Cash-point panic and cartography

The beauty of living in foreign environment is the speed at which you’re able to reflect on events and learn from them, out of necessity and because each experience is so new. Even with the hindsight of only a few hours I can look back at my panic-stricken predicament this morning and learn lessons.

India has taught me the incredible value of persistence, and through persistence, patience.

The last thing you want to do in a foreign country (if India is still truly ‘foreign’ to me) is run out of money. So this morning when I was stranded in Ajmer City with four rupees to my name (about six pence or nine cents), I panicked. ATM’s in this country are notoriously unreliable, but after the fifth ATM spat out my card with the response ‘transaction canceled’, I wanted to sit down and cry.

There were lots of things I needed to spend money on today, not least extra credit for my phone or the ticket for the bus ride home. But most urgent was my bus ticket to Kota tomorrow, from where I have seven hundred rupees worth of train and bus tickets connecting me to Wardha, a small village in eastern Maharashtra where I’m traveling to for a week-long Indicorps workshop.

I don’t carry contact information for my bank, a lesson that I have failed to learn time and time again, and it was too early to call family in the UK. But one of the benefits of being in an international relationship is that my nearest and dearest lives in Lithuania. His time zone? Early enough to be awake but not late enough to be at work.

Considerate of my low phone balance and financial predicaments while completing this year of service, he replied to my missed call. After checking my online banking and confirming that I had money available, he gave me several contact numbers for the bank. My bank, for the record, has the courtesy to list a large directory of numbers to call so that you are placed directly with a real, live, person with whom you need to speak, rather than delicately navigating a complicated message-driven service that makes Windows Vista look efficient.

The call center didn’t open until 12:30pm local time, which gave me about ninety minutes to hang out in Ajmer doing nothing, which wasn’t fun. When I did call, I did my best to keep patient despite knowing that I had enough credit for just six minutes on the phone with a very thorough and chatty English lady. I have to say that she was probably the kindest and most helpful lady I’ve encountered while I’ve been in India, but that’s probably just because I understood her.

My card had been blocked because my bank had concocted a fantasy scenario. With no sarcasm in my tone, my bank supposed that someone had stolen my debit card and had fled to a remote corner of Rajasthan with my PIN – no doubt coerced from me under false pretenses – where they would draw out the princely sum of Rs. 1500 rupees, cutting away at my worldly savings of £76.06. Never mind that I’ve been using it here for the last six months, a real criminal would have emptied my account within six days. As I’ve made clear to my bank in the past, the tool I would prefer to use to stop debit card fraud is my PIN, not an overly zealous banking security apparatus that causes cash-point panic.

There are a million and one scenarios where my persistence has paid off. In combination with other emerging traits that India demands – fearlessness, courage, resourcefulness – I’ve been able to do things I would never have tried in an environment of provision.

I suppose they helped get me to India in the first place. They are what has allowed me to embrace my community in spite of so much adversity, and it’s what helped me to spend five hours being harassed, yesterday, by locals as I trotted around their village – Chachiyawas – recording what is probably the only map of the village to exist.

Once again, I’m thankful to the Indicorps adventure for helping me realise another childhood dream. Yesterday I was an explorer and a cartographer.

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