27 June 2009

PROM 8: Ouguiya

Okay, okay, okay. Not exactly a product. But ouguiya (oo-ghee-uh), the local currency, are the means to the PROMs. So as an ode to the old monetary system of bartering, trade, and commodity-backed currency (yes, Katie makes me listen to the same podcasts) - which is very much alive here in the RIM- I give you PROM 8: Ouguiya (UM for short, unit Mauritanian I think?) ~ 260UM = $1.00

(insert motivational arena rock music, i.e. "Eye of the Tiger")

-Leading off, the fierce "we never have change for" 2000UM note. The highest in its class. (Approximately $7.70)

-Next up, the dominant "donnez-moi mille ouguiya" 1000UM note. The most common for large transactions (Approximately uh, $3, no, minus the 7, divide 70...approximately half of $7.70)

-Third, the elusive "greenback" 500UM note.

-Batting clean-up, the plucky "2 taxi trips" 200UM note.

-Coming in 5th, the ever present, ever dirty "big baguette buyer" 100UM note.

-Representing coinage, we have the 20 "pas de pieces" UM, the 10 "old man" UM, the useless 5 "Why am I here?" UM, and the now phased-out 1 "Why did I ever exist?" UM.
There was also a 1/5 UM coin called a khoum. If ouguiya is like a dollar, a khoum is like a cent. But it was so small and now is never used.

As far as the Peace Corps goes, we get a monthly living allowance of ouguiya that is deposited in local banks on a quarterly basis. This is a trip in itself. I have heard that in smaller regional capitals, banking is fairly simple because people are always curious about and willing to help the 'toubabs'. However, here in Nouadhibou, I find the process quite awkward and cold. (It should be noted here that I do not expect any sympathy from my fellow volunteers. The combination of being married and in an urban environment gives us access to more amenities and a higher stipend, I am only communicating my routines and experiences with the ouguiya). I always greet people at the bank, try to put on a happy face, but usually it is just business as usual and you can spend the entire day waiting if you are not pro-active or even a little pushy.

For example, not long ago, I spent the better part of a morning waiting at the bank. Fortunately, this was not entirely due to my normally passive disposition. Apparently, the bank was out of money. Since being in the RIM, we've seen food shortages, gas shortages, rational thought shortages, but this was a first. So I proceeded to wait. For 2 hours. Lines, if you can believe it, steadily began to form. I was pretty close to the front but not in the line of men along the wall. Apparently, I was in the women's line...AGAIN! (See my blog on the gas) But this time it formed around me. So I grudgingly went to the back of the men's line.

Finally, just before my will for waiting was shattered, a man arrived with a huge cardboard box filled with ouguiya. And slowly, the line deteriorated. Men who came in after me were trying to get ahead of me, so I just began elbowing my way up front just like everyone else. During this melee, I witnessed a young white moor enter the bank in a Nike jogging outfit. He looked at the line, scoffed, and went behind the counter to yell at one of the tellers. The bank manager came out and ushered this man into a back room. Moments later the manager came to the one window distributing funds, grabbed what must have been half a million in UM and went into the same back room. Soon after this the "jogger" leaves the bank with a conspicuous ouguiya shaped bulge in his pocket. Oh, just a small insignificant example of corruption in the RIM. But at the time, all I could think was, "This is the greatest injustice ever to befall man!"

Throughout the entire process, other customers would routinely butt back into line once they were done to exchange bills that didn't pass their critical inspection. That's right, these men would go off in a corner and begin looking over all the bills. Now granted, sometimes bills can be in very bad shape. I've seen ripped, mangled, taped, stapled, nearly unidentifiable notes. And it's almost like a national game not to be the person who gets stuck with these lousy bills. But these men were returning bills with a pen mark on them or a slight tear.

People are always on the look-out for an unsuspecting person to whom they can pass one of these bills. Katie and I learned this early on and have managed to avoid them, but here's one we've been stuck with for some time. No one has taken it yet. It is actually three bills taped together. The pieces are actually in pretty good shape...not the worst I've seen...not by a long shot...I have grown to love him. His name is Oogy McPatcherson. Oh the adventures Oogy and I have had. He is one crazy UMOB.

-Oogy McP.

Well, eventually, I made my transaction and departed the bank (through the back alley because they locked their doors either because the work day was long past over at 12:30, or they ran out of money again, I couldn't tell).

P.S. - thanks for all the birthday messages. It's always good to hear from someone back home.
P.P.S. - I'm on the look-out for a 1UM coin for my coin collection back home. If anyone has one that they would be willing to part with, please let me know.
Mike out


karen yunghans said...

Where is your collection. Just wondering. Mom

JAC said...

Love it, Mike! All very true. I too have been on the lookout for a 1-piece...

The bank in Boghe is not usually too bad because no one has enough money here to warrant putting it in savings. Works for us, anyway.

Katie said...

Just to clarify...I never heard the name "Oogy McPatcherson" before this blog post. Mike came up with that one entirely on his own.

Mike said...

That's not how Oogy tells it.