I haven’t had any decent amount of real crisp U.S. dollars in some time. Sure, I’ve had a stash that I had to tap into on a few occasions to pay for visas by countries who wouldn’t even accept their own currency for payment. Imagine that.
But I’ve learned that in Sudan and Khartoum international VISA/MasterCards (Cirrus/Plus etc) aren’t accepted and won’t work in ATM machines there. Even worse, the Sudanese will not accept Ethiopian Birr in exchange as there is only a limited FOREX BUREAU in Khartoum. Even so, Sudan isn’t even accepting US dollars, though I’m told you can change good ole American greenbacks through the black market on the street. But that’s a problem as I don’t have much more than $50 US dollars.
So before leaving Addis I tried to solve this problem and prepare for my Sudanese adventure. To do so means having enough cash to pay for the ferry ride to Aswan, fuel (benzine as it’s referred to in these parts) and enough to pay for food and accommodation.
There are a handful of international ATMs in Ethiopia. All of them are in Addis. There’s one at the Sheraton Hotel, another at the Hilton and two or three downtown. That’s it. And they all accept different networks, if they accept any. Coming into Ethiopia I made sure to have plenty of Kenyan schillings which I easily converted to Ethiopian Birr at the border. Ethiopia is an inexpensive country to travel, so I’ve been doing well. Since I needed to figure a way to get Sudanese pounds, on the day before I left for Bahir Dar I made a trek to the tony Sheraton and withdrew about $400 worth of Birr with what I thought was an excellent plan:
Send a Western Union from Ethiopia using BIRR to my own attention in Khartoum, Sudan. Then in Khartoum I would simply pick up at a Western Union Location in Khartoum and I’d have Sudanese Pounds (they no longer deal in Dinar). I thought I was brilliant coming up with this plan. So I pulled the money out of the ATM and headed to Western Union, which also has an office at the bank in the Sheraton Hotel.
So I walk up to the window with my Western Union form completed and a wad of Ethiopian Birr and hand it to the man. “Wait, he says,” I’m wondering what’s wrong. “You cannot send money using Western Union. You can only receive funds” What? This is crazy. There’s no explanation. It’s just the way it is.
FUCK!!! I’m only going to be a week or so in Ethiopia and I certainly don’t need $400 worth of Ethiopian Birr, what was I going to do with this cash???
Ahhh. Not a problem. I’ll just convert it into US dollars at the bank here at the Sheraton. Then I could use the black market in Sudan to convert it into Sudanese Pounds. Simple enough.
A brilliant idea you’d think. Right? WRONG.
In Ethiopia Banks will not exchange local currency into foreign currency unless you have an outgoing “international” airline ticket valid one week or less from the date you wish to exchange funds. Otherwise you cannot exchange Birr for any foreign currency (read dollars) — though you can petition the national bank for an exception, but this takes days or weeks. So I’m still stuck with all this Birr and thinking I need to find a way to spend this money before leaving the country. Okay. So maybe there’s some wine to buy.. uh oh… they inspect luggage at Sudan border as alcohol is illegal in Sudan. Shit. Sorry. No room for souvenirs. Too much Birr makes Allan an unhappy guy. So I accost a guy looking to exchange some Euros at the bank in the Sheraton. He roasts me on the exchange but now I’ve got 100 euros less of Birr. That still means about $250 worth of Birr. What to do? And I haven’t solved the problem of getting enough money to do what I need to in Sudan. The 100 euros will be easy to exchange. But I’m still short: I need to have local Sudan Pounds in Sudan. I must buy a ferry ticket, petrol, hotel rooms, food and everything but beer, booze or wine.
And I have no other currency and there’s no ATMs and banks don’t accept ATM/VISA credit cards.
Even though US dollars aren’t possible to exchange in Sudan and there’s a US-imposed embargo on US products coming into Sudan due to human rights violations in Darfur, it’s still possible to send money originating in the USA to Sudan via Western Union. So I think fast and contact my brother back in the states. He’s going to visit the Western Union and send me a few hundred dollars which I will receive in Sudanese Pounds in Khartoum. That way I’ll have the local currency and this problem is solved.
But enough dwelling on Sudan. There’s still so much more in Ethiopia to experience. Come on. Let’s go!