Money for nothing and the lesson is free
I MAKE a face at my husband as I read aloud from the guidebook’s section on currency exchange tricks. ‘‘It’s always important to be alert for poor exchange rates, folded notes and clipped newspaper sandwiched between legitimate notes.’’
We are in bustling Chipata, Zambia, 30km from the Malawian border. The town is rumoured to have numerous foreign exchange bureaus and banks with ATMs, but it is after 5pm and all are closed.
We are departing early the next morning to travel a bonecrunching 140km by road to South Luangwa National Park. Without civilisation for the next three days, and with a desperate need to buy supplies, we are left with little choice but to try our luck with the unofficial streetbased moneychangers.
We are seasoned travellers so, with a deep breath, I bravely step into a sea of young African males, all pressing in on us, hands thrusting fistfuls of notes into our faces from all directions.
I have managed to deter my husband from changing any more than $US50, and so we go boldly into battle, tenaciously clutching our one greenback note. The Zambian kwacha is roughly worth $US0.0001, so we know we need to receive 10 notes of 50,000 value. Obligatory haggling completed, my husband carefully inspects the one note proffered to us as evidence of a good deal. Yes it is 50,000 kwacha. The remaining notes are quickly dealt out, until he holds a small pile in his hand. Dutifully my husband counts. Eleven? One extra?
A slim hand snakes over the top and plucks the top note from the pile. ‘‘This one mine, remember?’’ says the moneychanger with a smile. Ah, yes. We hand over our $US50 and quickly leave to find the grocery store before it shuts.
As I am stuffing the notes into my money pouch, I notice their individual values. We have been given 5000 kwacha notes, not the agreed-upon 50,000. No wonder he took back the top note, as it was the only one of that denomination in the pile. Everything underneath it, while similar in design and colour, is only one-10th of its value. We now hold the equivalent of $US5 in our hands.
‘‘Quick! Let’s go back and see if they are still there!’’ I cry.
Of course they have vanished into the wind. I have visions of the scoundrels spying from behind a building somewhere, brazenly laughing about us.
They were so slick, so well practised in their art of deception. And we (who pride ourselves on being so worldly) clearly still have much to learn.
At every money transaction thereafter, I take charge, calculator in hand, scrutinising every note to ensure an honest deal takes place. A hard lesson has been learned. RANT OR RAVE Send your 400-word contribution to our Follow the Reader column. Published columnists will receive a Corban & Blair Duet travel journal in pink/red and Duet travel wallet in blue/red (pictured; total value $84). The Duet range is made from genuine split leather and features contrasting leather detail with a metal button enclosure. More: (02) 9560 0122; corbanblair.com.au. Send your contribution to: firstname.lastname@example.org.