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7993: Re: gourdes and dollars (fwd)

From: Martha O'Brien <mobfa1@scotus.francis.edu>

Last summer when I was in Haiti, I had two experiences 
concerning gourdes and dollars which might be of interest to 
someone.  First, I had to go to a quite upscale sort of building 
supplies store to buy some lumber which an American friend of 
mine needed for a project and for which he had sent what he 
believed to be the correct amount of money.  A sign in the store 
stated clearly, "all prices are in gourdes."  (Now, my kreyol is bad, 
but not so bad that I mis-read what that sign said.)  When the price 
was given, presumably in gourdes, it was well within the amount of 
money which I had with me.  A Haitian friend whom I trust implicitly 
and who was there to help me make the transaction, kept counting 
the wad of bills and shaking her head and counting again...and so 
on.  Finally she turned to me and said that there was not enough 
money there.  When I said something to the effect that the stated 
amount in gourdes was certainly not more than the amount which 
we had, she and the clerk just laughed at me (gently, kindly, but 
laughed nonetheless), explaining that what the sign really meant 
was that all prices were in Haitian currency rather than in US 
dollars, but that it meant Haitian dollars.  Confusing, indeed.  And, 
lest you jump to the conclusion that they cheated me, I do not for a 
minute think that that was the case.  As I said, I do trust this 
person implicitly.

The next adventure came after I got home.  I had contracted 
typhoid fever while in Haiti and had been treated by a very 
competent Haitian physician, whom I paid by check in US dollars.  
All of my pharmacy bills, however, were written in Haitian dollars 
and paid for in local currency. Since I had travel insurance which 
would cover my medical expenses, I submitted the bills to the 
insurance company with a complete explanation of how the 
dollar/gourde relationship works, what the going rate was at the 
time I was there, etc.  The answer I got back from the insurance 
company was that they could find no corroboration anywhere for 
the existence of the Haitian dollar as a fictive currency and that, 
therefore, they had to assume that the amounts I presented were 
gourdes.  Since I had paid the largest part of my expenses (the 
doctor's fees) in US dollars and since the pharmacy bill was 
relatively small, I did not pursue the argument any further.  
However, I did make note of the fact that it would be wise in the 
future to be sure that all bills being presented for reimbursement be 
written in gourdes.