Money always fascinates me. I like the joys it can bring and it is almost unimaginable the pains it can bring too. I like the power money confers on the holder and I like the respect it can buy. Yet, I see the limit of this all powerful tool through Mario Puzo’s eyes, when Genco Abandando speaks into the Godfather’s ears in his old age on his deathbed saying, “I need you to negotiate with death. I don’t want to die” and the Godfather, in his wealth and the height of his power cannot prevent the inevitable.
So I chose to write about money today. First, because my friend Nom has vicariously inspired me to, then secondly because I am in a quandary and I need your help.
It so happens that on one of my environmental sanitation days, cleaning my room out, I look into my box and voila I find a wad of naira notes (Please don’t ask me how much). I was quite happy to see that I had this extra unbudgeted money in my keep (albeit foreign currency here in the UK – hahaha that feels good doesn’t it?). The first thing that flashed across my mind was ‘back up!’ – there is no better thing than a backup when you are least expecting it. So I put the wad of newly unearthed naira notes in my safe like an archeologist will put away a most precious find and waited till the day I will need to change it to pounds to bridge my cash flow if need be…
Often, while reading or eating, I will take a glance at my treasure chest, which was safely tucked away in an unmarked drawer by my reading table, and it gave me a certain feeling of comfort by simply knowing it was there. There were times too when I contemplated changing it but I would hesitate again, ‘At least I had not expected to find it!’ so let me leave it till I really need it. Going about my merry way and not giving it too much thought, one day I stumbled on a situation that required me to call on my backup and it was with great mirth (queer word) that I opened my ‘safe’ and called on the long awaited reserve. Moments later, here I was, pocket full of naira notes, standing in front of the nearest Thompson Bureau de change cocksure that in minutes I will be out with a leaner pocket of pound notes but all the same better off. When I got to the Thompson counter, the man politely asked me what currency my money was in, I said naira. For about 30 seconds he tried to imagine which country in the world used naira. Then he began to fiddle with the computer terminal (which though was backing me, I imagined he was typing ‘N-A-I-R-A’ into Google to find out exactly what it meant) much like the trailer of a comedy series shown here in the UK where a black woman gets to the airport, shows her passport and the custom officer insists that there is no country like ‘Liberia’ and they finally resolve the impasse by checking the map. After waiting for another few seconds, recalling the comedy trailer in my head but not laughing, another colleague of the man attending to me, wondering why we were playing footsie, came around to asking my what I wanted. When I told her I wanted to change naira notes, she helped him out by saying naira was the currency spent in Nigeria. “Thanks goodness!”, I was starting to think my ‘money’ was not on the world list!
” We are sorry”, the lady said in that impolite polite English way, we don’t change naira. I looked at the brand logo again, Thompsons was meant to be one of the big BDCs and international too… after squeezing my face, grinding my teeth and pouting my lips in a minute of mimed histrionics performed solo, I collected my wad of Naira notes and walked out of the shop pausing at the entrance to take a second look at my wad of Naira notes that would have made so much sense were I standing in the Palms in Lagos, or at my Ofe Nsala joint in Victoria Island. Is this the end of my back up plan?
Being a never say die guy, I trundled on to the next BDC, the nearest post office and even the outdoor market. By the end of the day, I had prawled over 10 BDCs, one Western Union, two post offices, each with the same answer – we don’t change naira notes. If you will pardon my slow-learning ability, not until then did it occur to me that no one gave a sh*t about my naira notes here and the only reason why I thought naira was a global currency was because back at home, changing pounds and dollars seemed so easy and by interpolation I assumed it will be the same here. As I lated got to deduce the hard way, global currency was about demand and supply and it was demand that ensured that other countries want your currency. It is demand that makes dollars available in that lone island republic that is 200 miles deep into the pacific and you wonder how in the heavens the dollar note finds its way there. Sadly, my money did not have the demand required to make it wanted in the Diaspora and I felt a bit downcast when I realized that some of the BDCs had rands exchange counters. Not that I compared Nigeria to South-Africa in the global scheme of things, but I just wondered what excuse Naija had for not being a global nation to reckon with. Sadly, I can’t take it out on the politicians all the time so disgruntled, trek-weary, I made back to my apartment with my pocket still full of Naira, except now it was not much different from my stick it notes. The only difference being that my stick it notes were green and had a sticky panel while my Naira notes were multi-color and still had intrinsic value, albeit untapped.
When I got back home after the wild goose chase, I settled to some warm drink, opened my safe and put my backup back down and all the moments I had put my hopes in it flashed back. To risk sounding didactical, I recalled the age old wisdom in Proverbs from the Holy Bible that instructs us not to count on money for oftentimes it isn’t what it appears to be. As I considered my ebbing options, the only one that sounded viable was that I might need to get back to Naija to spend this and in the remainder of the time I’d be here, it would just remain what it is – paper with inextractible value. Or do you offer any suggestions?
(on the illusion of money)