Getting Ahead of the Game

Now I had my passport stamped with my visa, and I was ready to finalize any packing. Of course the less I tried to take, the more that ended up in my pile; not to mention the things I’d received from her family members and friends of the family to pass on to her.

I went from expecting to carry one bag (which has been my travel rule forever. . . if it can’t be done with one bag, there’s no need to go). Considering the circumstances, I had to amend that rule for international trips.

While getting my packing together, Akilah and I had determined that it might be good for me to obtain some CFA (pronounced cee-fays) prior to my arrival since it would be after five. Let me tell you this was not an easy task.

While in D.C. picking up my passport, I decided, “there’s gotta be a bank near the embassy that carries the currency.” Pheww. . .not the case at all.

I went to Riggs Bank they didn’t carry it. I went to my bank, Bank of America, no go. I went to First Union, no go. Now I figured if two of the top three banks in the country didn’t carry the currency, I’m screwed! Then the customer service person at First Union (on K St) told me to try Thomas Cook across the street; well actually, the teller at Riggs said the same thing, but I had no idea what he meant. So I bounce across the street thinking, “Finally.”

In line waiting my turn, then I notice an application for traveler’s insurance; of course I pick it up, because it totally slipped my mind to apply for some. The prices are good too. It’s difficult to tell you exactly whom to call, but the policy is administered by Universal Travel Protection. The plan is known as Single Trip Travel Insurance. However, I believe it’s actually underwritten by Worldwide Insurance Company. At least that’s what I assume since that’s who the check was made to; but if you call the “800” operator for a number for Universal Travel Protection, you should find it.

Back to Thomas Cook. I’m at the window asking the young lady to exchange $100 into currency for Cameroon. She looks at me and says, “We don’t carry that.” I’m thinking, she didn’t even check her computer, how does she know? In disbelief I say, “Are you sure?” Of course all she did was affirm her statement. After asking if there is anyone else that would have the currency, she tells me, “If Thomas Cook doesn’t have it, no one does.”

So much for keeping up my hopes. Now I’m thinking, I’ve gone to three banks and the world’s number one currency exchange, and no one had CFA’s. You might be saying why is it so important.

Here’s the rationale. I’m an American, going to a developing country; my plane arrives at night, and Akilah won’t be able to meet me because of her schedule. Furthermore, I don’t speak french (though I did take a few lessons), and I’m totally ignorant of the culture. So it was deduced that if I went with CFA’s in my pocket I would draw no attention to myself at the exchange counter, and I would be able to walk right out and get a taxi (that’s a story in itself).

Well, again I call the embassy thinking, someone has to know where to exchange for the currency. My call is transferred to a gentleman who places me on hold. After eight minutes of holding while on my cell phone in front of Thomas Cook, I figure, he may have forgotten about me. I hang up and call again; this time to be transferred thrice until I reach a woman who says, “Oh, call George, he can do it for you.”

After calling the number given to me for George, I find out he’s located right across the street from me in BB&T, the bank I first looked at but figured, that’s an obscure name, I’ll go to Bank of America. Hah!

George told me to hurry over because quite a few people were going to Cameroon this time of year. I dash over, go to the second floor, and am met by his assistant. Very nice woman. For $100, I receive 72000 CFAs (only losing about 1300 CFAs to the bank – guess that’s their exchange fee; the rate for that time period was 732 CFAs : $1 USD). Now I’m ready.

On my way out of George’s office, he asks if I go to Cameroon often, told him this was what I hoped to be the first of several visits, and there were others who would be going as well. He gives me his card, and tells me that they are the only ones to carry CFA’s.  On my way out I realize, “Oh, George is the V.P. of Foreign Exchange.” Thank you George!