If you’ve missed earlier segments, here are the links.
Tuesday, January 26 we learn Ari’s old bank account is operational, though he’s now got a $17 negative balance. Not bad considering he’s been gone nearly three years.
I call my bank to learn what will be needed to make a wire transfer directly into Ari’s Cameroon bank. It’s simple enough: his name, address, region, and country. Also the name and address of his bank, routing humber, account number. All seems appropriate and I send off the requisite text to Ari. But I must be physically present at the bank in order to send the wire. So once again, we will wait for a new day.
Wednesday morning, January 27 I awake to find the information I’ll need from Ari. I get to my bank early and find the manager at the teller window. We’ll call her Terry for this story; I’ll wager she’d not want her identity given. She’s a woman I knew long before she became the manager and I’ve liked her. So, as she types in the information I’ve given her, I decide to fill her in on what we’re doing. Surely she’ll appreciate knowing the role she’s playing in saving this young man’s life.
As I speak, she looks up from her monitor and says, “We’ll need the intermediary bank.” Terry explains that between my bank and Ari’s bank is another bank and I’ll need to find that bank’s name and information. But how? Besides, why didn’t the woman I spoke with yesterday tell me this?
I immediately write Ari. He responds with a repeat of his bank’s information; I explain better. He replies, “OK, I will send the message. It means we will leave it for now till I get the details. I am sorry that this is taking too long, but I am sure that at the end of it all we will have a lot to write about.”
“A good way to look at it,” I reply. “I agree.”
“I have see that international money transfer is not an easy task.”
An understatement for sure. “Once we find the way, “I respond, optimistically, “it will be easy. It’s finding the way…”
It’s nearly 5 pm, my time, when Ari sends me the link to an article in The Guardian about a federal judge in Texas who blocked the pause in deportations that President Biden sought. It’s not new information for me, but I’m impressed at how Ari is keeping up with the news.
“We’re all aware,” I tell him. “It’s despicable. My new mission is to educate the American people. I don’t believe the average American would want this if they knew what it meant.”
I say goodnight at about 7, my time. It’s nearly midnight in Cameroon.
Thursday, January 28 I awake, again, to news from Ari. “Good morning, Janet. Hope you had a wonderful night! My contact at the bank says there is indeed an intermediary bank that the money will pass through before entering my account. She says she will give me the details of the intermediary bank tomorrow. Thank you.” She’s going slow, I know, so as not to raise suspicions.
I’d come to wish I’d been as cautious when talking with my own bank’s manager.
Ari reminds me it’s been seventeen days since he walked out of the airport. “I am really tired of being stuck in a particular location without the ability to move around. I know I will have my full freedom as soon as I enter Nigeria. It is really boring since I am mostly indoors, but I also find comfort in chatting with you, and surfing the internet.”
“I’m glad you have that outlet,” I reply. Then I ask about a report that Nigeria extradited the leaders of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) who had sought refuge there. The SCNC is the organization that led the demonstration that Ari attended nearly three years before, advocating for the independence of the Anglophone section of Cameroon from the larger francophone Republic of Cameroon. The government has deemed it an illegal organization.
“Why will they not do the same with you?” I ask.
“Nigeria returned the SCNC leaders because Cameroon government paid a huge sum of money to the Nigerian government. The leaders were about 10 of them holding a meeting in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. If they had gone to Nigeria and just stayed underground, things would have been better for them. But they thought they could use Nigeria as their base and continue to advocate for the English speaking minority. I am going to Nigeria because it is our closest neighbor and there is a way for me to escape there through a trusted network. From Nigeria I can stay underground until I am able to move to a safer location. The lesson here is to stay underground in Nigeria.”
“Sounds very smart.” I tell him.
Friday morning, January 29 I pop off a note to Ari, eager to know if he’s heard from his bank friend. He responds, “I am glad to hear from you, hope you are doing as well as I am too. Yes, I am anxiously waiting to hear from her. The bank closes at 5 pm, Cameroon time, and it is now already 4:08 pm.”
“I imagine it might call attention if she just asked aloud. Perhaps, to stay under the radar she must move slowly and quietly. As long as you stay safe.”
“Yes, things seem slow because she is trying not to call for attention. She knows my problem so she prefers to go slowly in a risk free manner. I hope she gets it soon enough.” Then he tells me that Ella has gotten part of her money from Madeleine, through her cousin; the rest will come in another week.
I tell him of the $50 test I sent through Xoom, that “should arrive in your bank on Monday. If it goes well, I’ll just send the rest that way and we can forget about the wire transfer. We’ll know more on Monday. Are you eating well?”
“OK let’s wait and see by Monday. Yes I am eating well. There is a woman not far from me, who prepares food for sale. I usually buy from her.” He continues, “I am very much grateful for your patience.”
“It’s easy for me to have patience; I am comfortable and safe. It is you I worry about.”
“I think it is good to see things with the eyes of a writer; the more experience you have, the more stories you will have to write about.”
“Absolutely true. I hope you are taking lots of notes.”
“Yes I am writing down some points on my experience, so that I can develop it at a later date.”
“I look forward to working with you when life settles down a bit.” I tell him.
“My friend said I will get the details of the intermediary bank on Monday. She said only the top business Managers of the bank have access to forms that contain those details. Her person upstairs whose computer contains that information, was not in today so she has promised to get it early on Monday. I just have to be patient with her and I am grateful for your kind understanding.”
“Sounds like she knows what she is doing,” I reply. “If there is any risk at all,” I add, “she should not pursue it. We can go with Xoom. We’ll know more on Monday.” I close by telling him I’m off to walk my dog in the snow, adding, “I’ll have to wear snowshoes.”
Saturday, January 30 we exchange pleasantries on how we spend our respective days. “This is a day for errands,” I tell him. “And I spent the morning writing up the minutes of our last NEKASAN board meeting.”
“I have spent the last few hours indoors as usual,” he tells me, “and reading some news articles online. Surfing the Internet is my principal activity,” he says. “I also spend about 1/3 of my time sleeping.” Then he sends me a photo of the fried plantains he’s just eaten. When I ask what it was fried in, he tells me, “They are fried in vegetable oil, refined from Palm oil.” And off we go, discussing palm oil, the topic of a blog post I’d written (Conflict in the Food We Eat) the previous May.
“It’s what allows poor countries to eat,” I tell him. Then, I summarize what I’d learned from writing that post.
“We had a big push here in the US years ago to ban palm oil. It caused devastation to the environment. Turns out, harvesting all kinds of oils causes devastation. The condemnation of palm oil was mostly by wealthy white activists who didn’t have a big picture perspective. I often learn a lot writing my blog.”
He replies, “For us here, palm oil is very popular and we even have companies here that refine it.”
We discuss the ins and outs of extracting palm oil with machines (what the wealthier Cameroonians use) and without, which I’m more interested in. He tells me the locals boil the ripe palm nuts and extract the oil by pounding with a wooden mortar.
Two minutes later I get photos from Ari with more information on the palm oil process.
“There are modern machines that do the job easily. Most households can’t afford these machines so they move on with their rudimentary methods.” He sends a photo of the machines that can be bought.
When I ask about cost, he tells me. “They can hire laborers and pay them about $5 for 12 hours work.” And, in answer to my query, “How do they get the pine nuts from the trees?” he sends me six photos with accompanying explanations, including one of a villager climbing up a palm tree to harvest palm cones with a machete in his mouth. It’s all fascinating to me. I send him the link to my blog.
Monday morning, February 1 I awake to a note from Ari. “Good morning, Janet. Happy new week to you and your family.” And he passes along the “complete bank details for wire transfer” from his friend who “has sent the Swift Code information on the intermediary bank that we need to complete the wire transfer.”
I leave for my bank at 9 a.m., aware that we’re still waiting to see if the $50 test came through on Xoom.
With Covid restrictions, I wait outside the building for my turn. At ten-thirty, from inside the bank, I write him: “There is a glitch. Hang on.”
He responds, “I hope they will resolve the malfunction soon.”
“It’s not a malfunction. It’s a misunderstanding.”
The bank manager (aka Terry), the woman I thought would enjoy the larger story, won’t allow the transfer. “It’s too much like human trafficking” she has told me. “I can’t let it go through.”
“Human trafficking? It’s not!” I responded – reacted is more like it – “I know this man. I’ve been corresponding with him and supporting him for over a year. He’s one of the many illegally deported under Trump.” She seemed unaware there is an immigration travesty happening every day.
I’m practically yelling. I know she knows me; but do I know her? How can she possibly not believe me?
She seemed so matter of fact, so unfeeling as she says the words. Human trafficking? Surely, she’s got to be kidding. I walk out of the bank and sit in my car.
My State Senator, Jane Kitchell, lives two blocks up the road; I can see her house from where I sit in the bank’s parking lot. But I call her; it’s faster.
“What can I do?” I implore after filling her in on the situation. “The teller overreacted, obviously,” I assure myself as I hear my words out loud. “Surely this can be resolved quickly.”
Jane contacts the Commissioner of Banking for the State of Vermont who winds up calling the president of my bank.
While waiting to hear back, I write Ari. “The head of banking regulation here in Vermont is now involved,” I tell him. “I’m sorry.” And I add, “I may need to set up that Zelle account, then Madeleine can make the transfer — through Ella and her cousin. How would you get the actual cash if it were to go through?”
“I will use my ATM card to withdraw the money from a point close to where I am now. There are many such points in the outskirts of town.”
I respond. “That is my backup plan. I think we have a good chance to get this matter resolved here at my local bank. The teller obviously overreacted. Hang in there. If this works, it’s the best route. Next is Xoom. Last is Zelle and Madeleine going through Ella’s cousin. I’m so sorry.”
Ari responds, “It is well. I am glad that you are patient enough for us to get this done.”
If he only knew! And Madeleine still has Covid.
NEXT: The Saga Continues