Sun-Earther

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West Africa needs change

July 15, 2009

"Eeeee" said the man behind the counter as I handed over the 10000 CFA note. Not the low, flat sound as in ee by gum, more the high pitched squeal one would more commonly expect to hear were a short, sharp squeeze administered to one of the more sensitive parts of a gentleman's anatomy.
By now you may rightly suspect that I am not trying to make a grandiloquent, bleeding heart liberal appeal for economic, social or political upheaval, but am merely commenting on the fact that, more often than not, when attempting to pay for something with a note of even a moderately large denomination one soon discovers that the vendor has no change.
Reactions can be quite entertaining. One lady held up a 1000 CFA note in each hand, both of which she had only just received from the previous customer (the notes, not the hands), and pretended to weep as she handed them over. Ususally, though, there is just a more businesslike rummaging around in drawers, hidden corners, pockets, friends' pockets, or under piles of vegetables. If that doesn't yield success, it is time to dip into the neighbourhood pool of change. I have waited for half an hour in a small shop whilst watching the owner's son go up and down three and a half different streets before returning with the necessary coins. I had only gone in there to buy a small something so as to break a note because the the street trader I was trying to buy something from had no change.
The longest wait I have faced was over 13 hours - not standing there continuously, of course, but popping back in every now and again to issue a gentle reminder. On this occasion, as on a few others, one suspects that a little foul play was involved, based on the assumption that the silly tourist would think sod it, it's less than fifty pee. It seems that the reputation of the Yorkshireman has not yet reached Timbuctoo. In the majority of cases, however, it really is the case that there is no change.
Of course one would anticipate the problem when buying bits and bobs from a roadside vendor, but the problem seems to affect all, from the small time entrepreneur right through to full blown enterprises like internationally operating bus companies. It was even a struggle in the main post office in one capital city.
I will admit that I have taken to playing silly buggers by selfishly hoarding small tender, and trying to pay with as big a note as I think I can get away with. I will also concede that it is not always because I have a need for the change, but sometimes just for the hell of it. It is a tricky game to play though, as senses are razor sharp. If you try and pay with a green or purple one but the shopkeeper sees even the briefest flash of red or blue, or hears the faintest clink of a coin, then it is all over.

Posted by jamesb at July 15, 2009 8:00 PM

Comments


change is good. embrace change.

do affluent West Africans carry their monies around in large whiskey bottles? that I'd like to see.

- hello, I've come to buy the car. The big red one.
- Of course sir, that'll be two teachers and famous grouse

Posted by: gareth at August 3, 2009 5:57 PM


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