Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Let's Talk Currency

Ghanaian cedis are trading right now for about 9000 to the dollar, U.S.

The largest cedi note is ¢20,000 (that "cent" sign is used to mean cedis here)

The adventure here is going to the bank and getting cash to have on hand. Write yourself a check for 5 million cedis. Get five HUNDRED ¢10,000 notes (one time I got 1000 ¢5,000 notes!). At the ATMs you can choose up to ¢800,000 cedis in a single withdrawal. The wait time as the ATM whirrrrrrrs through that many notes is impressive.

Now imagine where on your person or in your purse you will stuff five hundred or a thousand bank notes. Start stacking those dollars up and get an idea of how much paper that is...

In Ghana, the bank or Forex Bureau (money exchange) will, as a matter of course, give you a black plastic shopping bag into which you can put your millions of cedis.

Purchases are routinely counted by electronic counting machines like banks in the U.S. have for counting large amounts of bills.

On the other hand, there are some lovely bargains, especially in groceries. For the equivalent of 50 cents, I can get a yard long baguette or a loaf of sliced wheat bread, for $1.50 I can get a loaf of raisin bread- all fresh baked and sliced to order. I can get a pineapple for 50 cents, and 10 bananas for 60 cents. When we first got here, I bought a wicker loveseat and three wicker club chairs, all with back and bottom cushions, plus a wicker side table, all for $220, and a teak sideboard for $250.

When I'm being a spoiled American and insist on something like Trix or Pop Tarts or Campbell's soup I will pay easily three times what it would cost in the U.S., so it tends to even out somewhat when I cave in to cultural cravings.

Ghanaian money is, like most currency outside the U.S., different colors and sizes. The 1000 cedi notes are tiny, almost like Monopoly money, and the 20,000 cedi notes are slightly larger than U.S. bills. In between are 2K, 5K, and 10K bills, plus coins in 500, 200, 100, and 50 cedi amounts. The 500 and 100 being the most fun- 500 is a heavy golden coin sized between a quarter and a nickel and 100 is a quarter sized coin with a silver band outside and golden center. Of course that 100 is worth only about a penny.