What I Learned About Money in Africa

What I Learned About Money in Africa

In our western society, money represents a significant part of life. We are constantly busy making it, spending it or saving it.

As a money coach who enjoys international travels, I’m always curious to see how money is perceived and managed in other cultures.

This past summer, I had the chance to travel to Eastern Africa. One of the most memorable experiences of my trip was visiting a traditional Maasai village and other local communities where over 120 different tribes live.

At the end of my trip, I reflected back on some of my observations and discussions with the locals. Here are 5 valuable money lessons I learned in Africa:

Resourcefulness is Omnipresent

Let’s take a cow for example. How many uses for a cow do we have in our western societies?

I can count two: milk and meat.

The Maasai however, left with very little resources in the regions they inhabit, are able to find many more uses for a cow: They drink the cow milk but also its blood (extracted without killing the cow), they eat its meat, they use its skin as a mat to sleep on, and they build their huts with wood and cow dung. Cow dung also seems to be popular in Rwanda where it is used to make traditional paintings (Imigongo).

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Another tribe I visited also found many uses for banana trees: of course, they sell the bananas at the market, but they also use the banana tree branches to make brooms and use the leaves to build their houses’ roofs.

Seeing this level of resourcefulness put in practice has taught me to become more creative at using what I already have at my disposal.

Cash is King

Of course, the concept of credit cards and spending money you have not yet earned is almost non-existent. This entails that it can take a family 15 years to build their house!

Our guide explained that every year, families use the money they earned from selling their harvest produce to buy a certain number of bricks. If it was a good harvest, they would buy more bricks; a less abundant harvest meant fewer bricks.

Because they don’t take a mortgage to build the house, once they have bought enough bricks and they are ready to build it, they own it 100% once it’s completed.

In other words, they follow my favorite motto of “Save Now, Buy Later”.

They are surely not after instant gratification of owning a home and spending the next 20 years paying for it.

Contentment Stems From Within

 Most people I visited in the local communities do not own a bank account and own very little possessions. Yet there was always a smile on their face and a sense of contentment they naturally projected.

Seeing the children joyfully play with rocks, a blanket or an old car tire showed me that, contrary to our belief, we need much less to be happy. Happiness truly stems from within and is not found in a store or in “stuff”.

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 Community’s Wellbeing Comes First

When I wanted to visit the local communities to observe their way of life, I hired a guide from the Cultural Tourism Programme. The tour money I paid went directly to help the tribes I was visiting.

In those villages, everything is done for the benefit of the community. I came across artists painting Xmas balls and carving African wood statues, only to sell them for the benefit of the community as a whole. I truly felt like everyone is taken care of and no one is forgotten. Resources and skills are shared, profits are shared, and everyone is looked after.

They projected a deep sense of resilience and strength, because the tribe members were working for their collective, rather than their individual, well-being.

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Having Fun is Free

In our western societies, we tend to associate having fun with spending money. Yet on so many occasions during my trip, I noticed children and adults having fun that did not involve any money: in the evening, adults would gather on the beach and have some sort of acrobatic competition; other evenings, I would see them playing soccer, diving off a cliff, or practicing martial arts in a group.

It was truly a joy to watch them have so much fun outside, with little or no equipment.

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As one of my favorite quotes says Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

As a money coach, this enriching trip surely taught me a few lessons and helped me better understand the role of money in different cultures.

What money lessons have you learned from your travels? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

 

( This article was first published in the Huffington Post on September 28th 2015)

  • Dahna Weber

    Lama I could not agree with you more and was also very fortunate and resourceful at making my way to South America to meet my son in Quito and travel to Peru for 12 days. It has been a LONG time since I had travelled and I realized how much I missed it. Travel sure has changed but some tips from way back still stand true. When it comes to travelling more time = more savings. Usually when we travel we have very limited time so we make all the arrangements beforehand and pay dearly for this. I was really tempted to pre-book some tours this time (as we only had 12 days and I was travelling with my son this time) however fate intervened and I couldn’t pre-book. Was I ever glad I didn’t. The tour I ended up booking once I was in Peru cost $65 US vs $330 US I was told on the phone. Same principle as my travels in the late 90’s where I was trekking in Nepal spending $14/day with a guide and staying in guest houses while others were camping and sleeping in tents and had paid $4,000 for the tour that would have cost me $280. I had the same experience in Kenya on a Safari….I slept in the same tent, was on the same jeep and entire tour as this family from Hong Kong only I paid 10x less. So I always say…..if you can add a few days on to make arrangement when you are at your destination you can save a lot!!! For some folks this might cause too much stress but then again….so does overspending and being left with debt you can’t afford. Thanks for your awesome article! Can’t wait to see where you go next.

    • MaxWorth

      Dahna, thank you for reading and sharing your recent travel experience ! 🙂
      Travelling is the best…and feeling like you are not getting ruined while doing it is even better 😉

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