Where is the Post Office when you need it?

I’ve lived in a West Africa farming town for many years now.  There I rub shoulders with poverty on a daily basis. However it is a poverty dignified by the sweat of honest  farming. Life is draped with the courtesies of custom. Ceremony and politeness abound.   Things are not done, “just anyhow.”

The descriptions “seedy” or “seamy” have no place

Subsistence living involves  a chronic shortage of cash, and many gratefully make their way to the Post Office and its Western Union window to receive remittances from abroad.  When in Canada, we too, find Western Union a fast convenient way to transmit funds overseas.

And that’s where “seedy” and “seamy” start entering my thoughts.  I daresay there must be Western Union outlets here in Canada, as respectable as the Ghanaian Post Office.  However the two easily at hand are both ensconced in cash shops.

I have no reason to believe that one has prices less Shylockian than the other.  Either are quite happy to be paid back a payday loan and turn around, and in the next breath, issue a second.  Both will, for a monthly fee, sell you a prepaid money card. Very convenient if you want to gamble on line without disturbing your credit rating.

One dispenses cash through the window and the other pays out with an ATM card.

The first operates from within the safety of a glass cage. Staff sit out of sight, where they can presumably sight you and size you up  as you enter, before sallying forth.  Papers are slipped through a metal trough. Security cameras are prominent.

Across the street there is no cage.  There are seats for waiting customers, and a pot of coffee. Candy bowls sit on the counter. Clients are invited in to sit down at a business desk.  The clerks are friendly, courteous, and obviously know many of those  coming in by name.  I chitchat with them and they are interested in Africa and those who live there.

One day I overheard a comment on the phone.  “Well, we’ve had lots of people in, but they’ve mostly been Western Union.”  It is clear that their profit is  rather in payday loans and the like; the preferred customer one in desperate straits, who has already exhausted normal credit avenues.

I can see that it makes good business to window dress the distastefulness of the transactions. It actually pays  to court clients. By the same reasoning, I assume it would  be detrimental to business to offer advice on managing money in such away as to avoid paying interest on yet another loan.

So, is there any real difference between the two?

And yet, to treat someone with dignity is not nothing.


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