Monday, September 14, 2009

On Banks in Guinea

Raven and Dan counting Guinean francs for girls' conference--less than $2,000.
Like a lot of things in less-developed countries, certain things we notice aren't necessarily bad, but they do strike us as strange or different. The banking system definitely took some getting used to, but it works in this milieu.

One thing that is nice about the bank is that it is one of the only public places that has electricity and air conditioning whenever it is open. It is really spacious with high ceilings and looks relatively modern and clean.

The first thing you notice is that there are no designated lines--none of those roped off areas to keep the clientele organized. It is absolute madness--everyone rushes the reception desk and gathers around pushing their way to be the next person helped. So, needless to say, there is absolutely no privacy. Everyone around you knows exactly how much you have in your account and how much you want to withdraw. They don't even try to keep it quiet--they practically yell the information to you over the noise.

Also, do you remember those large metal trunks you use at scout camp or in the army? That is what they use as a safe in a separate, but still open room--not even behind the counter. The original bank in our town actually burned down a couple of years ago due to an electrical fire so maybe it had an actual safe, but I doubt it.

So, after you write a check to yourself or have the "teller" write one for you, you sign it in ten different places. Then you go to the money window which is also madness as everyone gathers around waiting for their money. The bank teller there is wearing a bio safety protection mask--I think you can imagine all the crazy germs you'll find on the money here. You sign the check again and they do their obligatory count in front of you.

You get your large wad of cash--and it will always be a brick because their largest bill is worth about $2. So, when you take out a couple hundred dollars it adds up. They put them in neat stacks of 10 bills with the 10th bill folded in half around the other 9 and then they put those stacks into groups of ten rubber banded together for a total of a hundred bills. Then you do your obligatory recount to make sure nothing was snagged or miscounted, which always takes forever with so many bills. They rarely deal in coins since their only coin is only worth about 5 cents.

The bank network we use has one ATM in country in downtown Conakry. I actually got a personal checkbook so I could write checks to myself. Recently, I tried to close a bank account and I ended up going to three different branches to close it, since you have to go the bank where you originally created it. Peace Corps opened the account for me, so I had no idea. But it was a fun walk around Conakry. But overall, messing with the bank hasn't been that bad. Luckily, I only have to go every couple of months, but I'm still on a first-name basis with the tellers. I don't think you get that in the States very often.

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