Jack Serle

Joining the millionaire’s club

In Kurdistan on November 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Last week I became a millionaire. Not undeserved I think you will agree, excellence deserves reward.

It was a happy moment when my wealth was passed to me by my employer’s finance director. It was a big wedge of Iraqi dinars and, having checked with the current exchange rates and prices, ID1m is enough to buy half a piece of tuna nigri in London.

The moneys were expenses, forked over as repayment for my flight out here. While I was expecting to be paid in cash for my services the stack of bills exemplifies a problem I had not considered before travelling out here. The lack of electronic money in this country is perplexing. There are about half a dozen cash machines in Erbil but rarely do they seem to be working. Certainly not for my shards of plastic.

You can stalk down the streets and see great stacks of bills on traders tables and stalls. Dollars and dinars in mounds, rolls, wedges and stacks. Walk up to pay in a shop and the man in the queue in front of you will be brandishing a considerable wedge. Old fashioned and unusual for my western sensibilities, certainly. Inconvenient to be sure.

It is not a theft or trust issue. The willingness for traders and locals to brandish their dosh underlines this. As it is normal, I do not fear being mugged for the sake of my overabundance of cash.

It is the astonishing convenience that makes the old debit and credit system nifty. The convenience that comes from being able to pop to the shops without jangling change spoiling the fit of your trousers.

Without electronic transfers the finance director of my news agency has to wander to a bank with a suitcase and wander back weighed down with paper. I have to prop my mattress up with great squeagles of funny money.

If ever something of greater value than a kebab needs to be bought you have to remember to fill your pillowcase with dosh and take it with you wherever you go. You have to physically muster ready capital, rather than relying on the ease of computer driven transfers. That I had to adjust to this new way of spending is testament to my over-reliance on chip and pin – one wonders what would happen where London left bereft of all its ATMs.

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