A little escapism in these difficult times isn’t all bad, and so last week I was devouring a copy of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
Escapism is all well and good, unless you live in a third-world country. And Parable of the Sower is an excellent novel; I recommend it highly—UNLESS, that is, you live in a rural area where the gangs decided to all bomb the local banks on the same weekend. THEN a post-apocalyptic novel where the world goes to hell, the gangs take over, and everyone runs for the hills to survive (barely) in rural farms probably is not a wise choice. Last week my reality was a little too close to my escapism for comfort. It was disorienting, to say the least.
Bank bombings are common enough. For those of you reading this back home, I’m sure the very phrase has you white-knuckling your mouses or smartphones (sorry, Mom). Around here it’s usually the equivalent of a local punk throwing a firecracker into a local ATM, they make off with a few hundred reais, and the town talks about it for a week and everyone makes do with one less ATM for a while. It has happened at least 4 or 5 times in the 5 years that I have lived here. Why anyone still lives in those apartments near the banks is a sour
ce of constant wonder for me. Can you imagine?
This time was different. The gangs hit all the banks at once with sufficient force to disable them. They also went by and shot at the houses of all the law enforcement officers in town. It was a concerted show of force and something we haven’t ever seen before. Holidays, man. December (Christmas) through February (Carnaval) all the punks who have learned bad habits in São Paolo and Rio come home for vacation and take advantage of the ripe pickings that is our sleepy backwater. Fun times.
And so here we are with no functioning banks. Our town’s principal bank, Banco do Brasil, states that they probably won’t reopen for four months.
The main bank is all boarded-up, with one security guard standing all alone inside the lobby. He peered out at me and waved as I took these photos. I feel sorry for poor chap.
In the meantime, everyone is to use the branch office at the local post office. Now, with 3 tellers that are rarely ever staffed all at once, normal wait times at this post office are over 45 minutes on a good day.
Last week the line for the post office stretched a near half mile. The elderly father of a friend reported that he went to stand in line at 8am (at which point it was ¼ mile long) and finally left at 5pm. They are letting in the first 200 customers to wait, then locking the doors. The rest wind down the block. When Mr. Crônicas told me, I checked the number—200?? In the post office waiting area? I asked. That’s 200 customers in a space that’s about 30ft x 30ft with no windows. Yeah.
Yesterday, people started lining up at 12 MIDNIGHT to be first in line at 9AM when the post office opened, only to be told that the post office had run out of cash. I can’t imagine their reactions.
And if you don’t have time to brave this line? If you need to deposit a check, as many of the local businesses do? You have to drive an hour to the next major city. My brother-in-law (disabled) and my father-in-law (retired) were making plans to do the drive to withdraw their monthly checks because there are withdrawl limits at the post office to prevent it from running out of cash (which, we can see still doesn’t work).
So let’s sum up: you can’t withdraw money without waiting hours–assuming they have money, you can’t deposit checks, and you definitely can’t talk to anyone about loans, account discrepancies, or anything else. For four months. If you want to, you have to spend R$60 to taxi to the next town to get your money.
It’s an outrage, start to finish, and a complete disregard for the lives and commerce of an entire city.
And no one complains. Or rather, everyone complains to everyone else, but no one to the people that matter.
If it were my town, I’d be going down that line with slips of paper and the 1-800 complaint line of the bank. Because YOU KNOW everyone in that line is waiting with their cell phones. But it’s not my town, and I try to keep my head down.
Me, I’ll just be shopping at the places that take credit cards.