The currency exchange office will tell you that the U.S. dollar is equal to about 25 meticais.
Peace Corps says this is a lie. On a recent trip to a bookstore in Maputo, I discovered exactly why. Here’s my new conversion:
1 book = 600 mts
$1 = 25 mts
600 mts / 25 = $24
$24 = book
Books, and subsequently bookstores, are extremely rare around here. I’ve only seen one in the capital. As such, we were warned that books are ridiculously expensive here. However, $24 doesn’t seem like that bad of a deal, right?
Here’s the real conversion equation, as a good friend pointed out at the bookstore:
1 book = 600 mts
PC trainee weekly stipend = 550 mts
600 mts for 1 book > 550 mts for travel, phone, internet café, food other than rice for one week
(600 mts = 1 book) = no book for Val
Most things here are technically cheaper than in the states. But, as PC was quick to point out, we can’t base anything off the states now. The stipend is just fine to live off of comfortably, but we definitely have to nix out a lot of the extraneous “luxuries” we never considered before. If you’re careful, you’re fine. But it is rough when you get hungry for something other than rice, and a large package of “biscuitos” (cream-filled cookies) costs 7 mts, and a cup of yogurt costs 25 mts. Contrast that against three text messages to the states or 25 minutes on the internet...well, you get the picture.
PC prides itself on its ability to be resourceful with what little funding it has (one official broke it down like this: the entire PC annual budget, which provides for several thousand volunteers and their countless projects across the world, is half of the annual budget of the United States’ Military Marching Band). Other volunteers also pride themselves on this fact, especially in light of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The volunteers we stayed with in Chokwe were quick to point out the air conditioned, in-city, indoor-plumbing, well-kept accommodations of those organizations here to stop world hunger or provide safe havens for orphans. Not that that’s a problem… but with PC, you live in the same conditions as your next-door neighbor. I felt more than a little proud to hear Andrea say this. I stood a little taller the next time I took my cold bucket bath.
Along with this discussion, I realized that I – yes, fresh out of college, no real salary, dwindling bank account – am wealthy. I’ve paid to live in a dorm, apartment and house – all of which had electricity and clean, running water. When I’m hungry, I eat, even if it’s only a bowl of cereal. I can go to a doctor when I’m sick, but I’m rarely sick because I’m able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I can buy clothes without holes. I own more than one pair of shoes. I am wealthy. And I’m in the minority. It’s a strange feeling.