Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Of cell phones and cedis

January 18, 2007

Accra, Ghana

Everyone in Accra, the capital of Ghana, has a cell phone.

When you're traveling for a substantial period of time in West Africa, it seems pointless to go through the ringamarole of trying to figure out the whole telecommunications thing, with public phones and calling cards, what have you. Ghana, at least, is wired for wireless, so it's better to bite the bullet and buy a mobile for 530,000 cedis, at the lowest end.

That's right: 530,000 cedis. The local currency is ridiculously inflated. Cedis are trading right now at 9,200 for $1 American. So when I got $100 American bucks traded yesterday at a foreign exchange office, or "Forex" I got a wad of cash about an inch thick - 920,000 cedis, in 1,000 notes. Today I got more cash, 800,000 cedis. Suddenly, I am a millionaire.

But prices reflect value, so everything is traded in thousands of notes. With my first 1,000 cedis I tipped a guy at the airport who insisted on helping with the luggage. He told me it would not buy anything. "That's all I've got," I replied, and closed the taxi door.

A beer is worth about 8,000 cedis, or about 90 cents Canadian. A meal costs around 30,000 cedis, or $3 US. Tro-tros, which are vans fitted with enough seats for 22 people, cost around 2,000 cedis, or about 20 cents US, depending on how far you're going.

We're getting used to wads of cash, which are the norm in this part of the world. The Bank of Ghana is posting ads in the newspapers about its plan to hack four zeros off the currency come July. The new notes will come in lower denominations: 10,000 cedis will become one cedi, 50,000 will become five, etc. A million cedis will become 100. I'll be a millionaire no longer. G.

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