“Your daughter, Sarah, is in Africa and needs you to transfer money to her credit card.” said Marisio in his thick Columbian accent. “She needs your help”.
At the other end, Tom, a recently retired Canadian police officer, listened to the tale with great interest. He loved to seek retribution from telemarketers for years of interrupted dinners through deep probing questions and exhausting and futile discussion. This call seemed particularly rich for punishment.
“Is this the one where I get a free toaster? I absolutely LOVE toasters.” replied Tom.
Marisio groaned. “No sir, I am not trying to sell you anything. Your daughter does not have access to money in Africa and emailed me to ask you to transfer money to her credit card.”
“Are you sure I can’t get a free toaster? My last one is near death and like I said, I LOVE toasters.” persisted Tom, still not believing the story.
Meanwhile, in Zambia, Sarah waited for a response. Had Marisio convinced her father to transfer the money? Was he going to the bank now? Her heart sank when the initial reply came back over email.
“I don’t think your father believes me”.
In retrospect, asking a thickly accented Columbian former millatary man to intermediate a conversation between Canada and Zambia through a combination of email and phone on the topic of transferring money to a credit card may not have been the best idea. But a series of odd and incredibly coincident events had left her with no other options. She was out of money, with no phone access, no working ATM card and twenty more days of travel ahead before reaching her final destination of Nairobi, Kenya. She needed help.
Sarah and her sister, Heather, had been taking an organized overland trip that would take them from Cape Town to Nairobi, last over forty days and cross through seven different countries. They had set out with a mixed group of excited Canadians, Americans, British, German and a Costs Rican. At first, all had been smooth sailing. But soon, troubles emerged.
The first sign of turbulence actually hit Heather as the tour crossed from Namibia to Botswana. Up till then, Heather’s ATM card had worked like a charm, handing out South African Rand and Namibian dollars on command. But in Botswana, this stopped with a rude blaring message splashed out on every ATM machine they tried: Service Denied.
Sarah’s card continued to fly however so the sisters shrugged their shoulders and moved on, happy to have at least one working card.
But as the tour left the Okavango delta in Botswana and moved deeper into Africa towards Livingstone in Zambia, the backup card began to fail. Soon Sara and Heather found themselves walking up and down the main street of Livingstone in frustration, every ATM machine in town rejecting all cards and options they tried.
It’s at this point that her story began to take one unfortunate turn after another.
Despite having her bank’s toll free 24 hour emergency hotline, Sara found herself without a phone. None of the public phones in Livingstone worked and at the criminal rate of 4$ per minute, using her hotel’s phone was equally impossible.
Sarah decided to borrow some money from a fellow passenger and purchased some Internet time at the local Internet cafe. Logging on, she soon discovered that her Hotmail account was suspicious of everyone from Zambia and wanted to authentic her. After soon failing the secondary authentication, Sarah realized she was going to need another means of emailing her parents. Hotmail had locked her account. To compound the problem, without access to her email, she could not be certain of the spelling of her parent’s email address.
Desperate for a means to reach her parents, Sarah logged into her work email and reached out to the one person she knew would be checking his email regularly: her Colombian work colleague, Marisio.
At first, Marisio himself did not believe Sarah’s email. “Do you remember ‘Mo and So’?” she inquired, referencing a presentation they had once done together. That got him onside and soon enough, Sarah had explained her situation to Marisio. That she did not have access to a phone. Thar her and Heather’s ATM cards were all failing as well as all of their credit cards.
And such was the turn of events which lead Marisio to reach out to Sarah and Heather’s father, Tom, with the most unlikely of stories to tell and from the most unlikely person to tell it.
“No sir, i am serious. This is not a sales call. I work with Sarah. I will send you the email she sent to me.” said Marisio, hoping to convince Tom of the authenticity of his most unlikely story.
Finally, after a few hours of sitting by the computer waiting, Sarah got the answer she was hoping for. Her parents had transferred money to her Credit Card, creating a credit on the card. There was a Barclay’s in town, she remembered and hoped she would be able to take a cash advance from the credit now on the card.
Indeed, the next morning, Sarah was able to get a cash advance from her credit card, thus ending her financial misadventures. “The first thing I’m doing when I get back is switching banks” explained Sarah.