A Man, his Money, and a Master
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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That was about the only consolation I could give myself as I walked into Malawi from Tanzania a poorer man.
Math annoys me. This is mostly due to sheer incompetence on my part when it comes to any number over 21. It is the reason that I always carry a calculator wherever I go. Due to this, and a general paranoid manner when changing money on the street, in ten years of travel I have yet to be ripped off. Correction: had.
When I arrived at the Tanzanian side of the border with Malawi, I was prepared for the rush of money changers who swarmed like piranhas around the only foreign traveler on the bus. I was smart. I was ready. I was about to get the traveling equivalent of having your pants pulled down in Elementary school and everyone laughing at you.
One of the alpha money changers pushed his way to the front of the crowd and said "Hello my friend. I will give you a good rate. The best rate. I will give you 10." This was 10 Tanzanian shillings to buy one Malawian kwacha. I was smart. I was ready. I had gone on the internet the day before and looked up the exchange rate so I could insist on the right amount when I got to the border. The real rate was 8 Tanzanian shillings to the kwacha. So I looked him in the eye, and said "No, I want 11."
So that it is clear - I insisted the money changer give me a worse rate than the already terrible rate he had offered me. Did I mention I used to teach History, not math?
He looked a bit taken aback for a moment, and then swiftly agreed.
I was only changing the equivalent of about 30 dollars. I wanted to make sure I had enough to catch a bus or taxi to the nearest town to the border in Malawi where I could then get to a bank and take are of money matters.
I watched as he counted out my (significantly lees than it should be) money. I caught him trying to cheat me out of about 700 kwacha. This was where his real genius lay. By letting me catch him on an obvious cheat, it took me off my guard and made me miss the real one. As he counted the money out, he very discreetly folded over the money with one hand so that he counted the same bill twice, once on each end. In retrospect, it was poetry it was so smooth. To top it off, he somehow managed to pocket half of the bills he had just counted as he handed them to me. I walked off, feeling I had once again proved my seasoned traveler skills to a bunch of locals wanting to rip me off. I didn't re-count the money there on the spot. I didn't re-check the rate with my calculator. In short, I broke every rule I usually set for myself in these kinds of situation. I didn't check the money until after I had crossed the border. This meant if I wanted to try and find the guy (unlikely at best) I would have to buy another $50 dollar visa to try and get the $15 or so I was cheated out of.
So, in respect to his skills, and to my stupidity, I silently congratulated him and walked on into Malawi.