This weekend I had quite an experience traveling to Lomé, the capital city of
We hadn’t changed money in
At the rate they were offering, GH¢50 would be 25,000 CFA. There were 3 of these guys, so they had 3 of us exchanging money at the same time. My guy counted out the CFA and handed it to me, and I then handed him GH¢50. Thinking myself a savvy traveler, I counted the money immediately, and lo and behold, it was short by 1,000 CFA. This is only about GH¢2, and even without out it I still would be getting a good exchange rate, but a deal is a deal. One of the other interns who was exchanging money at the same time with one of the other guys actually noticed it first, he was also short exactly 1,000 CFA. The guy exchanging my money feigned shock, and took the CFA back to count it. Counting only 24,000, he admitted it was short, assured me it was only a mistake, but that he didn’t have a 1,000 CFA bill to give me. So said he would need to make change so he could give me what he owed me. He called over his friend who brought him a 1,000 CFA bill, and the guy handed me back the CFA he had taken from me and the 1,000 CFA bill, making a total of 25,000 CFA. I was satisfied, but he insisted I roll the money in smaller bills so that it would be “safer” somehow. The idea he was trying to convey was that if you put small bills on the outside of your roll of cash, it will look like a roll of small bills rather than large ones. This is stupid, of course, because it WAS a roll of small bills, but he was VERY insistent, so I took out a couple singles I had left and wrapped them around the outside of the cash and stuck it in my pocket. I then watched as each of these guys went through the same routine 3 more times with the other interns. Each time was exactly the same: The guy would give the money short by exactly 1,000 CFA; we would notice, and the guy would take the stack back, count it in front of us, and then call to his friend to bring him a 1,000 CFA bill; the guy would take the 1,000 CFA bill, and hand back the stack of money that he had just counted with the 1,000 CFA bill; he would then insist that a smaller bill be wrapped around the outside.
We each had just gotten our money in our pockets when an argument broke out among a few of the guys who had exchanged our money. There had been MANY indicators that there was some sort of racket going on here, most noticeable was the methodical and identical way in which each of the transactions had occurred, and I was sure the argument was also staged as part of whatever the racket was, but I still could not figure out how the scheme was working. Since we had all gotten our money from the guys and the argument heated up we obviously decided to just get out of there. Again, it was the middle of the day out in public, and we were 100 yards from the border, which is teeming with police and military, so I never really feared for my safety, but knew that we were getting scammed somehow. As we left, we noticed a guy in a bright yellow shirt very conspicuously following us all the way up to the border. At this point we were surrounded by police, so again there wasn’t really a physical threat, but we knew something was going on, which made us just try to get across to the border that much faster. We already had our departure stamps, so were able to exit
We then arrived at the Togolese immigration office on the other side (and by office, I mean desk outside on the side of a building behind which sat a very rude immigration official and next to which sat a friendly Togolese police officer). The immigration officer gave us each our forms to fill out, and a couple of the other interns took out there CFA to pay the fee for the Togolese visa. Only then did they realize they were missing some of their money. The rest of us took out our CFA, and sure enough, all had 17,000 CFA-- 8,000 CFA short. This is what I figure happened:
When the exchange guy first gave me the CFAs I noticed that I was 1,000 CFA short and the guy took the pile back to recount it. He recounted it in front of me, but had his stack of money in one hand. When his friend brought over the 1,000 CFA he took the bill, added it to my pile, and then only handed me back only part of the pile. Because he had a stack of bills in his hand to begin with, I didn’t notice. I watched his hands closely the whole time, and watched him recount my money, but he must have just been good at his sleight of hand, and I didn’t see it—and I watched him do it 3 or 4 more times! He wanted me to wrap smaller bills around it so that I wouldn’t count it again right away. Once everyone had done this, they staged an argument so that we would get nervous and leave in a rush without taking our money out to count it again. The guy following us served the same purpose, and that’s why he was so obvious about following us—his presence made us nervous, so that we wouldn’t take our money out and count it until we were through the border.
Of course, once we realized what had happened, we were all obviously mad and upset that we had been conned. It wasn’t even that it was much money (only later did I realize how little it was) but it is incredibly frustrating and unsettling to be conned. After we got our visas for
In any event, the immigration officer at the border took over an hour pouring over each of our passports. As we waited, some crazy guy with a rubber band around his head and a piece of tinsel (yes, like from a Christmas tree) stuck to his face told us very loud and animated stories. When we finally crossed and got through the back up right at the border, we found ourselves walking along a palm-tree lined boulevard abutting the beach, which was actually pretty nice.
On Sunday we headed back into central
I was at first relieved to back in
I didn’t actually get back to my house until around 9:30 Sunday night, as there are always multiple police and immigration checkpoints along any road from the border. Thankfully, all the police and immigration officials were very friendly, and since we had just crossed and returned, we all had shiny new entry visa stamps. Luckily we happened to have running water when I returned, and I showered and fell asleep early. In total, the trip to