Mr. Moneybags

It’s 4am-ish and we’ve been up sharpening our pencils, reviewing the minutia of the upcoming day. When you run a project alone, you do everything; attendance, schlepping computers, chargers, cable (my god, the cables), sharpening pencils, charging computers, arranging to pay for tea and snacks, transporting teachers, getting money, which requires multiple trips to the ATM because of the daily allowed limit on withdrawals. No small feat.

 Here in Rwanda, everyone deals in cash, lots of cash and only in small denominations. Rwandan money seems to come in the usual coins, then bills of 500,1000 and 5000 notes and higher. We have 54 participants and 11 instructors. The participants get 1000RWF per day times 5 days (we pay them weekly) and the instructors get 3000 per day times 5 days. The math alone…

You get the picture. We carry, Don carries, the bag of cash on Fridays. He’s the bagman.

 The bills are large and made of a soft paper/fabric. When new, they are pretty, pastel colored, depicting pictures of animals, and villages. None have people’s faces on them. I appreciate that.  Most African money has pictures of the current tyrant. Not in Rwanda. 

 When the bills are used, and most of the lower denominations are really, really used, they are filthy, with that moist feeling of a used kleenex you find in a pocket.  Weekly, we count out hundreds of 1000 Rwanda franc notes. Our fingers turn the color of the Rwandan soil. Invariably, my face begins to itch, especially my eyes, and I fly off to the bathroom and watch the dirt come off my hands, then realize that the water is full of parasites. I compulsively whip out the hand sanitizer. We are awash in hand sanitizer. And bleach. I am bleached and cleaner here than at home. One case of raging conjunctivitis inspires a passion for bleach and hand sanitizer.

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