Friday, November 11, 2011

The Cost of Living

The Donkeys are so sweet
Things were quietening down at work yesterday morning – well that was after I had done a caesarean at about . Mother and baby are fine though the baby has a sore eye because it was poked  a few time during labour before it was realized the baby was stuck in whats known as a Brow presentation. Anyway after seeing all the women recovering from their various obstetric traumas over recent days, all recovering slowly despite their untreatable severe anaemias, I took a walk into town to change some money at the Bank. It’s the third time Ive done this, I change $US100 at a time – so in my first five weeks Ive spent a mere $200 - and I have crisp new American notes that I bought at a Bank in downtown Sydney. There are armed guards outside the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and they pat me down, either missing or ignoring the contents of my pocket which usually includes my camera and mobile phone,but they usually confiscate my little backpack, keeping it in the sentry box till I return. Inside it looks pretty much like an old fashioned bank except there are lots of staff milling about, and a row of tellers behind a grill, but I am taken behind them to sit at the desk of an Assistant Manager.

He, and several others, somewhat incongruously – given that most of their customers are dressed in rags and have bare feet - are dressed in three piece suits and must get pretty hot as there isn’t any airconditioning. They unlock a storeroom behind the Assistant Managers desk and bring out a dusty machine a little bigger than an EFTPOS terminal, and after plugging it in, feed through it each one of my US notes. The machine is supposed to detect forged currency, and lets off a shrill whistle if the tested note doesn’t pass the test. The hilarious thing is that none of my notes ever do, and they test and retest them until occasionally one might get through without a whistle, but mostly for about 20 minutes, everyone is  having their hearing damaged by the alarm whistle bleeping loudly every few seconds as they madly feed and re-feed the notes through the machine which is clearly “non-functional “ – a term I here frequently round the hospital when I ask why a light isn’t working or why a machine is gathering dust in a corner or a clock not ticking: “Non functional” is the reply. Other Bank workers will come across and look at the machine and fiddle with it and experiment with different subtle techniques of feeding the notes, swapping them end for end, turning them over and back again but on it goes. If someone is foolish enough to retest the one that got through, it will almost certainly fail and the pile of  presumed fakes returns to its original number. It occurred to me, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in fact the machine IS functional but they misinterpret the meaning of the “Beep”. Anyhow I sit there trying to look innocent, bemused rather than nervous.

Meanwhile as all this is going on, someone else is copying information from my Passport and  filling out a form in Triplicate with all the details of the currency transaction, the days exchange rate, the number off each banknote  and so on. Eventually he returns with a wad of about 1700 Birr plus a few coins, gives it all to me, I thank everyone for their help, the Forgery Detector is turned off and I head out into the street! Its like a game we play every couple of weeks – I love it!
And yesterday I went next door to the Wubet Hotel for an Egg Sandwich and a St George Beer, sitting in the concrete courtyard outside : Total cost of Lunch : $2.40.

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