weccit: money (as in cash, i.e. bills and coins)

Paying for anything in Senegal can be a stressful and harrowing process, the need to bargain notwithstanding. It is enough to leave a newcomer boggled and frustrated and absolutely unable to buy the things they want or stuck buying a bunch of things they don’t.

First of all, there seems to be absolutely no standardization of the currency whatsoever. Senegal uses the currency abbreviated CFA, pronounced “seefa,” or also referred to as “francs,” and it is a currency shared by several West African Francophone countries. One essential characteristic about this currency is the fact that it seems like whoever works at the mint decided to go ahead and make money in whatever denomination they wanted.

First of all, there is the fact that the largest bill is for 10 000 CFA, which is a relatively small amount. It would be as if the biggest bill in the United States was the 20 USD, which is an absolutely frustrating concept. Then there is the fact of the coinage, which is totally insane. Most commonly seen is the 100 CFA and the 200 CFA coin, which are both practical and make a lot of sense. There is also a 50 CFA coin, which is also useful. However, after that I get utterly confused.

For starters, there is both a 500 CFA paper bill and a 500 CFA coin. There is also a coin for 10 CFA, which comes to about 8¢ and is totally useless and has the weight of a plastic arcade token. And then, even though you thought you had all the bases covered, there is a 250 CFA coin, which makes no sense considering there are lots of 200 CFA and 50 CFA coins floating around. Honestly, if I came across a coin for 37 CFA or some random number like that, I wouldn’t even blink an eye.

However, the most frustrating aspect of Senegalese life is the fact that you never have any change when you need it. Despite the cash economy, coins are extremely hard to come by and people hoard them like rations on the eve of World War Two. This is made even more maddening because the ATM, the most crucial tool for foreigners, only dispenses bills in 5000 CFA and even then you are lucky to get that and not a wad of 10 000 CFA, which is very unfortunate when you consider how many things on the street cost 1000 to 100 CFA. Most of the time, when you have a 10 000 CFA bill no one will even take it or be willing to exchange it.

Plus, people are extremely reluctant to change your money, and most of the time they will refuse, since they know full well that they will need the small change themselves. Even when you buy something, they will ask you first if you have any change and if you don’t, it becomes a big deal, with shopkeepers going down the street to ask the other shopkeeper for a 1000 CFA bill, etc. The supermarket closest to my house never has any change, and too often I am stuck buying some cardboard-like cookies that I don’t want since they won’t give me my change for 100 CFA or whatever. Before you go anywhere you have to consider if you have the small bills or coins that the day’s journey will require. The only reliable people who will change your bills for you are the guys who sell prepaid phone cards, and only because I’m friends with them, really.

And don’t even get me started on the madness of trying to split a check. It makes you really miss the ease of a credit card.

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