Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sorry, Lari

Although the OSCE makes all of the logistical arrangments for the volunteers on their election observation missions, and I'm provided with funds to cover my expenses along the way, money is an issue that I have to keep in mind.

Before departing, the contractor that recruits volunteers provides each of us with funds to cover our projected expenses - including per diem for our lodging and meals, and to pay the pre-negotiated salary of our local driver and translator.

Being provided with the funding, rather than simply having the OSCE pay for everything directly, is great - because interacting financially within a foreign economy is a very enlightening experience.

Of course, this means having to carry a large amount of cash, since many of the places I've volunteered as an election observer are remote areas where ATMs are either unreliable or hard-to-find, and many of the places I end up don't take credit cards.

Fortunately, safety has never been an issue on any of my missions - I've felt more safe walking around with cash in places like Shkoder, Albania and Gyumry, Armenia than I do in most major cities here in the United States.

That's not to say there aren't complications...

For one thing, I need to change some of my Dollars to Euros when I change planes in Europe, since that's the currency our driver and translator will be paid in.

And once I arrive in-county, I need to change even more money into the local money - which is often an obscure currency that isn't exchanged anywhere except within that country.

Have you ever come back from a trip across the border to Canada or Mexico and tried to use or exchange your left-over Loonies or Pesos at a local bank?

Imagine trying to redeem Albanian Lek or Armenian Dram!

Which brings me to the currious situation I found myself in during my trip to Azerbaijan...

While getting dressed on Election Day, I put my had into my pocket and noticed a large bundle of cash...

It was a wad of Lari, the currency of the Republic of Georgia - it turns out that I hadn't worn (or, apparently, washed) those pants since my mission to Georgia last May, and had forgotten to remove some left-over money from that trip.

How much money can an absent-minded election observer forget in their pocket?

Almost 300 Lari - equal to about $200.

Unfortunately, the Georgian Lari (usually abbreviated GEL) isn't an internationally exchanged currency - even though I was in neighboring Azerbaijan, and very close to the Georgian border, the local bank wouldn't change my GEL into local currency, or anything else...

The airport when I left? No luck.

Changing planes in Vienna, where the currency exchange booths would swap Euros, Dollars, Yen, Rubbles, and a dozen other kinds of money?

Sorry, Lari...

So, if any of you is planning on a trip to Tbilisi anytime soon, let me know!

No comments: