Spotlight – Currency!
Among the many differences we’ve encountered since moving to Gabon is the currency! Cash money in these parts is the Central African Franc, or ‘CFA’ (I know, why isn’t is CAF?) I’m sure someone has a perfectly good answer for that, but I don’t!
Gabon is a cash culture. Although the big chain grocers accept a card – we don’t use them anymore, and how I miss that luxury! Everything is done cash no matter the amount. While not the end of the world – it does require a different mindset. Do I have enough cash on me to buy that chicken? Do I have small bills? No? Probably not going anywhere in a taxi today – or I’ll have to go buy something to make some change. One thing I will say about doing all your business in cash is that it certainly makes you accountable for what you spend! Shelling out 70000 CFA ($140) for some groceries makes you think twice about your purchases!
Just as in the States, ATMs here dispense in (approximate) denomintions of $20. The equivalent of which is a 10,000 note, hi-yo! Today’s exchange rate is .481 CFA to 1 dollar, or roughly, 2 dollars to every 1,000 francs. So, to estimate a price, I double the amount I see, then remove 3 zeros and that gives me the rough figure in dollars. A box of spaghetti, for example, is 2500 CFA. Double that price (2500 x 2) = 5000. Remove 3 zeros – voila, $5.
So what’s the value of a dollar? Or 500 francs in this case. 500f would get me a taxi to the big grocery store, about a 25/30 min walk away. I could buy one bundle of locally grown herbs from a street stand. It would also buy a can of soda, from a grocery store – not a street shack. Prices of drinks on the street are almost double what they are in the grocery store. Gabon is pretty expensive, but luckily cabs are reasonable and so are locally grown veggies!
Most everything you see in a grocery store (and everywhere else for that matter) is imported. As in the US, much of Gabon is brought to you by China, but food is brought in primarily from France and other parts of Europe. I’m still astounded by prices, but it shocks me the most when I go to buy fresh produce!!! Imported veggies are scary expensive. Celery for example, is $13 a pound at a grocery store. Bellpeppers? $15 a pound. WHAT??!?!? I know. I actually had a bell pepper in my cart at the big grocery store yesterday, and 1 yellow bell pepper was going going to be over $7. I had buyers remorse and put it back before I checked out! haha.
I do my best to buy produce from local street stands, as you save quite a bit of money, but the selection and variety (in my neighborhood) is much smaller. And dirtier. Buuuuuut, it’s nice to support a small business, and save some coin while doing so. My local veggie lady is Zelia. She is from Togo, and runs her stand with 3 employees, ranging in age from 14-17. They all do their best to speak slowly to me, and show me the calculator when I can’t understand the price they are telling me. They also throw in a word or two of english when they can. Like, “finished?” and “bye.” They also provide the value added service of choosing produce for you! So when I say, “un ananas, s’il vous plait” (1 pineapple please) they ask me, ‘Pour aujourd’hui? Ou demain? ” For today, or tomorrow? They know their stock and when it needs to be eaten! Kinda fun! I’ve graduated to picking my own mangos and avocados, but I still defer to their expertise when it comes to pineapples.
Anywho, although CFA doesn’t have quite the same ring as dollar or ‘buck’, they definitely make up points in the style department. The currency varies in size, and is super colorful! Bills come in five different colors, and the coins are a mix of gold and silver tones. Check ’em out!
(Sadly, I didn’t have one of the notoriously dirty bills to photograph today, but when I get one I’ll add to this album. Sure, money gets dirty, but I’ve seen some JANKY bills here. Like – holes it in, disintegrating… looked like someone wiped their you know what with it, haha! 500 notes ($1) seem to be the grossest variety. I once tipped a cab driver with a particularly nasty 500 note (it’s all I had in smalls), and he asked me if I had coins instead! I didn’t… so he begrudgingly took the nasty 500. hahahha.)