T.I.A ?

Every time I go to the bank, I overhear other Westerners complaining loudly: about the transfer that didn’t go through but no one informed them; about the ATM machines that are broken again but no one knows when they’ll be fixed; about the staff wandering around while customers are waiting to be served. One guy – who spoke fluent Kiswahili – became particularly enraged when he saw the letterbox with the words: “Don’t hold back – give us your feedback!” He did.

Their irritated, impatient voices as they give off to the meek-looking Tanzanian employees made me cringe at first. But now I find myself doing the same – and, worse still, in that same incredulous, exasperated tone of voice.

“So, the bank card will take another month? Even though when I opened the account a month ago you said it would take three days…?” The woman behind the desk shrugs a little, but doesn’t seem too concerned, or give much explanation. It’s just like that.

Other services seem to have a similar unconcerned approach. Yesterday our office electricity was cut off (and the generator was broken, so no back-up) not because of power failures this time, but because the national electricity provider had run out of the tokens you need to buy to top up your supply. Bar staff almost everywhere are infuriatingly slow.

T.I.A.: This is Africa, of course. The problem is that in the upmarket parts of a relatively modern large city like Dar es Salaam, people (meaning wazungu – white people) expect the service they get to be as European as the Spanish olive oil or German rye bread or Italian cappuccinos you can find here without too much difficulty. You expect a branch (even a Tanzanian branch!) of an international bank present in 50 countries to have figured out how to make bank cards and how to repair an ATM.

But you forget that you’re drinking those cappuccinos in what is still an African world – no matter how many other countries Barclays has conquered.

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