Saturday, March 21, 2015

ATK and the Case of the Forty-seven Cents

I realize this title makes it sound like something mysterious is afoot in Kyrgyzstan, but I have to admit it's just a shout out to my childhood hero, Encyclopedia Brown.

I mean, I do have an amusing tale to tell about 47 cents, but there is no case to be cracked or riddle to be solved. But admit it, "The Case of the Forty-seven Cents" totally sounds like it could be an Encyclopedia Brown mystery.

Anyways, the other day, a Kyrgyz co-worker came to me and asked a favor.

Her: Ashley, can I ask a favor?

Me: Sure, Altynai, what is it?

Her: Do you have 47 cents I could borrow?

Me: What?

Her: Do you have 47 cents I could borrow? I'll pay you back, of course.

Me: Wha-? Like 47 American cents? Or 47 som*?

Her: American money. I can pay you back.

Me: I'm not worried about that. You mean, you want like pennies and quarters and stuff?

Her: Yes. Do you have any?

Me: Uh, yeah, I mean not here. But I definitely have 47 cents at home. Uh, can I ask why you need 47 cents?

Her: The cashier gave me my advance in dollars for my training in India and I need to return some of the money, but I need to pay even the cents, but you know, it's very hard to get American coins here. I owe 47 cents. So I need to borrow it, because they won't let me pay it in som.

Me: Wow. Really?

Her: Yeah. If you bring it tomorrow, I can pay you back in som.

Me: I'll bring it tomorrow. But you don't need to pay me back.

Her: Thank you so much!

So "tomorrow" rolls around and she comes to my cubicle. "Did you bring the 47 cents?" No I did not. I had forgotten. Why? My guess is because it's 47 freaking cents. She seemed a little disappointed, because I think she wanted to finish with the vouchering and everything, and I don't really blame her. It's a pain to have that hanging over your head.

Anyways, she was disappointed and I felt bad, because I promised I'd bring her the money.

Me: You know what? I have a ton of coins at the bottom of my purse. Let me look and see if I have any American money. Maybe I have it in here after all.

So I scrounge around in my purse, and, in all honesty, I'm not expecting to find American coins, but you never know. So I start pulling out handfuls of coins. Most were som, followed by a surprising number of bolivianos. That started some chit chat.

Me: Oh! Five bolivianos! Don't suppose this will help?

Her: What's that?

Me: Bolivianos. The money they use in Bolivia. Oh. Here's three more.

Her: You've been to Bolivia?

Just then I found a penny. And a dime.

Me: Here's 11 cents. Oh and here's a quarter. So that's 36 cents....(digging some more) Ah! And another quarter! 61 cents! Well what'dya know? Here ya go! (hands over 50 cents.)

Her: Thank you! I can pay you back.

Me: Oh no. In fact, keep the change.

So she left to pay her 47 cents debt and I chuckled to myself because it was such a hullabaloo about such a trivial amount of money. And for those of you out there worried about government waste, don't you worry, the U.S. government will get all the pennies owed to it from advances for business travel.

Because 47 cents is kind of a ridiculous amount of money, I thought, Let me go look at what 47 cents is in som. (Not sure why I didn't just do the math in my head. If I had given it even the slightest thought, I would have figured it out in, like, a second. I think it's because 47 cents is so trivial I figured it would be some trivial amount in som as well.) So I go to good ole and see that 47 cents is 30 som!

Well, now, 30 som... I can do a lot with 30 som. I can buy some many things with 30 som. What things? Well, a bottle of water, or soda, a giant pig in a blanket at the cafeteria, a cherry pastry, two potato rolls(!), a candy bar, a samsa.... so many things.

I thought to myself, Thirty som? Not sure I would have turned that down if it was offered.

I've marveled at the difference for a day. It's really funny when you think about it. Forty-seven cents is basically useless in America and so I found the whole "47 cent debt" pretty silly. But 30 som? That's a useful amount of money here. And it sounds like so much more than 47 cents. But it's not.

I'm still kinda amazed.

*Som is the Kyrgyzstani currency (in case you haven't figured that out by now.)

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