The school term begins this week in Uganda. Which means that school fees are being paid en masse at banks across this land.
I have been paying fees for awhile now. Start early. That’s the secret.
Unfortunately, “early” is not an easy thing for me.
So, it was with firm resolve that I walked up the stairs of the bank last Thursday at 11AM.
Yep. Almost midday. The line was all the way to the door.
Resigned to my fate, I joined the queue.
A queue full of two faces: The Stare and The Gawk.
I have mastered The Stare. The trick is finding nothing to look at. No person. No one thing for a very long time. Just an indifferent sort of gaze.
Most of my fellow queue-ers were already well into The Stare mode when I entered. I broke their reverie with my arrival.
The long line, to a person, broke wholeheartedly into The Gawk. This is enabled by my very white face.
I pretend not to notice. But The Gawk actually seems to burn holes in my back.
I ignore The Gawk and with a deep breath I enable my own Stare hoping that the effort will somehow, magically make me blend in.
Everyone’s attention is drawn away from my pale skin by the first cutter.
She is smooth. She walks past all of us with her heavy bag and stack of papers. She, in mastery of The Confident Gait, takes her place well in front of me.
I am silently annoyed. But I say nothing. Everyone's attention was just drawn AWAY from me. I did not want to call that attention back. Several of my Queue-mates raise their eyebrows and snicker. It seems they are almost thankful for the break in the endless staring. Her misdeed is a sort of distraction. (telling) We all quickly settle back into The Stare.
Two more self serving individuals place themselves conveniently at the front part of the line.
I decide, that the next time I will speak up.
And in walks E. The sweetest older woman you’ve ever met. I have only had two opportunities to speak with her through the years, but she is deeply respected and valued in this community.
I felt my Stare morph into Gawk as sweet little E greeted her way to the front of the line.
I imagined myself calling sweet E out. And I shuddered a little bit.
With a sigh, I kept my mouth closed.
The woman with the crippled leg grabbed my attention next. She limped her way to the front of the line and no one complained. I momentarily felt proud of the compassion and patience we were all exhibiting on her behalf. Of course SHE can go to the front of the line.
She approached the teller. Finished her transaction and then left.
A few minutes later she was back. With another transaction.
Seems she had a bit of a hustle going on. ☺
Meanwhile, I barely moved for another half hour.
All of a sudden (I must have dozed), I was near the front of the line. There were two in front of me.
She jumped in front of the first gentlemen. He was caught off guard, lost The Stare and looked annoyed for a quarter of a second. Then was jolted back into reality by the fact that she was A Nun.
She sidled up to the teller and pulled out a huge stack of papers.
I think she was paying school fees for the entire tribe.
More unfortunate than her stack of papers, was the teller she chose. In over an hour of waiting time, I had carefully observed the tellers. There were four at work. One was for business customers only. Three were for the rest of us. Two of the tellers I had begun to think of as MH1 and MH2 (“MH” stands for molasses hands). The teller at the first window would be our savior. He worked quickly, relatively speaking. And I loved him.
UNTIL…and in the third world there is ALWAYS something else…
Mr Bank Employee in is stylin’ tweed jacket comes to complain to the tellers about the line. After talking their ears off for several minutes, which only served to slow them down, (have mercy!) he came out to address the crowd.
He said something like, “This line is too long!”
Thank you. I will now refer to you as Einstein.
So Einstein begins to peruse everyone’s deposit slips. In some seemingly arbitrary way, he pulls people from the line BEHIND me and puts them in a direct line for teller #1. The savior. Which, in effect, made him lost to me forever.
Now, thanks to the brilliant categorizing of Einstein, I am stuck behind Pushy Nun and my entire day rests in Hands Made of Molasses.
At this point, I began to huff. I couldn’t help it.
It did no good.
Twenty five minutes later, I dragged my weary bones to the teller window and handed her my papers.
She languidly went through the motions. I held my breath lest she decide it was tea time and leave me standing there. But, with a million slamming slaps of her official stamps, she finally completed my transaction.
Painful. Long. And able to reduce my maturity level to that of a 1st grader.
“Cutter, cutter, peanut butter!”
Next time I’m going with that!