said, “Manager” while motioning for me to go talk to the newcomer. After greetings and an explanation, I handed the manager my ID and the paper with the printed reference number and my shopping list. He told me to take a seat. He worked on his computer and made a couple of phone calls. In another fifteen minutes, the clerk motioned for me to come.
“The remote is not working. You have to go to ADB.” I thought that’s where I was. I asked him where ADB was. He walked with me outside, down the path toward the junction and pointed down the road and to the left. I thanked him and walked to ADB; Agriculture Development Bank had a huge “ADB” sign in front. Oh.
The receptionist/guard told me which teller window to go to for MoneyGram and I stood behind a man who was being helped. When he left, I told the clerk why I was there. He responded, “Please sit.” After sitting for ten minutes, I was handed a MoneyGram form to complete. I completed the form and watched the small TV showing live Ghanian Parliament vetting new appointees. A teller motioned to me to come forward. I handed him the completed form and my Peace Corps ID. He looked over the form and my ID and then conferred with the manager sitting at a desk behind him. The clerk asked me to come around back to talk to the manager.
After greeting the manager, he asked me for my passport. “I only have my Peace Corps ID. It has my passport number on it.” But a Peace Corps ID is not on the official list of accepted types of identification. I told him I anticipated getting the MoneyGram from Ghana Commercial Bank where I use my Peace Corps ID for all transactions. I explained that I lived in Jumbo and had made the trip on Monday to pick up the money, but the network was down. I told him I wanted to get my money today. He made a phone call to see if someone could grant an exception. “Could you wait until five?” Whoever it was who might be able to say OK would not be back until 5 p.m. I didn’t want to wait two hours – especially with the possibility of 5 p.m. being “Ghana time.”
“You can come back tomorrow.”
I left ADB, walked to the station, waited 45 minutes for the car to fill, and returned to Kpassa where I unlocked my bike, bought a few things at market, and road home. Result: Six hours. No money.
Best case future scenario: I retrieve my passport and travel to Nkwanta with no waits for tros to fill. The ADB manager feels sorry for me and pulls me to the front of the line. He hands me my money and I return home –again without having to wait long for a tro to fill. Possible result: Three hours. Money!
Worst case future scenario: I take my passport to ADB after a lengthy tro wait. My passport name doesn’t exactly match the name Larry used on the form (because my Peace Corps ID doesn’t include my middle name). I cannot get the money unless some “big guy” grants an exception; the “big guy” isn’t around. Possible result: Six hours. No money. Larry tries to retrieve the previous money sent and must start the SEND process over with the name as it is written on my passport.
To be continued…
“Take a deep breath,” I say to myself. “You live in a rural area in a developing country.”