Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dollar That Traveled Ten Thousand Miles and Back Again

The picture of the dollar bill is one that I got in Zimbabwe during my bartering time at a flea market. Zim’s economy is in shambles but has gotten slightly better since they switched from their own printed currency to that of the US Dollar. The high inflation rates eventually caused the Zim dollar to be worthless and everyone who had money in the bank or retirement funds lost everything in the switch. Yet I find it fascinating that another country can make the US dollar its own currency. Since it is obviously not printed there, people have to rely on others bringing in the dollar. When you go into a grocery store, you cannot get change in the form of coins. So if you buy a Coke and it costs $1.30, then you can give the exact price, find something else for 70 cents or pay $2. On one of my last days there, I bought a coke and a candy bar that totaled $1.90 and decided I didn’t want to look for something for 10 cents. Yet that 10 cents that I disregarded could buy a package of soup. I have seen people scour for things to add for 40 cents. This is even more humbling when you consider the average person in Zim makes $100 a month. So 10 cents is a lot. It was yet again another lesson for me, one that I have seen in other countries but it still hits hard.
I was reminded about this dollar a few days ago at the Burbank Airport on my way to San Jose for a few days. After clearing security for the 8th time in two weeks, I went to buy 2 Dr. Peppers. The guy at the register gave me a total for $6.56 and I laughed….but he was serious. Two sodas for that much, well I was at an airport and they are known for that. Well, I really wanted a DP so I pulled out my cash and there it was, starring at me….a dirty dollar bill that traveled 10,000 miles and back again.

Yesterday I read an article from a Zim online news site. It is called “Can I have a Dollar please?” If you want to read it, and I suggest that you do, you can find it at The gist of the story is that the writer looks at the hard times that everyone is feeling but especially in the rural areas. A cousin, who was only 37 years old dies. This brings a rare occasion for those in the city and those in the rural areas together. So the writer shares the story of how his uncle, who use to live in the village recognizes one of the grave diggers, a former classmate is elementary school. They catch up on old times and this man, aged and broken over the burdens of life in the rural areas asks for a dollar. The request makes him uncomfortable but he asks anyway. He only wanted one dollar. He had never even seen a dollar before. Why did he want a dollar? To process Maize-Meal so he could have Sadza, a thick doughy substance that is the staple food in Zim. Everyone eats Sadza. Yet he needed a dollar to process the maize meal so it could become Sadza. Since he couldn’t afford it, he and his family had been eating boiled maize meal. The only thing I can compare it to for us in the States is being used to eating mashed potatoes growing up and then having only the ability to eat raw potatoes because you lacked one thing to have it mashed. One dollar because his children want Sadza instead of boiled maize meal. Needless to say, that dollar that I looked at as I used other cash to pay for my DP’s makes me uncomfortable in my comfortable re-entry to the US.

1 comment:

Jennica - Ayelet said...

Africa is tough. I went to Zambia (right across Victoria Falls) in 2004 right out of high school. Definitely changed my perspective for life. We have so much and complain so much. Glad you got to go!