Day 3 20 Aug 2009 Day 3

The low point of this day was trying to exchange Ced’s for CFAs.(Ceefaas) We were both running low on CFAs and had some Cedis to change. Yesterday we saw many Bureau de changer so we assumed we would have no problem.

Two people could not have been more wrong.

Our day started out very nicely in a patisserie shop called La Bonbonnerie. We took pictures of each other eating our croissant – Lenore and pain au chocolate – me. We had prefect omelets with cheese and other goodies. Cafe au lait for Lenore and the and orange juice por moi.

Then we decided it was time to look for an exchange bureau. About 3 blocks from the patisserie we found one. In we went with our naiveté and our Cedis.  They do not change Cedis. Huh isn’t Ghana the country right next door? Well we better try another place. So off we go to a main road, Kwame Nkrumah. We try another exchange bureau. Same story. I wonder if my American ATM card will work with at an ATM with a Visa logo. We see a bank and I tell Lenore maybe I can get enough for both of us and she can give me her Cedis. But she is noncommittal. I go the the booth. First I hope my ATM won’t be eaten in this foreign country. I did use it in Ghana and Liz has assured me that my bank now knows I am traveling in West Africa. Yet, I was still a little worried about my prospects here. So I put my card in, hold my breath, cross my fingers and voila! the machine asks for my password. I have access. I remove the money and offer to get some for Lenore. But she wants to try a bank or two, if not have her husband, Bernard, send money by Western Union. I am sure she is concerned about taking my American money.

So we head into this bank to see if they will exchange Cedis. No only American dollars or
Euros. Ahh! As we leave Lenore says “Have you ever heard of a country not exchanging the currency of it’s neighbor?” “No” I vent. We walk for a long time then find another bank. The teller at one window sends Lenore to the Western Union window inside the bank. She waits for ever /while the girl in front chats up the Western Union clerk. I get hopeful. Certainly the teller would not send Lenore to this window if she couldn’t exchange her money. I am thinking I will exchange as well. But I sit and wait to see what happens with Lenore. Yes you know it after waiting 10 or more minutes she is told that they will only exchange American dollars and Euros. The clerk suggested the airport. I don’t want to go to the airport. I lived north of Boston for years. The trip to Logan is a nightmare. Traffic, finding your way and who knows where the exchange bureau would be in the airport. Lenore also must have bad memories of trips to airports around DC because she wants to try a hotel.

Lenore remembered that her Barclays card had a Visa logo. We went back to the bank where I got my money and she tried hers. No luck. There is a note on the card “only good in Ghana”.  Geesh.

But we must have sustenance first. We have been looking at the city and window shopping and people watching as we have traversed the city looking for a place to get CFAs for our Cedis. I have bought my 3 backpack in as many months. The zippers on the first two have broken traveling to and from training. So we see a sidewalk cafe call Restaurant Bar Le Bureau. We decide to have lunch there.

The day brightened with food and the excellent attention from the waiters. We had a nice conversation with them. After three days we are guessing better what people are saying. Lenore lived in France for some months when she was young and I studies it in High School. What we learned was coming slowly to the surface of our old brains.

The owner of the restaurant came by to talk to us. He spoke as much English as we spoke French and we got along just fine. We think he was French. Lenore speculated why he would come from France to start restaurant in Ouagadougou. After experiencing Ghana I can understand the lure of West Africa.

We sat We talked. We watched people on the street. We also ignored street vendors plying their wares.

When the waiters brought our addition (bill)  Lenore asked them if they knew where we could change Cedis for CFAs. One took our money for the bill and another hurried off. They both returned and said that the bank down the street will not and the teller had suggested the airport. One offered to take us to the airport on his moto. We had to refuse because of Peace Corps regulations. Then the offered to take our money. Even I am not that naive. We politely declined and they did not urge us to do it.

We set off again. This time in search of a hotel. We found it a few blocks away. The Hotel Palm Beach.  We ask at the reception desk if they knew where to exchange Cedis for CFAs, hoping against hope they would say HERE! But no. It was the airport again. They offered their van driver for a small fee. We gratefully accepted.

This man was so helpful. We assumed he would take us to the airport and leave us on our own. But no. He took us to two private individuals who would exchange but the rate was ridiculously low. Then he lead us into the airport to the exchange bureau there. Finally he drove us back to the hotel. But he wasn’t done he also took us to two exchange bureaus near the hotel. We gave him double what he asked and merci boucouped him many times.  By the way the ride to the airport was not bad at all.  Short distance from the center of town and not much traffic.

We decide it’s time to go home. We catch a taxi. In the taxi Lenore decides it’s time to call Bernard. I could here Lenore’s part of the conversation and can imagine Bernard’s response. This conversation is a compilation of what I heard and what I imagined.

Lenore:    Hi. How are you?
Bernard:    Fine. And how are you? Everything OK?
Lenore:     Not so good. I can’t exchange Cedis for CFAs. The money here in Burkina.
Bernard:    What?
Lenore:    I can’t exchange my cedis.
Bernard:    Did you try a bank?
Lenore:    Yes
Bernard    Did you try an exchange bureau?
Lenore:    Yes We even tried a hotel and the airport. Vicky got money from her American         ATM but my Ghana Barclays card only works in Ghana.
Bernard:    Where did you exchange your other Cedis?
Lenore:    At a ForEx in Bolga, Ghana and at the border.
Bernard:    You really can’t exchange Ghana money for Burkina Faso money?
Lenore:    What kind of country won’t exchange it’s neighbors currency? Maybe the Cedi si         weak? I don’t know. They just won’t.

Bernard was finally convinced. They arranged to have money sent to a Western Union in Boboduilasso because that is where we would be tomorrow.

What a strange country. Maybe it’s a French British thing?



1 Comment

  1. Kat Ryan said,

    September 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Way back when when I was in Ghana, it was exactly the same. Cedis were a soft currency not exchangeable or useful over any border. It was Peace Corps who had told us this during training. They decided to pay us some traveling money so they reduced our living allowance by 20 cedis and paid us that money in dollars instead. I remember picking up 7 months worth on my first trip back to Accra. We also received American dollars as vacation money: 6 dollars per vacation day for the two we were allowed each month. I felt rich that first trip to Accra.

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