Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It Could Have Been Worse

One thing that is very different about working here in Dubai, compared with Canada or the United States, is the provision that employers have to provide "ticket money" to all employees. That is, once a year your employer has to give you enough extra money, on top of your normal pay, to buy you an airplane ticket to your home country. Two tickets if you are married. Out here it is just a regular part of the pay package, and for most, it's an annual ritual to calculate the amount you are going to get before hand, and work it into your family budget. But for myself, it still feels like a Christmas gift, albeit one in April. And with the distance between Dubai and Canada being what it is, it's not an insubstantial gift either.

As a thoroughly domesticated and entirely boring family, we don't go in for all of that exciting stuff. None of that Osbournes stuff for us. Trips to Rome? Nah. Nice? In our dreams, maybe. But a trip to the supermarket? You bet! So this little April gift usually represents something other than seats on a flight out of town. Something usually very boring and entirely uninspiring, and this year was no exception. Upon hearing that the ticket money had come through, my wife let me know in no uncertain terms that we'd be heading down to Carrefour right quick to get ourselves a really nice washer/dryer combo.

You know, it's a pretty bad sign, as a fella, to actually get excited about a new washer and a new dryer. Were I to pass by the Spike TV offices, I think the doors would automatically lock on the off chance I'd try to come through. My membership in the man club officially revoked. Yes, excitement over a buying a washer and dryer is probably the most undeniable symptom of rampant domesticity. At that stage the domesticity has metastasized, spreading throughout the masculinity, becoming inoperable and terminal.

Still, I got to looking forward to it, and my wife as well. Which may explain our uncharacteristic impatience today, as a chain of events unfolded that had my wife dissolving in tears, and left me having a little laugh at the perverse irony of chance and fate.

You see, before we moved out here, we set ourselves up with a certain very large, very international bank because they offered a very useful service. Through their online setup, we could instantly transfer funds from here to back home. A very useful feature when it comes to keeping up student loan and credit card payments. But once in a blue moon this service abruptly, and for no reason that customer support ever seems to know about, stops working. The last time this happened, and after we figured out how to send money the old fashioned way, we ended up with more than a few late payment fines to cover, and we vowed we wouldn't let that happen again. Today, upon discovering that the online transfer service was down, plan B kicked into action. Only there was a hitch.

Excited about that washer/dryer combo, we decided it would be better to head off to Carrefour straight after work tomorrow. Instead of heading down to our bank, standing in line, and wasting precious time tomorrow, we'd just withdraw what we needed to send and go on over to the remittance place downstairs right away. After speaking with the exchange folks, it seemed that their rates were actually better than what our big international bank offered us, including a far better exchange rate.

What then followed made all those cliche expressions "penny wise and pound foolish," "haste makes waste," "patience is a virtue," etc, all come alive, illustrating for us just why those expressions have stuck around for as long as they have. What happened was the wife went downstairs to make a withdrawal from the ATM. Card went in, number punched, amount selected, then....nothing. Nothing for a while, then the card comes out, and the screen says "thank you." No cash, no receipt, nothing. Figuring there was a problem with this particular ATM, the wife headed off to another one, which informed her that she had reached her daily withdrawal limit.

Come again?

Confused, and more than a little worried, she went to yet another ATM, this time being successful in getting a little money out, only to find, on the receipt, a great gaping hole in what we should have had, but apparently no longer did. She immediately came upstairs, and told me what had happened. But, instead of listening and understanding what happened, I put on my Ned Flanders cape and headed downstairs, two and a half year old in tow, to see about the bank machines. My wife, I figured, probably had gone to the one machine and given up (A thought which, in retrospect, may be a sign of resurgent masculine tendencies). Boy, I had a surprise waiting for me.

Upon seeing that great, gaping hole in the account, I felt pain in places where pain is a really bad sign. I felt light headedness and dizziness. Was I the victim of some scam? Did some Russian hacker have my bank info? I'd checked the account online not a half hour earlier and it was all there. But it all most certainly was not there now. Maybe it wasn't some Russian dude in a basement. What if it was a Chinese hacker, or one of those Nigerian schemes? Had I returned some exiled Prince's email while sleep-surfing? Was my account being drained of funds this very moment?

I made my way as fast as thought, and an annoyed two and a half year old would allow. At home, online, looking at that gaping hole in the account, and talking to a rep on the phone, going over every step of what happened, it hit us.

It wasn't some Russian hacker. Nor a Chinese one, or a Nigerian scam artist. It was a mechanical error. It was the machine itself. An ATM we had used almost daily for years, which operated perfectly virtually all the time, had had a statistical hiccup. Card had gone in, amount for withdrawal entered, amount debited from our account, and then...nothing.

Perhaps the incident is recorded on the machine's error log. Hopefully the video will show my wife standing there, looking, looking, and looking, with nothing coming out? Whatever the case may be, we have to hope there is some way the bank will be able to check our story. As the nice rep on the phone told us, we had to submit an ATM indemnity form. It would take up to fifteen days for the resolution of our issue, and we have to submit the form tomorrow. And that was it.

I'd been so sure our loss was as a result of some human agency, and in the end it was, but not the usual sort. In the end, while the machine was to blame, we could also find fault with the whole sequence of events. So used to depending on the infallibility of the machines we use every day, it never occurred to us that this would happen. When our first remittance option failed, we decided to take a shortcut. Instead of taking the hour or two tomorrow to go to our bank and make a manual transfer, we decided to withdraw the cash and do it right then and there. Instead of walking a few blocks down the way to our own bank's machine, we used the third party machine in our building, just like we always had. As mad as we might be at that hunk of metal, what would be the point? All our friends, our family, we've now learned, have all had something like this happen to them at one point or another. We all had perfect trust and faith in these machines, and while that faith and trust was almost always rewarded, there is always that one time.

In Dubai it will take fifteen days to see about resolving the situation. Back home it takes up to six months, so there is that silver lining. But fifteen days? What would we do? My wife was entirely out of sorts.

Looking over the numbers, I realized, that in all our hyperventilating, we'd missed a salient fact. That big, gaping hole? It was just the ticket money, and not even all of it. We weren't going to suffer this month, not in the least. From my wife's perspective, we had lost a large amount of money, money I had worked for and earned. The sort of money whose loss, when she was growing up, would have been ruinous. For us, even two years ago, we would have been firmly s-o-l. But right here, right now, that wasn't the case.

From my perspective, it was like free money had fallen out of my pocket. Like when an uncle gives you a twenty on your birthday, and it gets stolen, but you don't really care, not that much, because it had been a surprise, a gift. Easy come, easy go. For my wife, it was something terrible, and she blamed herself, for being impatient, incautious, thinking "if only...if only...".

But it wasn't her fault. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't even our fault. It was capricious chance. Sure we could have gone to our own bank's machine, but whose to say it wouldn't have malfunctioned? Everything else at that bank seems to. And even if we had gone the next day to our bank to do the remittance, who is to say the teller wouldn't type an account number wrong? It could happen. It could all happen. What happened to us, may or may not have been preventable, because no matter what, there is always the chance that something else could have happened. In our case, the chance that something much, much worse could have happened.

So, as I sit here and type this now, I am profoundly thankful. I'm giving thanks in prayer. To God, to the universe. We had a little scare. It wasn't so much as scares go, but it could have been. Which is why I'm smiling right now. My wife isn't, yet. But in two weeks time, if...when this situation is resolved, one way or another, I think she'll start to see it my way. She'll start to smile, she'll see the irony too.

We didn't have to go anywhere for some excitement. We just had to stay right here

No comments:

Post a Comment