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July 9, 2008 Family Finances

I’ve run into some technical difficulties with cashing my mandates, the postal money orders Peace Corps uses to pay me, reimburse me, supply my settling-in-allowance (a BIG chunk of change to be used to stock my apartment – it’s more than the sum total of my Peace Corps living allowance to date), etc.

Last week, I told my host family about my challenges, and my host mother came up with a creative solution: I could get the money I need for now from my host father, and then repay him when my mandate finally gets paid. I’m grateful for her offer, but don’t want to take her up on it because I don’t want to mix money with family. Yes, I know that Peace Corps is paying my host family (well) for their hospitality to me, but I’m not involved with that transaction, and I don’t want to be.

Today, I was reiterating my challenges with the mandate, because I still haven’t been able to get it cashed, and Ama repeated her offer. She added something new: the reason I’d need to go to my host father is that she doesn’t have access to large amounts of money. She has a few dirhams for incidentals, but he handles all the money and does all the shopping for the family. Her only source of independent money comes from the traditional crafts she works and sells to the tourists who Aba guides around. She showed me some of her products, and they’re genuinely beautiful. She mentioned how much she got for an aHrandir she had made – they’re sort of like woolen cloaks, with embroidery that is unique to each tribe – and my jaw dropped. Then I realized that she was talking in rials, and I filed it away until I could do the math. (There are 20 rials to a dirham, and seven dirhams to a dollar, so it helps to focus, and not try to do the calculations while speaking in Tamazight.) It worked out to about US$100, which is perfectly reasonable for a handmade coat, but which is a huge amount of money in a country where you can buy a loaf of bread for 25 cents. For reference, my monthly living allowance (read: salary) for July is about US$130.

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps