Thursday, January 17, 2008

The 101st (sort of) good thing about Lagos: New year and new money

I’m back in Lagos with a new year to find even more good things about life in Lagos. Some of you faithful readers may have been wondering why there was no hoopla and celebration around my 100th good thing post. Finding 100 good things about a place like Lagos is quite an accomplishment, I think (though some of you may scoff at some of my “good things.” My daughter-in-law implied that listing kidnapping victims returned safely is kind of cheating. But what if they HADN'T returned safely? It would be REALLY hard to find a good thing about that!). But the truth is that I’ve been feeling a little bit guilty about my 7th good thing: “No coins to weigh you down.” Because the reality is that last spring they put out some new money and introduced some coins. So, now there ARE coins to weigh you down. I tell you this in the interest of full disclosure about the realities of life in Lagos. There’s also now some new (and much cleaner) small bills :5, 10 and 20 and 50 naira.

I ask you, which of these would YOU rather have in your pocket?
Old money

or New money

And they also introduced several coins: 2 naira, 1 naira, and 50 kobo – which is half a naira. (These coins are dated 2006, but I swear that they weren't introduced into the market until 2007 -- I did not deceive when I wrote my "7th good thing.") The coins are very light with a feel almost like play money.

Why bother with coins, you may ask, when a 5 naira note is worth just over 4 cents (making the 50 kobo coin worth less than half a penny)? Well, the reality is that their money is getting more
valuable all the time! This doesn’t have a lot to do with the stability of the Nigerian economy, but more the instability of the dollar. When we first came, 100 naira was worth a little over 70 cents, but now it’s heading up closer to 90 cents. When we’re just talking about 100 naira, that doesn’t mean a lot. But the reality of life in Lagos is that things cost many times that. A box of cereal, holding steady at 1200 naira did cost about $9 and now it’s closer to $10. And since we get paid still in American dollars, the exchange rate has eroded our buying power by quite a bit. I find myself wishing that we had exchanged a lot of money earlier, instead of waiting and exchanging funds as we need them. Of course, there would be inherent problems with big money exchange – security and storage space being ones that come immediately to mind (the largest bill is still the 1000 naira note – imagine paying for EVERYTHING in cash when your largest bill is worth less than 9$!) – so we just have to bite the bullet and hope that the company will adjust our Commodities and Services allowance to reflect the current exchange rate. I also hope to avoid circumstances that I once found myself in where a cashier didn’t have any small bills and was forced to give me a bag full of around 40 2-naira coins in change. So, there it is, the truth – one less good thing in Lagos because (gasp!) we DO have coins to weigh you down!

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