Sunday, February 01, 2009

You Can Call Me ALS

When Ethiopian Airlines lost my reservation and stranded me in the Addis Abbaba airport today, I had nothing to do but shop.

The problem? Like the song says, I didn't speak the language, I held no currency. I was a foreign lady. How foreign? I couldn't even pronounce the name of the currency -- that's how bad it was.

Luckily, everyone spoke either English or French, so, armed with my trusty (and highly-overused) credit card, I was soon involved in a two-store negotiation over some goatskin rugs.

Ethiopian goats are a tough, but tiny breed, so I feel a sort of kinship with them. Here's a picture of one chowing down on a thorn bush:

They're also spunky, tasty, and wonderfully soft, which makes them naturals for pets, food, and home furnishings. Now, if you've been reading the blog, you know I loves me some mbuzi choma (BBQ'ed goat). Turns out that I ALSO love to keep my feet warm and comfortable, PLUS I needed a gift for my sister's boyfriend. A goatskin rug, in my mind, is the perfect considerate gift from a potential future in-law. This may explain why I have so few in-laws, but that's besides the point.

The rugs were each around $100, negotiated down to $85. I tried to pay by credit card, and was asked for cash. Cash?! Who carries around USD100 in cash in Ethiopia? I thought. There's not even an ATM in the Addis airport, and carrying around any significant amount of money is an invitation to be mugged.

Turns out, I was totally wrong. Not about the mugging, but about the cash. While sharing a cab home with my amazingly nice Ghanan friend Kwasi, he let slip that people even buy cars with cash because of the unstable banking ecosystem in Africa. He used to work at a bank, and said that people used to walk away -- daily -- with huge bags of cash, just to go shopping. In part, this is because African currencies normally suffer from poor exchange rates, which means that if you're walking around with even $100, your bankroll is an enormous wad.

Which is one of the reasons that MPESA, Safaricom's m-wallet system, is so rad. Carry your money around in the cloud! Yeah! But umm, anyway, back to the point of this story (I swear that there is one).

Just to recap: economic pressure, lack of stable governance and banking infrastructure, and poor exchange rates due to a variety of socioeconomic and governmental factors. Jackie, THAT is why I don't have a present for Nick. I love you guys!!

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