I am heading to the Sri Lankan jungle for a two-week yoga retreat next month, in a place with no electricity, wireless, cell phone reception or hot water. All that to say, when it came time to pay for it, rather than slapping out my credit card, due to the rustic nature of my destination I had to do a bank transfer.
As I kept missing the hours I could do a bank transfer at HSBC and have not gone through the process of setting up transfers online, I just couldn't seem to get the thing done and after a few days was getting a little stressed about it. Definitely not the point of a yoga retreat.
So it was that one day I was darting through Al Wahda Mall and took a little meander into the UAE Exchange. As usual there were lines of people sending their money back to family in the Philippines, India and Pakistan (in what is a complicated, interdependent economic system known as remittances. The National did a good piece on it here. I particularly enjoyed the subhead: Does the astonishing volume of global remittances redeem the moral ambiguities of migrant labour?) and so forth. I approached a kiosk and asked if I could transfer money from my credit card and was told yes. After about 10 minutes of the teller typing many, many things into his computer, he began to look concerned at where I was sending it.
"Oh ma'am," he said. "Problem."
The name, you see, ends in the word "foundation" and not "spa & resort". He got his superior. He got his superior. Soon there was a small crowd of men standing around behind the glass, all staring at the note I'd handed him. As I explained that I was sending the money to yoga retreat, the man gave me a quick look that screamed to me "do you think I was born yesterday?" and told me it was "illegal" to transfer money to a "foundation". Even if they bank with HSBC.
"Illegal where?" I asked. "In the UAE?"
"Everywhere," he said. "All over the world."
This I doubt, because when the weekend rolled around, and I finally made it into HSBC, a staffer handily conducted the transfer without getting the slightest bit judgy about it.