by Steve Okonek
The Kwacha is Malawi’s unit of currency, and befitting a country with an ‘er, not-so-great economy, boy does it fluctuate! Omer expertly plays the role of lender of first resort with Bayana’s help. Every few days they drive into towns to exchange money, and return reporting that day’s rate. The basic bill we all center on is the 1,000Kwatcha note, and its value sways around 1.30US$. All of the participants take their US dollars and exchange them for Kwatcha’s from Omer prior to dealing with the ever-present African keepsake hucksters. Thankfully, Bayana and Shingi offer their expert advice on what is a reasonable price for an item, and one NEVER pays list price. Sometimes though even the list price is so ridiculous that why bother? Example: Our camel rides on the beach at Lake Malawi cost 1000 Kwatcha per person — or $!.30. Where you gonna find that in the U.S? At church services the collection plate is so piled full of currency, but the value in our money probably less than $50. But generosity comes from all denominations, not only religions, but currencies.
Smaller denomination notes are also plentiful, and we typically get them as change in our various transactions for keepsakes. Coins allegedly also exist, but I have not seen any; probably so close to being worthless that wishing wells would spit them out!