Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Financial Ponderings

This is a picture of a Tanzanian bill. They’re called shillings, or shilingi in Kiswahili. The note I have posted is the biggest note: 10,000 tzsh. But don’t get too excited, the value of this note is somewhere between 6 and 7 USD. The conversion rate from TZ shillings to American dollars is 1,600:1. Usually, it is about 1,500 to 1, but the shilling is particularly weak right now. Now that you know the conversion rate, I am going to share a few prices of items and services that we bought locally.

Dala dala ride (bus ride)
            From town to home; 10 min – 300 tz shillings
            From town to neighboring town (Boma); 25 min – 1000 shillings
Petrol – 2,200 per litre (litre = ¼ gallon, so 8,800 per gallon)
Spaghetti – 1,400 shillings
Loaf of bread – 1,400 shillings
½ gallon juice – 3,600 shillings
½ gallon milk – 3,000 shillings
Eating out for 5 at average local restaurant – 35,000 shillings
20 slices of sliced cheese – 14,000 shillings
frozen chicken (whole) – 17,000 shillings

As you may see, some things, like public transit, bread, and eating out are far cheaper. However, other things, like cheese, chicken, and petrol are shockingly expensive. In fact they are far more expensive than they are in America. Still, the income for the average Tanzania is far lower than that of the average American. This means that they, and we when I am there, learn how to do without. For example, I had cheese maybe two times during my three months in Tanzania, whereas I have already eaten it with three meals since returning home last Friday. Chicken is a luxury, so when we ate it, it usually was not from the store, rather from a chicken that we would slaughter from the coup in the yard. Petrol is the most outrageously priced of all (between $5-6 per gallon) so we walked and took the dala dala.
It is often assumed that living in a third world country is far cheaper than living in the first world, but that is only when the proper lifestyle adjustments are made. Tanzania doesn’t have the resources or relationships to obtain petrol that America has, therefore the price is higher.
This concept of learning how to do without is something that many Americans may benefit from practicing. With the encroaching recession, there has been an incredible amount of panic in American business and social communities. Instead of panicking – adjust. I am quite sure that the majority of Americans collect commodities they do not need: extra clothes, non-crucial electronics, toys. All the while, financial responsibilities such as credit card payments and electric bills fall through the cracks. My advice is to learn from the third world countries and practice stricter prioritization until you once again reach a level of comfortable panic-free living.

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