The other day, I had to go to the local Western Union branch to receive a money transfer. All that took place is so typical Nicaraguan that I have to share it.
I arrived to the office, located just a few buildings north of the famous La Merced church. A security guard opens up the gate to let me in. There, I find a room about 20 feet wide and 15 feet long. There are plastic chairs making 4 lines, one in front of the other. About 20 people are randomly dispersed around the room, waiting. The security guards points at a woman and says to me, “Despues de ella”, after her. I said “Okay” and took a seat. Another person entered the office just a few minutes later, and I heard the security guard tell them that they are to go after the same women. Hmmm, I thought, this might not be the best system.
I looked around and realized that I was the only non-Latin American there, and that most of them were there to receive remittances from family members working in Costa Rica or the US. I knew that remittances were quite common, but I thought it was interesting to see exactly how the families are receiving their money to live on.
Five minutes later, there was complete confusion. People started arguing about who was next. The security guard couldn’t remember what he told to whom. People were impatient, and with good reason. The woman seated next to me was a middle-aged woman from Granada. Annoyed, she told me that it’d be so much simpler if they used the numbers system. In Nicaragua, sometimes the simplest things are not put into place.
The security guard became quickly frustrated and tried to line us all up in the plastic chairs, creating a line. It half worked. I wondered to myself if this is a daily occurrence. After about 45 minutes, I arrived at the window to complete the transaction. I was immediately told that they would not be able to complete my request of $900 due to the fact that they didn’t have that much money left in the office. I’d have to come back in the afternoon. So typical!
I come back around 1pm to see the store closed with a sign, “Due to problems in the Managua office, we will not be open until tomorrow morning.” Just my luck! So I go back in the next morning to see the same situation. People were confused about who was to go next and everyone became frustrated. Luckily for me, the worker behind the window recognized me and told me to come to the front of the line since I had already waited in line once. Finally, on the third attempt, success!