Sunday, 19 October 2008

Notes from Uppsala [5] - Money Changers Inc.

As published in the Guardian Life magazine (Sunday, October 19, 2008)

Interesting, isn’t it, how the Nigerian brain/soul/mind turns into one giant currency converter the moment it steps past the Murtala Mohammed International Airport or Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport or Aminu Kano Airport or even Seme Border. Last year I visited Ghana for the first time, and travelled by road, which meant that in one journey I ‘conquered’ at least three countries at once (and of course got my passport disfigured with endless stamping). At one of those seemingly endless border points where you have to leave the bus and cross the barrier on foot there were the ubiquitous traders and hawkers of everything from underwear to currency notes. What preoccupied my mind of course was
1. Finding out the current conversion rate between CFA Francs and Naira
2. Utilising that conversion rate from that moment on to weigh every purchasing consideration.
It’s the annoying thing about crossing borders. The Europeans have by and large gone to great lengths to mitigate that annoying scenario, with the adoption of the Euro by the European Common Markets. Norway has however stubbornly refused to join the European Union, and of the trio of Sweden, Denmark and Finland that are members, only Finland has adopted the Euro. Meaning that Norway, Denmark and Sweden stubbornly hold on to their Krone (plural: Kroner; NOK), Krone (plural Kroner; DKK) and Krona (plural: Kronor; SEK) respectively, and will not even accept one another’s currencies. Annoying stuff, if I must tell you.
Because of the ‘one-Scandinavia’ umbrella I unconsciously constructed for all these countries I travelled to Oslo (Norway) a few weeks ago without it occurring to me that I would have to change money in order to possess purchasing power in Norway. By the time I realised this I was already in Oslo, and it was night. I had to wait until morning to change money, and even then it was at a rip-off rate (Rule 1: Always endeavour to change money before you get to your destination country. Appendix 1: This Rule has yet to be verified, so it remains an opinion for now).
After my brief sojourn in Oslo, I returned to Uppsala, with a handful of Norwegian coins – useless in Sweden. No complaints. Then, last week the wind blew me to Copenhagen, Denmark. Once bitten, twice shy, they say. So before leaving Uppsala I had changed Swedish Kronor to Danish Kroner.
Note: I returned from Denmark with Kroner in cash and in coins. (I can change the cash back to SEK, but not the coins)
So, here I am, back again in Uppsala. In my possession I have Norwegian coins, Danish coins and notes, and Swedish coins and notes (which of course form the useful currency to me at the moment). And then I have the Euro in coins and notes – product of a money-changing deed at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, on the day that I arrived in Europe (that seems an eternity ago, but it’s only been six weeks). I changed American dollars (which was the only foreign currency I left Nigeria with) into Euros, in order to be able to grab a meal at Schiphol and check my email at the airport café. I didn’t use up all the Euro.
So, in my possession: Kroner, Kroner, Euro, Kronor. And then of course the “Greenback”, also known and addressed as the United States Dollar (if you’ve never heard of the dollar then it means you haven’t listened to Osuofia’s hit song “I go chop your dollar”)
And last but certainly not the least – the Almighty Naira. In the spirit of nationalism and patriotism no Nigerian must allow himself of herself to be found anywhere in the world without the Naira. Never. It is our second passport. So that when they ask you – “In Nigeria, do you have lions?” or “Do you still live on trees?” you can laugh at them (the way God laughs at his enemies in Psalm 2 vs. 4) and say “Look at you ignoramus! In Nigeria we even spend REAL money!”
And then you whip out the naira notes and launch into a history lesson, using as a starting point the historical figures on the naira (Awo, Murtala, Zik, Aliyu Mai-Bornu, Clement Isong, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Alvan Ikoku). Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Babangida also on one of the naira notes, or have I been away from Nigeria that long?
And then you can move into an economics lesson from there, explaining to your audience/interrogators that unlike the Zimbabwean currency which as at July 2008 had a hundred billion dollar denomination (yes, a ZWD 100,000,000,000 note) – which on the day of release could only purchase 3 eggs i.e. one egg cost 35 billion ZWD – the Naira is a well-fed currency, with the highest denomination being only 1,000 Naira.
Back to the main point. At the moment I am a walking bureau de change. Before the end of October I’m due to visit Helsinki (Finland). That would have made currency number what? Thankfully they spend the Euro in Finland. But between now and then I have to sort out all my Kronor and Kroner(s). Everything is mixed up in my pockets and in my coin-calabashes. It is not a task I look forward to in any way. Every coin, every note has to be held up against a decent source of light to check if it is a “Nor” or a “Ner”.
I’m sure it was because of dabbling into things like this that Jesus Christ whipped the money-changers out of the Temple…

PS. I didn’t even talk about the tortuous mental process of having to constantly convert NOK, SEK and DKK into Naira, every time I come across a price tag
I call it W.W.N.D – What Would Naira Do!

(c) 2008 Tolu Ogunlesi


Waffarian said...

hahahaha, very funny! Don't worry, very soon, you will find the easiest thing to do after being in a country is to put all the coins and left over change in that donation bag they have for redcross on the flights.Check for it next time!

I don't take anything back. I used to feel like a "collector" but I never use them and nobody is ever interested in seeing what coins from other countries look like, so I gave up.

rayo said...

lafd yday when i first read this nd even now its stil hilarious. whateva u do, do not follow rule 1 when goin to S.A, u wil b so pisd. changed @ d rate of 100 dollars to 640rands in nigeria nd got to S.a, changed the rest of my money @ 1oo dolls to abt 730 rands. mehn, was i pissed!

Woomie O! said...

Had to RSS ur page, eeesss how much I'm loving your blog.

What Will D Naira ever do???

Money na money o Tolu, you only have to pack shit in Europe to park MMs, Siennas and Prados in Nigeria.
...that's the 'awesome' power of the naira.
That's just one out of many that I can think
It sucks! We suck! a certain extent.
I don't mean to bitch on ur page but...oh well!
Uppsala! I can pronounce it now.*WINK*