In which our intrepid hero engages in commerce

Good evening, folks. I’m out of reading material (I just can’t bring myself to read “Where There Is No Doctor” for fun — yet), so I have chosen to close my shutters, set my fan on oscillate, and open up my laptop.

Anyway, some of you have been asking questions about money. The currency used here is the Ghana Cedi (GHC or GH¢ in abbreviated form), and is analogous to the dollar in terms of both usage and exchange rate. For all intents and purposes, GH¢1 = $1. GH¢1 is broken into 100 pesewas (Ghp or Gp for short), which makes 1Gp about equal with one cent.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Ghana Cedi is the result of a revaluation effort by the government. Before June of 2007, the currency was just the cedi (¢), and was roughly ¢10,000 to the dollar. In June 2007, the Ghana Cedi was introduced, and a huge campaign of currency trading and education was set forth. There are still bumper stickers and posters *everywhere* proclaiming “¢10,000 = GH¢1 = 100Gp — The Value Is The Same”. In January of 2008, the currency officially switched over, and it’s been in use ever since.

The main reason for this — according to the Government of Ghana, anyway — is to make day to day business easier and to reduce the problems of counterfeiting. Most people claim otherwise, but that’s for another email. However, because the value remains the same, and because most people are familiar with prices quoted in the thousands instead of in pesewas, they still refer to prices as ¢500, ¢1,000, ¢2,000, and so on. Therefore, you can buy a Coke for ¢4,000 and pay with 40Gp. I get the fun job of doing conversions in my head on the fly; for your sake, dear reader, I shall refer to the prices in GH¢ and Gp.

The average Ghanaian makes about GH¢3,000 a year, which means that as a Peace Corps Volunteer I will make about GH¢3,000 a year. However, when you consider that my daily commute will be 400 meters of walking, my housing is paid for by my school, and I can feed myself pretty well on GH¢2 per day, it’s a pretty livable wage.

To give you an idea of how far my GH¢2 daily walk-around allowance goes, I’m going to give a basic breakdown for prices of common things.

1 500mL pure water sachet*, 5Gp
3 Roma-sized tomatoes, 10Gp
1 meat pie (roughly 4″/8cm in size), 20Gp
1 medium bag Plantain Chips, 20Gp
1 300mL bottle Coca-Cola (glass bottle, consumed on the spot), 35-40Gp
1 400mL Ice Cream sachet, 40Gp
1 small (300g) jar peanut butter, 50Gp
1 small loaf of bread, 50Gp
1 400mL can of Coke (take-away), 60Gp
1 small bar of bath soap, 60Gp
1 box chalk (100 pieces), 60Gp
1 whiteboard marker, 80Gp
1 large loaf of bread (2lb/800g), GH¢1.00
1 small tin Nescafe instant coffee, GH¢1.25
1 men’s A-shirt, GH¢1.50
1 22oz (750ml) bottle of beer, GH¢1.50

*Pure water (filtered, treated water — basically the same stuff as bottled water) comes in a sealed plastic bag here. These bags are referred to as sachets. You bite a hole in the corner, and drink it by squeezing/sucking out the water. It’s very much like the Ice Pops we used to eat as kids. Ice cream is the same way — bite a hole in the corner and squeeze. Fun, huh?

Some of these are set prices — mostly the packaged goods — but a big part of Ghanaian culture is bargaining and dickering over prices. If you take the first price you’re given, it’s a sign that you have no clue about what’s going on. For example, when you ask for a large loaf of bread, you are given a price of GH¢2, and you go from there. The same is true for (some) transportation costs, but that’s for another email.

If the price is set by consensus, such as for tomatoes or other produce, you may ask for a dash. A dash is similar to the concept of a baker’s dozen — you get a little more than what you’re paying for because there’s plenty to be had, and it keeps you as a regular customer. The price for 3 tomatoes may be 10Gp, but I will get dashed 2 more tomatoes for no extra cost.

Anyway, I’m going to call it a night very shortly. My teaching practicum is finished, but I still have to observe at the high school here in town tomorrow.

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