A short story by Mark McKnight

It’s a funny old thing, is money. The less you have, the more you learn about it’s value and how much it’s really worth.

Once upon a time, I was dirt poor. Not dirt poor like the little kids who run around shouting ‘Mzungu, Mzungu’ but poor enough. We used to buy a 25¢ bottle of soda between two of us because we couldn’t afford to buy one each. We took rich missions teams to expensive restaurants and prayed that they would buy us lunch. On the whole, this policy paid off. Once or twice it didn’t and we had to buy our own meal! We had to bargain hard with the street traders because although they assumed we were rich because we were white, the truth was that we could just about to afford what they were selling and needed to buy at African prices just to survive.

There were 15 people living in my house at one time and it was only by God’s grace that we all survived. I used to buy a 50kg sack of rice and another of beans and they’d be gone in 2 weeks. We quickly learned that there were different grades of rice and the cheapest was full of rocks and grit. The second from cheapest was therefore the appropriate one to buy.

But it taught what was important to us. We learned that proper Heinz ketchup was something we were willing to invest in. That bottled mineral water was not. Especially after the discovery of water for 100/= (aka vanilla water) and water for 50/= (now discredited as a false economy!). We learned there are some people who can be trusted and there are many more who cannot. There are some that will lie about the death of their own child in order to rip you off.

These are things I learned five years ago. Nowadays, I’m neither rich nor poor. My bank accounts are neither awash with unspent cash nor biting at the heels of overdraft limits. For the first time in my life (except for my student days, and that was only thanks to student loans – another false economy), I have disposable income.

What I learned back then was that I am no island. Others have invested their time and money in me and now I bear that same responsibility. I’ve made a few anonymous donations. I’ve invested in an African poultry business more because I have the money to do so rather than because I think I’ll make any significant profits. I’m putting a kid through university here.

But in comparison, I spend a whole lot on myself. There’s a bass guitar that I have my eye on that would keep Dorah at uni for well over a year. My car cost more than her entire course will. The human condition is a constant struggle between altruism and selfishness. And at the end of the day, it’s mostly selfishness that wins.
It’s a funny old thing, is money!


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