I never expected the Hurricane which hit Puerto Rico recently to affect us here in Mexico, but as the old saying goes, “When it rains, it pours!”
It all started on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago when we checked online banking. It seemed odd that the check we deposited on Monday was not in the Hope House account. As strange as it might sound, sometimes our bank here in Mexico inadvertently deposits money into the wrong account! A quick look at our personal accounts did not show the deposit either. After living in Mexico for 15 years, I should not be shocked when things don’t go as planned, but sometimes the obstacles do become comical.
I mentioned the saying, “When it rains, it pours!” Well every time we try to go out of town the storm clouds become visible in the distance and the storm usually involves some type of banking delima. Last week’s trip was no different!
A quick call to the bank solved the mystery of the missing money. The intermediary bank responsible for cashing American Dollar checks happens to be located in Puerto Rico. After being almost wiped off the map with the latest hurricane, check exchange in Puerto Rico, as well as here in Mexico, has come to a screeching halt. Without a solution, workers at Hope House would not get paid the week before we left nor while we were out of town.
Upon arrival at the bank, our check was returned to us. Unfortunately, we were given little hope that check cashing would resume anytime this year With Puerto Rico mostly underwater, we needed to come up with a Plan B for how to get money from the United States to Mexico. After brainstorming, we came up with an idea. A wire transfer might be possible!
International wire transfers are tricky under normal conditions. First money is transferred from our bank in Tennessee to New York, and then money is transferred to the Mexican National Bank located in Mexico City. After that our local Mexican bank has to go online and manually retrieve the money. When they find it, they transfer it into their bank where it is finally deposited into an account of our choice. All of this process is uninsured and hinges on the provision that you supply your bank manager with the date, amount and wire transfer information. If you fail to provide said information your money just floats around in in the Mexican National Bank unaccounted for. If, however, you are willing to take the risk, in less than 48 hours and a charge of $50usd your money can travel across the continent through cyber space and arrive at its destination in Mexico. Fortunately, on a not so crutial day, we had already tested the unnerving system, just to see if it would work. I does! With that in mind, our plan seemed sound.
Now the only natural disasters which could stand in the way of our wire transfer were the recent earthquakes in Mexico City. Worried that we might need to come up with a Plan C, we asked the dreaded question, “Are the banks in Mexico City processing wire transfers?”
Luck was on our side! Somehow amidst the rubble lined streets of the capitol city, affectionately referred to as Mexico or simply D. F. , not only was the Mexico National Bank still in operation, but our bank’s headquarters was still operational as well.
A quick phone call to our treasurer in Tennessee and we were back in business. He promised to return to the bank later that day to begin the transfer process. That would give us the weekend and two days for the money to maneuver the labyrinth known as international wire transfers and arrive to its destination prior to us leaving town.
Late Monday afternoon we received the confirmation call from our bank. The money had arrived! So on Tuesday morning we sat out early to complete banking and some other errands prior to leaving town. I should have know better than to try and accomplish anything on a time schedule.
Mexico runs on its own time schedule and Tuesday was no different than any other day. When we arrived at the bank we were greeted with a smile and, “We’re sorry we can’t help you right now.” “You’re kidding,” I thought. “We have less than two hours before we are leaving town and they can not help us!” The only word that came to mind is…comical! The mainframe computers at the bank had been shut down from the main branch in Mexico. They were doing some routine maintenance and there was no way the bank workers could access the system. We could not check the account balance. We could not cash a check. We could not pay our phone bill. We could not pass Go nor collect $200. As I looked at my watch, I knew that there was no time to wait. The mainframe had been down for over an hour and no one had any idea of when it might be back up and running. Plan C would need to be initiated if we were going to head out of town on time.
We quickly decided on a plan and headed home. We arrived with a little over an hour to spare before we needed to leave. I was glad to have a few extra minutes at home to tidy up and make sure we had everything we needed. The last time we went out of town our car was broken into in the parking lot of a local shopping center while we had lunch at the food court. Since they stole 3 suitcases and 2 large bags full of clothes and toiletries, including my laptop and our daughter’s cell phone, it took a little more effort today to make sure we even owned the things necessary for the trip. With just 35 minutes remaining I decided to take something for my pounding headache. I quickly opened the large orange juice which Rodney had bought me when he stopped to pay the phone bill. As I twisted off the cap the entire bottle of juice flew up in the air and rained down all over me. As it did, I chuckled, and thought to myself, “When it rains, it pours…Orange Juice!”