For approximately eight months of the year, the U.S. and Nicaragua are in different time zones. During the rest of the year, we’re in synch. Nicaragua seems to prefer the “natural” order of the clock, whereas we in the North have always favored the annual tinkering with time. The time zone difference, when it’s in effect, really has no impact on WPF or on me personally; I simply have to have it in mind while I’m there when calling home in the evening, or catching a plane to or fro. But there does exist a difference of another sort, a sensitivity and appreciation of time which does make a big difference, and I have experienced it now twice over the past several weeks.
In the course of our work, funds are periodically transferred from a bank here in the U.S. to whatever banks our partners have indicated to us in their project requests. When a project has been approved for a disbursement, a wire transfer is executed to the recipient bank. At some time after the transaction has been completed, the bank’s central office initiates a follow-up call to WPF for the purpose of verifying both the intent and the details of the transfer. Only then can the wire be sent to the Nicaraguan bank for receipt. Technically, that’s the point at which WPF can alert the partner that the funding is on its way. The process works pretty well, most of the time. But then, there’s the matter of time.
Several weeks ago, a transfer confirmation could not be made on a Friday afternoon because I used a telephone number which was unfamiliar to the bank. Despite having all of the security codes and passwords and identifications in order, I was not identifiable. In the time that it took to authorize the number, the bank was closed for the week and the transfer was delayed until the following Monday. Two days for a U.S. banker only constitutes a weekend; for a Nicaraguan farmer, it could mean the difference between a crop and a loss.
Time, in the more recent case, had to do with the logistical process that most of our partners must follow in order to access the funds which have been sent. The banks are primarily located in Managua, while most of our partners reside in the more remote sections of the country. In order to claim the transferred funds, partners must (most likely) board a bus in the early morning hours, ride for hours (shoulder-to-shoulder with endless stops), wend their way through the city to the bank in question, present their identification documents, and then turn around to take the same trip again in reverse. That is, if time allows. By this time, the day may be quite late, indeed, and a traveler from the far north may require a night’s stay in the capitol city before the journey home. All in all, one or two days’ time is required for the relatively simple task of making a bank withdrawal.
That reality, as harsh as it is, does not suggest that banks in the U.S. have any influence over the inconvenience; rural peasants just happen to live far away from centers of commerce. However, in a transfer made this week, I encountered an ignorance of time which dramatically caught my attention.
After a full 24 hours had elapsed since the completion of a wire transfer, I received a message from the U.S. bank, seeking “more information” about the wire. After a couple of “telephone tag” misses of each other, the bank rep and I finally connected. He had some fairly straightforward questions needing clarification and our exchange probably lasted only five minutes. But he opened the door to further conversation by asking whether I had any other concerns or questions to pose since we were on the line.
I seized the opportunity to express my concerns about delays in wire transfers, that his call indicated to me that the wire had not yet been sent , even though the wire confirmation had been completed the previous day. Given the additional time requirement for sending and receiving transfers, I could easily envision our partner waiting at his bank for a transfer that had not arrived. I attempted to paint a picture for the bank employee, of peasants interrupting their lives for a day or two just to access these funds. I stressed the importance of funding to these very rural Nicaraguans, and how even a slight delay might affect their ability to successfully produce their crops. I described the difficulty which a peasant would encounter if required to stay overnight in a major city without plans to do so. I thought that I created a fair portrayal of the extreme inconvenience and/or discomfort that could be incurred through a wire transfer delay. And I hoped for an empathetic understanding of the importance of timeliness.
What I received in return was something less than that. Beyond a cursory, “uh-huh,” the value of a Nicarguan farmer’s time seemed to carry little importance to the administrator of bank protocol. I didn’t even receive a promise for the matter to be checked out. It seems as though our understanding and appreciation for the value of time is still filtered through a singularly North American filter, even in a so-called global economy.
We may never experience a delayed wire transfer ever again. I may never have to call from the “forbidden” phone ever again (though cell phones have been known to go down). Claimants may never be required to withstand the ignominy and embarrassment of arriving at a bank and claiming funds that do not yet exist. But a pronounced lack of urgency, vision and empathy has underscored the vast differences that sometimes exist between our two time zones….