My new landlord, George, wants me to pay a year’s rent in advance. This is apparently common here, especially for pricier places. I managed to persuade him to let me pay half now and the second instalment in two months’ time. But he also wants me to pay in cash, and in US dollars – understandably, since the Tanzanian currency is undergoing rapid inflation.
So I’m spending my days withdrawing shillings from the bank machine, in massive wads of notes, because the highest denomination is a 10,000 (about 5 Euro) and then changing it to USD and then walking home trying to look casual and not like I’m carrying loads of cash, and then hiding the notes between some sanitary towels in my bathroom so that if someone does break in, they’ll hopefully miss not look there. And I’m doing this every day for 2 weeks because the maximum you can withdraw on one day is 1,000,000 Tsh.
But though cash machines may be out of order, and when they’re working, may give you the wrong number of notes, Tanzania – like the rest of Africa – is remarkably ahead in other banking forms. The best-known is using mobile phones to transfer money: in Kenya and Tanzania subsidiaries of Vodafone (including M-Pesa, launched here only in 2008), now process more international wire transfers than Western Union.
Unfortunately George still wants old-fashioned cash in the hand.