Madagascar: The Vola

I got a haircut the other day, and it actually turned out surprisingly well.  When it was over, however, I asked what I owed, and received the unbelievable reply: “5000AR.”

“What?!” I thought as anger and annoyance welled up within me.  “If I was a Malagasy, I would be paying 1000 AR or maybe, just maybe 2000AR.  You want to charge me more than twice as much?”

But then I remembered.  5000AR is $2.50.  That’s pretty decent for a haircut, even if it isn’t exactly fair.

When I go to the bank to withdraw money from the ATM, I withdraw the maximum amount it can dispense (if that is even available).  That isn’t because I am withdrawing outrageous amounts of money.  It is because the largest bill they print here is 10,000AR, about $5.  The machine can only dispense a certain number of these “$5 bills” at a time.

Let’s pretend a cup of coffee in the USA costs $1.00 (haha).  I could buy twenty cups of coffee with that same amount of money here.

I pay the Malagasy family I eat with about $2.50 a day, and I get breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They originally asked for half that, but I felt bad eating for only $1.25 a day.

For a dollar, I could have a rickshaw driver (pusher?)…push me for thirty minutes to the other side of town.

If I really want to splurge, I can go to a really nice restaurant designed for foreigners.  I can have an entire delicious pizza, an ice cream sundae, and a coke.  My bill?  18,000AR = $9

I find this all a bit surprising and remarkable.  It isn’t that these items and services are much worse than in the USA (my haircut was great).  It is simply that, if they charged any more, no one would be able to buy anything.  No one here can afford the $2 cup of coffee (except us vezahas) and certainly not a $10 or $20 haircut.  Most people here don’t even make $2 a day.  No one has a need for a 20,000AR or 50,000AR bill (most people don’t go around with the 10,000AR ($5) bills, and people often have trouble making change for me.)

My point…I’m not sure I have an exact point.  Dealing with money is just an ever-present part of living in Madagascar and it makes it painfully obvious that the people are poor.


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