Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Money, Money, Money

We anticipated that getting used to a new monetary system was to be a small transition for us… Zim uses the US Dollar as its currency. This is because in 2008 and 2009, a period of time many locals refer to as “The Imbalance,” inflation reached 100,000%.  The country’s own money became virtually worthless, as the crashing economy left people scraping for food and supplies with no way to pay for things.  As one of my friends here says, “I had just had [my baby] in mid 2008, and his entire first year of life, I would drop his sis at school, put him into the car and spend the entire day driving around looking for food until it was time to pick her up. Stores were empty.  Not a thing on the shelves.” The USD was adopted to restore some sense of stability, though nervous rumors still abound about currency changes.  Our transition from USD to USD was surprising in some ways. Upon arrival we quickly learned a few unexpected things about our money here:

1) Coins do not exist here. …Well, sort of.  Nothing less than a dollar is used to pay for anything.  However, prices are most often not an even dollar amount.  SO, when checking out at the grocery store, if the bill is $19.20, you must pay $20.00, then receive a store credit for 80 cents.  If it is a chain store, however, the store credit will rarely transfer to a store of the same name but in a different location.  Some stores also do a swipe card to let you keep a log of your extra credit, tickets in place of printed receipts, or will randomly give you South African money if they have it on hand.  Our wallets are full of papers instead of coins now, all credit receipts to be cashed in (if you remember) the next time you go to purchase an item.  This national policy has to almost always work out for the benefit of the company.  

The one exception to this seems to be the “bus”- a whole other blog of its own. The bus costs 50 cents to ride here, but if you pay with a dollar, “change” is given in the form of South African tokens called rands, apparently mostly only good for another bus ride. These brass colored rands have “50 cents” written on them, but it actually takes two of them to equal fifty cents for a bus ride, and four of them to equal a dollar.  Why?  No idea.

2) The one bill that is pristine here?  Two dollar bills.  Remember those things?  I thought the US stopped making them years ago, until I just did my research this week and found out that the bill is still actually made and in circulation in the US.  The scarcity of $2 bills in circulation in the US, along with a lack of public awareness that the bill is still in circulation, has inspired urban legends and, on a few occasions, created problems for people trying to use the bill to make purchases in the States.  Which I guess is why you can find them everywhere here.  They are the only barely used piece of money to be found.

3) New dollar bills are more than rare here.  Shop keepers love tourists and foreigners, because they come with new bills. In the US, the Treasury takes old bills out of circulation and replaces them; apparently there is no one here doing that.  Here are two dollars from our African country--so dirty and frail it’s hard to touch them-- compared to one we brought with us from the US.