Mary Morony, Author of Apron Strings, Done Growed Up and If It Ain't One Thing

Shilling For Your Thoughts

shilling for your thoughtsThe influences the British had on Uganda are still very much apparent today. From my perspective, they are driving on the wrong side of the road and the school children wear uniforms that, for the most part, look more appropriate for students in the pre-global warming northern climes of the British Isles. For me, the most challenging British impact on the country is the shilling. The official monetary unit in Uganda takes its name from a former British coin. Shilling for your thoughts. There are no copper-colored pennies here. Believe it or not, a penny in the US is worth much more.

One shilling is worth .00027 dollars. The denominations come in 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, and 50000 notes. A comma would go along way to making this money more user-friendly, so I didn’t use commas in my description above just to give you an idea of how annoying it is.  Before I continue my story, I need to share the following definition:

According to Wikipedia – *Mzungu is the southern, central and eastern African term for a person of foreign descent. Literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly” or “aimless wanderer” (from the Swahili and Ganda words)

Back to the money talk – Ugandan ATM machines display a message on the screen announcing that 2000000 shillings are the most that can be withdrawn at a time. To compute this I first needed to count the zeros to understand the magnitude of my withdrawal on my account after I did the math. Two million Shillings is $540 dollars I can get a fist full of Ugandan money—forty, fifty-thousand shilling notes to be exact.

I stood in the ATM enclosure trying to decide what to do with this wad of cash reminiscent of monopoly money. Peace Josephine, my keeper and Rahab’s Social Worker/default mzungu-minder said to me (the mzungu), firmly but not unpleasantly, “We in Uganda don’t walk around with our money like that.”  She said as she quickly removed the bills from my hands and subdued them into a manageable and less conspicuous wad.

Just as fast she surreptitiously slipped them back to me before I was able to finish saying, “Well okay, but we in the US aren’t used to dealing with this much cash at one time either, so hang on.” All the while Peace’s eyes are furtively glancing around for would-be thieves. As minders go, I suspect there are few better.  And as mzungus go, I’m pretty sure I need a major minder since shillings are only the beginning of my daily challenges here in Uganda.

Yet another thing my friends in Uganda have taught me – to keep my shillings close to the vest.

 

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