Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Adventures in Paying Bills

We interrupt the Christmas posts for another adventure.....

I've always been the one in charge of paying the bills in this family. I remember the good ol' days when paying bills consisted of sitting down with the checkbook one evening every month and writing a bunch of checks.

Not so anymore.

Everything is paid in cash, in person in Tanzania. For example:

Cell phone: Pre-paid phone cards. This is pretty easy because phone cards are sold everywhere.

Electricity: Purchased in cash at the Luku shop. They give me credit on a little card which I then insert into a small box in our house, and we are then recharged with electricity.

Internet: 4O minute drive into town, over to the PPF Towers building, go up to the 15th floor, pre-pay for the next three months in cash.

Water: This is the only utility that isn't pre-paid. Someone stops by our house every month and delivers the bill. Then I go to the water company and pay...in cash.

Garbage: The garbage men honk at the gate once a month and I bring them their fee.

I've gotten pretty used to all of this. But yesterday threw me for a loop.

Our yearly car registration is overdue. I mistakenly assumed the wrong due date, so I realized a few days ago that we passed the deadline. Oops....praying, praying every time I pass a police officer that we won't get pulled over [happens a lot for no particular reason].

In the past, we've had the 'go-fer' at school take care of our registration renewal for us. But since it was overdue, I decided to tackle it myself, even though I had never done it before. Hey, I thought, if I can handle the process of two adoptions, I can certainly get our car registration renewed.

So Gil helped me look up the location on a map, since I have absolutely no sense of direction. No problem, I thought, I can find it.

Drive downtown. It wasn't in the place I assumed. No problem, I thought, I'll go down the street in the other direction. Oops. One way street. I turn and take the parallel street. Oops. Another one way street. Now I am hopelessly lost.

But the traffic downtown is so congested that I can't pull over for a while. Finally I find a place, and a kind parking attendant points me in the right direction.

I park at two places and someone tells me I can't park there. Finally I park way down the street and walk to the building. It had already taken me one hour and 45 minutes to get to this point.

The place is teaming with people. I am the only white person, and the only female. I find the right window and get the right forms. Then I notice that everyone around me already has receipts. I spot the only female customer and notice that she is also renewing her registration.

'Can you help me?'

'Sure!' She is pleasant. 'You first have to go to the bank next door, pay, and get a receipt. Then you have to go to the third floor and get a stamp. Then you can come back to here and turn it all in.'

Sigh. I go next door to the bank. There are 4O people in line. I get in line and look at the form I'm supposed to fill out. I can't do it. It's even in English, but I have no idea what to write down. Plus I notice people around me with different paperwork than I brought with me.

At this point I am near tears. I call a friend who is Tanzanian and is the facilities manager for our school. 'What do I do?' I ask. 'You should get George [the go-fer] to do it,' he tells me.

Yep. I don't care how much time I've wasted, or whether the police give me a ticket. Having George do it sounds like a great idea.

Last night another friend told me about a different location that is much easier to get the job done. So maybe next week I will be brave enough to try again.

But hey...on my way back to my car I found a great little bookstore with some kids' books in Swahili for Grace. So it wasn't a total loss. :)
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