The ATM that Lied
When people ask me how the first shoot went, I honestly don't know how to answer. It was so many things in such a concentrated amount of time -- the fulfillment of months of planning and years of dreaming, the test of my skills as a director, facilitator, manager and human being, and on some levels, a mere struggle to manage the heat and cultural unfamiliarity and lots of new people.
In so many ways, it was better than I could've dared hope. And that's all because of the girls. They are so bright and open, so willing to learn and --I use this word advisedly --love. I was braced for the dour, disinterested attitude copped by US teens, but nothing could be further from the reality of this fun, smart, beautiful bunch.
But their stories are tragic, and heartbreaking. I will admit, I have not fully processed everything I've head and learned, and there are realities are really difficult to fathom. So it was a really overwhelming time, and while I want to share what happened, I've realized I will have to focus on one topic at a time. And since I just got off the phone with the bank, I'm going to talk right now about money.
In a lot of ways, money in Cebu is relatively easy to deal with. There are a lot of ATMs in the city center and at the airport, many stores in the malls take credit cards, and in theory, it's an easy conversion to dollars --100 pesos is about $2.30 USD. I didn't have to stuff my pants with $10K in brand-new dollars as may or may not have happened in other international production trips.
But I had some special issues (aren't everyone's issues, like their dysfunctions, special?)... I thought I would just withdraw money from ATMs, including paying my DP (director of photography, ie, camera person). But a lot of ATMs will only dispense a few hundred bucks per day... not, ahem, enough. And then my bank also had a daily limit. And then, a bunch of ATMs don't give out receipts.
I'll spare you the hairy details of running between ATMs, trying different cards, dropped Skype calls in Starbucks talking to my bank, lots of sweating. I did finally work it out, making multiple withdrawals and passing a tall stack of bills over to Nana, who immediately went back to her ATM to deposit it. Lots of cash =nervous making.
But the problem came with one gnarly ATM, at Persimmon, the condo we were staying at. One of those standalone machines, probably with an individual owner. I requested 20,000 php. I counted it twice. "Damn," I said to Nana, "it only gave me ten." No receipt.
But sure enough, when I get the records from Charles Schwab, they say I took out 20,000.
Doing the crowdfunding campaign has made me more conscious about money than ever. I have always been a pretty thrifty person (which you can see just by looking at my wardrobe and haircut) but more than ever, I really feel responsible for being a good steward of the funds that so many have generously donated. It was a really big deal to get a $50 or $20 donation, and every single one of them was a celebration.
So the fact that the bank is shorting me more than $200 is a serious matter. I called the bank immediately and I filed an "inquiry." Now, two months later, they sent the results of their investigation. The ATM says that it dispensed the money, and the case is closed.
What do you do when the machines lie?
"Do you have your receipt?" The Schwab representative asked. "Because that would be really helpful."
I have a mountain of receipts, slips of paper for every taxi ride, every meal. I scrawled notes when the taxi driver was out of printer paper. It took me a week to do the accounting when I returned. But no, I don't have a receipt from that machine. (For context: not even the Citibank ATM gave me a receipt, so it's not an unheard of phenomenon.)
(This is also my problem with electronic voting machines. Couldn't it be programmed to convert 20% of votes for candidate A to candidate B, but still dispense a receipt that you voted for A? You would never know. But I digress.)
I honestly don't know how I can prove my case. My word against the machine's.
For now, I've filed another inquiry with Schwab. Maybe I can ask that columnist at the New York Times to help me out. I'll keep you posted.