So far the most difficult adjustment to my new life in Guinea has been learning to deal with the money. In the States I used my credit card for everything. It was easy and convenient and earned me frequent flyer miles. It also makes it really easy to track my spending. I remember in high school being embarrassed to put something $5 or less on a card, but I got over that a long time ago. Cash was just more trouble than it was worth.
In Guinea cash is the only game in town. There are a few places in Conakry where you can use a card, but doing so effectively gives your waiter or hotel desk clerk carte blanche to use your card too. Checks are worthless, except at banks. I get paid via direct deposit and then write checks to cash at the embassy bank. On Friday I forgot to do a bank run so I was broke all weekend. Oops.
So you have to have cash, and a lot of it. The Guinean franc is currently running at about 6,700 to the dollar at the official exchange rate (the black market rate is higher). While Guinea is a very poor country, doing things that expats do – eating out, shopping at grocery stores, buying gas – is not cheap. I have concluded that normal running-around money is probably about a half million francs, more if planning a grocery run.
Guinea’s largest bill is the 10,000-franc note, which means that the aforementioned normal running-around money is at minimum 50 pieces of paper. I’m glad I never got around to buying a new wallet before I left DC because it would have been a total waste. I’m considering getting a pencil case or something to carry my bricks of bills around in. A larger denomination note might help with the cartage, but if ever a country needed mobile banking, it’s Guinea.