Despite having the two credit cards and the debit card, I only use these about half the time. Southern Africa has begun using plastic on a more regular basis, but Zimbabwe and most of central and east Africa still operate on a strictly cash system. I knew cash would be necessary, so when I came here I brought $5,000 with me and have since changed or used most of it. Similar to the patriotism displayed in my blog post about how I was proud to be an American and would NEVER give up my passport to obtain citizenship elsewhere, there is a lot to be said about the power of the U.S. dollar. You know the commercial, “Visa: Accepted Everywhere”? Not true. It should really be, “U.S. Dollars: Accepted Everywhere.” Though I should add that when travelling to Africa if you plan to bring a credit card, choose Visa. My university card is a Master Card and I haven’t been able to use it several times because Master Card isn’t as widely accepted as Visa. Apparently those Olympics commercials with Morgan Freeman ARE telling the truth.
As I was organizing my wallet today there was no need to go through my cards as those have remained stagnant. But my supply of banknotes and coins has changed considerably. My stash of U.S. dollars is barely enough to get me through the next couple months, but I can now rest assured that if I get stranded in any one of a dozen African countries I can buy a bottle of water, and in some cases, even dinner if necessary. Here are some of the bills I’ve collected during my tenure in Africa:
(Left to right, top to bottom): Ugandan Shilling, Rwandan Franc, Congolese Franc, Ethiopian Birr, Zimbabwean Dollar (This is no longer in circulation. Zimbabwe has no official currency, so the U.S. dollar is primarily used, but you can now use 8 different foreign currencies as legal tender), Zambian Kwacha, U.S. Dollar, Kenyan Shilling, Namibian Dollar, Botswana Pula, Sierra Leonean Leone, South African Rand, and Lesotho Loti.
None of these bills are worth more than a dollar or two, except for the Rand and Pula which are about $20 and $23, respectively. But I will definitely spend those as SA and Botswana are where I will be most of the time until I leave.