it is the song that never ends….

a sabbatical rest, day 21

If you plan to spend an extended period overseas like I do, be aware that you will spend a lot of time on the phone before you get there. Almost anything that has to do with disentangling your life here for a few months involves a phone tree. Press this number if you want to do this and press that number if you want to do that. Before you get to the number you need to press, there will be announcements about things you don’t want or need to know.

Finally, you hear and press the right number, just to be informed that all representatives are busy helping other callers. Depending on the company you can request a callback or wait until some very busy representative gets to your call. At some point, you will be told about how many minutes you need to wait, which has no correspondence to reality. And you will be reminded several times of how important your call is. (For some reason I always choose to wait; the next thing on my list requires time and focus, and I don’t want to be interrupted.)

To save time, you will be asked for account numbers or invoice numbers, or some other numbers, none of which matter since they will be asking you for the same numbers when they finally take your very important call. Of course, you can’t walk away from your computer, since that’s where all the numbers are that they are going to want.

This morning, before I got on the phone, I went to the credit union, which requires an appointment because of Covid-19, and spent over half an hour gathering financial documents to prove to the Nepali government that I’m not a deadbeat. After calling a friend with more traveling experience than I have, trying to understand what exactly Nepal wanted, the very helpful and engaged senior teller and I talked through the options and chose one; then I went by my office to scan it and send it off. The request for additional documents may be close to an end since Ministry 1 has apparently now sent my file to Ministry 2. They have passports, birth certificates, a marriage certificate, and bank records now. But I may need to send them your credit card number before I’m done.

Last night I spent more time online than necessary (3 tries) rescheduling our flights since we can’t go without a letter of invitation from Ministry 1, which requires approval from Ministry 2 and Ministry 3. But I digress. Or maybe not. Perhaps our bureaucracy is as bad as theirs; it is just automated.

Because this afternoon I spent a couple of hours on the phone dealing with three medical insurance issues (denied claims from last year), and after all that time none of the issues were resolved. For the first item, they seem to think I’m right but will call me back tomorrow, for the second I have to have someone else call someone else who will have to call someone else. And for the third item, I’ve filed a grievance so a medical committee can determine if I need a five-month supply of meds for a five-month trip.

The first wait, which was the longest, had the kindest rep and also the best music, classical light piano. After that, it got increasingly jarring. Or was that my nerves? Yet ahead, phone trees about car insurance and phone service. I can hardly wait. And I will need all the time I’m gaining waiting for the visa invitation.

Most of the subscriptions I need to cancel can be canceled online if I can remember the passwords. But the phone calls, with their programmed voices, canned music, and disinterested customer service people are the most time-consuming and, ultimately, the least fruitful. It’s a broken system.

But I’m not a broken man. I’m a patient man. My Nepali colleague is persistent, and I built a useful relationship with a senior bank teller that may prove handy if my debit card fails on the other side of the world.

There’s hope at the end of the Muzak.


Original art by Hay Young Bang, a former student. And friend.

1 thought on “it is the song that never ends….”

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