April 3 was the day to be rich, really rich in a sense. We went to the office of Delphi International Program of World Learning, agency that was administering the IV program. It’s weird that I actually forget how many hundred dollars bill I received that day from Delphi. (Well, the money actually belonged to the US State Department. Or to the American taxpayers to whom I must be thankful.) I think 45. In the form of travel cheques. Boy, it took me more than 10 minutes to sign on those pieces of paper. That was my first introduction with the world of travel cheques. While I was nervously (and carefully) signing on those papers, Anna Karkovska McGlew, the Program Associate, was constantly warning us in non-American accent not to carry all the cheques and the purchase agreement form together. In fact, that was printed in the PAF itself. “Even if you lost these cheques,” she said. “That piece of paper will help you claim the money. So put that separately.”
Folks were patiently listening to her. No one wanted to take a chance. After all, you don’t always carry 45 hundred dollars in a single pocket. It was really an irony that I was carrying that money (biggest sum I have ever carried in my life so far) and walking around the city of D.C. as if I was a broke. I mean there was no fear of loosing the money. They were really equal to paper for us because we had to spend that entire sum inside the States. (That wasn’t compulsory but the situation no different than that. We were staying in a hotel that would cost about two hundred dollars per night.) That money was for our hotel and daily food expenses based on a complex math of American government’s per dime allowance system. (I am always poor at math.) And that’s a good idea because that really helps the visitor to understand American society and its science of consumerism if they get to know how to pay money to whom.
Dinesh Wagle smiles in Santa Monica Beach…a self portrait by camera
Like many other friends in the group, I kept the money in a safety deposit box of the hotel later in the evening. But while I was in Los Angeles, I carried money (now reduced to somewhere around three thousand dollars after paying to Omni Hotel in LA) in my pocket all the time along with my passport. (That is why I was carrying my jacket all the time, folks!).
Did I mention an irony above? The other irony was that I was staying in hotels that would cost me more money than I would (at least in my case) earn in a month back in home. I wasn’t the only one facing such similar situation. After all, overwhelming majority of us (129 journalists from 105 countries) were from third world societies. When Josh of Afghanistan explained about this irony in the international conclave on the last day of our visit, people appreciated that with applaud.
We were trying to save as much money as possible from those 48 hundred dollars. (I wanted to buy a laptop computer- actually this laptop in which I am writing now). One easiest way to save the money was to share the hotel room. We tried to double up the rooms but we were disappointed most of the times. They wouldn’t allow us to share the bed citing different reasons like, the hotel would say that the State Department wouldn’t permit sharing or they can’t let us do that because a single room was booked for a person. I shared the room with Kiran Nepal for three nights. Boys were joking why just share the room between two, but do the same among 10 so that we can save more money! That was a crazy idea and we cracked all kind of jokes regarding that money and doubling up rooms. May be jokes were worth more than 5 thousand dollars! I think there were two folks one from Bangladesh and the other from Pakistan who didn’t want to share rooms.
So at the end of my trip, after buying this laptop, I still had a few hundred dollars (travel cheques) in my pocket. But that was possible because many of my friends (in the US) paid for my food and I stayed in a house of my friend in New Jersey. Plus, I didn’t have to spend money while I was in New York.