Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kwanza Cops

Leaving Luanda, I completely forgot that it is illegal to take Kwanzas (the Angolan currency) out of the country. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t remember this until I was shuffled into the currency declaration office of the airport. It was one of the stranger moments of my life.

There are two separate rooms in the currency declarations department, one for women and one for men. I didn’t realize this at first and got in the shorter line, which was the men’s line. The female official of the women’s line looked at me, hissed and grabbed her breasts then pointed at the women’s line. Words would have worked, but so did grabbing her breasts.

I got into the office and there was a rather large, stern looking woman sitting lazily at the desk. I sat down and she just looked at me. I said, “Bom dia,” and smiled, thinking I would win her over as one of the few foreigners who speak Portuguese. She just looked at me and slapped her hand down on the table, palm facing up. Quantos?” she asked. How much? I asked her to specify and she said, “Money angolano.” At this point I remembered that it was illegal to take money out of the country, so I decided to be honest and play dumb. But I started to freak out and wonder if it was against the law to take large amounts of AMERICAN money out the country, and remembered the US$1,300 I brought to use for shopping in South Africa.

I came clean and said that I had around Kz. 2,000 on me. She cocked her eyebrow and shook her head no, and thrust her hand out again. Por que? Tem que me dar tudo.” (Why? You must give me everything.) So I took out my money and gave her the Kz. 1500 or so (around US$22) that I had. She looked at it and said, “Where’s the rest of it? You said you had Kz. 2000.” I tried to explain that it was just an estimate but she didn’t believe me until I emptied out my entire wallet and purse.

She then said, “How many dollars do you have?” Then I started to sweat. I admitted to US$1000 (hoping she wouldn’t ask to see the money belt, which actually had US$1,300). She looked at me and said, “Where are the 500 Euros?”

Me: What Euros?

Lady Cop: You said you had EU 500.

Me: No, I don’t have any Euros.

Lady Cop says nothing.

Me: I’m American, I don’t have Euros.

Lady Cop: I’ve seen Americans with Euros. How many do you have?

Me: Zero. I don’t have any Euros.

Then she just stared at me and after a minute waved her hand. I asked if I could go and another lady cop appeared and told me I could go.

Lesson learned. Hide Kwanzas in the luggage or get rid of them at the gift shop before check-in.

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