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Life and Work in the Serengeti: part two

In the second part of a three-part series, Carole Boag paints a picture of the banking services available in the Serengeti. 

Here in our rural outpost we are lucky enough to have the services of a mobile bank which visits us once a fortnight.  This takes the form of a large green and white truck reminiscent of a small mobile home.  For security it is accompanied at all times by an armoured vehicle bristling with guards waving their AK47s around like children with flags awaiting the arrival of The Queen.  Quite why this is necessary we are not sure as it would be a brave robber indeed who attempts to hijack a vehicle in the Serengeti when there could be a hungry pride of lions just waiting to hijack said robber.  In fact Tanzania is a very peaceful country and life in the park is virtually crime free except for the serious problem of illegal poaching.  We rarely lock our vehicle or house and as long as you manage to keep the hairy hands of the baboon off your fruit and veg all is right with the world.

The bank serves a small village in the park, which is home to the staff of TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks Authority).  FZS together with its employees and a group of researchers also welcome the arrival of the bank as it is an eight hour drive on an extremely corrugated road to the nearest fixed bank. 


A few weeks ago after some particularly heavy rain, there was no sign of the truck at the appointed hour.  The queues meandered through the village like tangled knitting yarn. The traders had a field day selling vegetable and eggs to the hopeful clients and still they waited.  Eventually a cheer went up as a deep throaty engine sound was heard and soon the armoured vehicle with all its guards came into view.

But where was the bank truck?   “Oh it’s stuck in the mud at a river crossing” came the reply, “But we didn’t have a problem with this vehicle so we have come on ahead” There seems to be a flaw in the logic somewhere but fortunately for the bank there were no villains lurking in the mud that day, four legged or otherwise and it eventually arrived an hour or two later.

At first sight I was surprised that such technology could reach us here in the Serengeti.  After all we have neither mains electricity nor mains water, but unsurprisingly we do have reasonable mobile phone coverage.

The vehicle had a window which served as a counter manned by one teller and also an ATM positioned in the side of the truck.  However I was soon reassured that it was business as usual when I was told that the ATM was not working.  Whilst the queues slowly moved forward to be served at the counter, we were called around the back and told to enter the vehicle into the inner sanctum of the bank.  As we climbed the steps into the vehicle our first job was to negotiate a path through the guts of the ATM which lay dying if not already dead on the floor.  The remainder of the floor space was taken up with large numbers of bank notes dropped randomly on the floor, elastic bands obviously failing in their duty of holding said bank notes together and an assortment of completed deposit and withdrawal slips, looking sad and weary covered with dirt and footprints.

Having completed our business we left the vehicle and noticed that one customer was so disgruntled that the ATM was not working he had left a huge pile of excrement right next to it.   Mind you he could have been the cause of the problem in the first place.  It’s always a bit tricky when you have to use your trunk to key in your PIN number.