Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset and Why Math is Important

This is the view from the Terminal 2 at the airport in Paris. Because I had a six hour layover between flights this was my second sunset of the trip. The flight from Paris to Johannesburg, South Africa was about ten hours and it was all in the dark which made it easier to rest. I've learned some tricks that help me when flying. I always get an aisle seat, I drink lots of water, I don't eat chocolate, or drink coffee or caffeinated drinks. I also get up and walk and stretch every couple of hours. It works for me.

Upon arrival at my final destination in Lusaka I was intrigued by the sign in the photo. It reads "Let's connect...Africa to the World.....and the world to Africa." This seemed serendipitously appropriate considering the "Classroom Connections" letters that awaited me at the baggage collection belt.

Just after passing through customs I was greeted by a Zambian driver holding up a sign with my name on it. I was relieved that he was there and also relieved to find a luggage cart handy. In most of the larger international airports I visit these carts are free. In New York airports you have to pay which must be frustrating for tired travelers who don't have US dollars yet or who can't afford the $3 or whatever it is. On my back is my guitar with my jacket draped over it. It was 27 degrees celsius outdoors and somewhat hotter on the concrete walkway. (To calculate fahrenheit multiply 27 x 9/5 and add 32....answer at the bottom of blog post)

After checking in at the hotel I set out for the supermarket, a short walk away. When I got there I was told they did not accept US dollars, contradicting something I had read in a magazine article about tourists in Zambia. I was told I had to get "Kwacha," the local currency. I had never heard of Kwacha but I do know from past experiences that this is part of traveling and something you can figure out. It now strikes me as funny that Kwacha is such a close rhyme for "Gotcha." Other countries money is usually colorful and often comes in various sizes. The exchange rate is something you have to learn how to convert to understand what you are paying for things. It's usually not too difficult. For example, right now 1 Euro is worth about $1.65 -- not too hard to understand. 10 Euro equals $16.50 US.
When I tried to exchange $20 US I was told I had to change at least $50. I had no choice and would be here for a week and certainly will need more than $50 for food etc. To my surprise my $50 US got me 230,000 Kwacha. I was rich!! Or was I? It took me several minutes of walking and talking to myself to figure out what $1 US was worth but I needed to do it before I started buying food. Sometimes certain foods that are relatively inexpensive in the US cost much more elsewhere. Can you figure out how many kwacha one dollar is worth? I'll give the answer at the bottom of the last paragraph.
If you look at the bills in the picture you'll see the one on top with the eagle on it is worth 20,000 Kwacha, and the bottom one is a 50,000 Kwacha note. To put it in some perspective I bought a medium size box of Cheerios for K 28,450 which seemed high to me. I paid K 1,550 for a half liter bottle of spring water and that seemed like a good price, if my conversions were close. I was estimating that $1 was worth between K 4,000 to 5,000. By the way I guess you figured out that the "K" before the amount means Kwacha. Another way of assessing value is to compare costs of things. I could have purchased approximately 18 bottles of water for the cost of the cheerios. I think this sort of math is fun. Not everyone agrees on this but it is important to know how to estimate, add, subtract, multiply and divide because there are times when there aren't any calculators present. My final bill was K 120,625. Our first house cost many fewer dollars than that. Oh yeah, the 100g Cadbury milk chocolate bar I picked up and put back, and then picked up again at the last second cost K 7,650 --- and the first three rows were delicious! Time to go.

The answers to the questions above are
27 Celsius = 91 Fahrenheit
$1 US equals K 4,600.
Anyway that's todays math lesson from Lusaka, Zambia. You probably should check my answers. I might be guessing.

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