Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Cutter, Cutter, Peanut Butter"

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.

And again.

And again.

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.


And then.

The Nun.

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.

Gracious me.

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!


laura said...

I so love this post... b/c I can so relate! The advantage though to being in Bolivia as opposed to your neck of the woods is that elderly people and pregnant women either have their own line or are escorted to the front of the line by police officers... so I'm milking these last two months of pregnancy for all they're worth! The MH is definitely something we'll be using in our team discussions from now on... classic!

KMiV said...

Very nice post. I have noticed a similar experience in Eastern Block countries, although they crowd around the counter.

Your patience will not go unrewarded.

Joshua and Julie Marcum said...

Totally sympathize with you!

Aimee Jo said...

Oh, Cheryl!!! I'm so sorry--what an ordeal. I can picture the whole scenario as I read it.
I guess you can just start taking a good book when you go to pay school fees and you might be able to finish it by the time you leave! :)

Kimberly said...

Cheryl, you are absolutely cracking me up! I'm sure it wasn't very funny at the time, but your rendition of the school-fee-paying adventure is hilarious! I'm SO glad I have someone else to stand in all those lines for me! :)

Kristin Robinson said...

Wow. Can I just say we completely relate! Brian and I just had a conversation about the cutting problem. Apparently one can cut in line at the store, too, if one sidles without looking directly at the cuttee... :-) (There are advantages to having four kids--I use them as body blockers!!)
Love you!

Sarah Hutton said...

Sorry for your long wait, but the blog post really made my day!

Andrea Miller said...

After your comment on my fb today I felt drawn to look at your blog (which I'm ashamed that I've never read before...)and this post made me chuckle a good bit. I've felt much too gawked at this week anyways...so it was comforting to read. You have a great way with words. BLessings on your life and family today... Luv, Andrea

Larry said...

beautifully articulated...wow...how many times have we all lived that "maturity of a first grader"...love you..hollye

Jana said...

OH , Cheryl, you are such a good writer...I was instantly transported to that bank line and felt your frustrations....Blessings!