30 cedi (about $30): The amount liberated from my hands by the black market money changer in Accra.
After a surprisingly easy negotiation over the rate (25 cedi to 10,000 CFA- better than the international bank rate!), it was an altogether friendly experience. I counted the money, making him add bills- there were only 7 cedi missing at that point. Then he grabbed it out of my hands to be recounted, as new boys showed up to help with the transaction. I then had to count the cash again, at which point he grabbed it out of my hands, passed it to another boy, who put a rubber band around the cash and gave it back to me. I finally got a hold of the money, put the thrice counted amount in my bag, shook his hand, and walked with purpose down the alley as fast as I could into the crowded market. It took me a couple hours to recount the money before I figured out that 30 cedi was missing. What a rookie.
How did I end up in this situation? On a weekend trip to Ghana (I am based in neighboring Togo) I hitched the 4 hour bush taxi to Accra. Intimidated by the mass of money changers at the border, and convinced that I didn’t want to pay to exchange money twice (Dollars to CFA to Cedi), I took just enough cash to get to Accra, and a few extra bucks for a cab to town from the bus depot. Once I arrived, I walked to four different banks and then took a taxi to three more only to discover that there are literally NO banks in the country that accept my ATM card. Note to travelers: Ghana only has the Visa network, no mastercard to be found anywhere. I hear the same goes with Mali. Walking up from the market place, with 2 cedi in my pocket, not enough to pay for a cab ride back to the bus depot, this charming young man offers me a good rate on money changing.
Lesson #1: Hustlers are really friendly and nice!
Lesson #2: Change money at the border where there are dozens of money changers- as it turns out competition, and a small marketplace do result in better rates. Although they give you a rate of 23.5 to 1000 CFA, they don’t steal an extra 30 cedi in the transaction. Also, they offer a better rate than my bank, given all the fees.
The duh lesson: When the negotiation is too easy, you’re getting ripped off- a variation on when it sounds too good to be true…