It takes awhile for a newcomer to figure out the money in Zambia. For one thing, no coins are used, only paper money. Coins once were part of the currency, but inflation has caused their demise. Production of coins stopped when their value became less than the cost of the metal used to produce them. The smallest bill in circulation is now worth only the equivalent of a U. S. penny, so there is no need for anything smaller. Old coins, called ngwee, are sold to tourists as curiosities.
The unit of money in Zambia was the pound under colonial rule when Zambia was Northern Rhodesia. Now it is called the Kwacha. The largest note is 50,000 Kwachas (roughly equivalent to $10) and the smallest is 50 Kwachas (one cent). There are eight colorful bills, each with a different tree on the front and a different animal on the back--50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100 and 50 Kwachas. The ATM gives 50,000 and 20,000 bills. A loaf of bread will cost between 4,900 and 5,500 Kwachas, about a dollar. Bus fare from MEF to Kitwe is 2,500 Kwachas (50 cents). Shoes can cost from 20,000 to 100,000 Kwachas, or more, depending on the type. A fast food meal (hamburger and fries) would run 25,000 Kwachas.
One of the MEF program coordinators, Bruce Mubanga, told a good story about money in chapel Friday. He said the Kwachas held a meeting one day. The 50,000 note introduced himself and boasted that he often traveled with tourists and that he was well-known in ShopRite (our major supermarket.) The 20,000 note said he was found at restaurants, bars, and clothing stores and he frequently associated with taxi drivers. The 10,000 note spoke of being used to buy "talk time" for cell phones. The 5,000 note reported that he usually traveled around the stalls in the outdoor market. They all looked expectantly at the smallest bills, and the 1,000 note said he would speak for all of them--the one thousands, five hundreds, one hundreds and fifties, worth one dollar to one cent. "Well," he said, "We have never seen many of those places you have mentioned, but we are quite familiar with the church offering plate."
We collect an offering once a month in chapel to provide assistance for prisoners. This time, after Bruce told the story, the offering included many larger bills and was more than had ever been collected before. Maybe we all need the occasional reminder about our spending priorities!