Monday, June 21, 2010

A Change Is Gonna Come

I think Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad is in heaven. No more do his pockets sag with ponderous coins. No more are rusty heaps of useless Turkish kuruş, Moroccan dirhams, Euro-cents and pennies gathering sticky tacky dust on his night-table for me to clean. Yes, he's in heaven because Iraq is coin-free.

Personally, I miss the unadulterated joy of finding spare change hidden deep within the inner sanctum of the sofa cushions, but that's just me ... and I do understand that it's not always all about me.

But I digress.

But at one time pennies did rain down from heaven here. Until recently, the Iraqi dinar was subdivided into coins - known as fils - but shortly after the deposition of Saddam Hussein passing of The Former Regime, coins were made obsolete. Now the only thing that falls from the skies is mud.

In fact, during the 2nd Gulf War, Kurdish exiles had Great Expectations that the U.S. would liberate Kurdistan, making it an independent state.
In anticipation of this historic moment in Kurdish history, they had coins struck - complete with an ascendant Kurdish sun and the country's name misspelled in Arabic. No matter - the U.S. didn't make provisions for a free Kurdistan anyway, so the coins have become collectors' items, and Mr. This Cat's night-table remains mercifully coin free.

In truth, Iraq has two currencies: the dinar and the U.S. dollar. Dollars are happily accepted pretty much everywhere,
and the larger the denomination the better. Case in point: twenty dollar bills are frowned upon while one hundreds seem to be the bill of favour. No change in the till? - no problem, a boy will be sent to a nearby shop to make change. A typical visit to the corner market for us involves a lengthy shopping list of juice, halloumi cheese, and pistachio nuts, all paid with a $100 bill. Typically, the change is in dinars, so this particular purchase would see us receiving 110,000 IQD in change - making us feel that somehow, we're walking out of the door wealthier than when we walked in.

The problem lies in the fact that prices don't always reflect a bill-based system. It's common for the total at the grocery store to be uneven, but without coins, what's a shopkeeper to do? The Turks have a similar problem (in spite of the fact that their currency is bloated with too much coinage): rather than deal with coins of the most minuscule denomination (the fact that it is legal tender, and your just and due change notwithstanding), change to customers is rounded up - by which I mean rounded down
- making us feel that somehow, we're walking out of the door a tad poorer than when we walked in.

Here in Kurdistan, they have a far more ingenious method: ch
ange in kind. So when we're owed anything less than 250 dinars (the smallest bill = @ 20 cents), we're handed change in any of these forms:

* a pack of gum

* chocolates
* Eti Popkeks- the Turkish answer to the Hostess DingDong (or for my Canadian reader[s], the Vachon cake) with, if possible, even more fat, calories, chemicals and preservatives
* crackers
* mints
... and, as of yesterday, a
cigarette lighter (see above). Shame we don't smoke.

And I foresee more Popkeks and lighters coming our way. Change is in the air. Recently, Our Place of Gainful Employment stopped accepting 250, 500, and 1000 dinar bills. In truth
, these bills seem to be inordinately worn ripped and/or filthy, but more importantly, moneychangers here are becoming reluctant to accept them, as making change is irksome. Apparently, unlike our shopkeepers here, these "Independent Bankers" don't keep big bowls of candies by the cash register to make change.

Perhaps they should.


Joanna D'Angelo said...

terrific post! what a journey you're on! Hilarious that there is no longer such thing as change - but that you get lighters and the equivalent of "vachon" cakes instead. Oh, my goodness the mention of Vachon cakes brings back memories. Stay safe! ;)

Anonymous said...

Everybody the world over plays with change (coins) in their pockets. Won't you miss that? What will you now put in your piggy bank?