35,000 Dobras

By Beth

“35,000 dobras????”  Kilson looks at me in disgust. “Can you believe that?”

I’m out getting beers with Kilson and his cousin and they are in absolute shock over the check. The beers at this restaurant in the small oceanside city of Pantufo, in São Tomé, are almost three times the cost of other areas- they ring up for 35,000 dobras each, or a whopping $2.50. I smile, saying nothing. It’s not that things are always much cheaper here- they aren’t always. But they are most of the time. In the USA where prices are stacked higher and higher in order to benefit the many people who work within the production chain, here in São Tomé things are priced only slightly higher than the cost for which they are purchased or produced. There is little profit. I noticed that when I was living in Portugal, too- you could buy a loaf of bread there for less than 0.50 EUR, when loaves of bread in the USA are $2 or $3 at the very least. But here the prices are even lower.

Well, like, I said, most of the time.

I learned the hard way to bring more clothes- especially clothes for going out- the next time I come back to São Tomé. A simple cotton dress, one of those light summery pieces with little flavor or design that you can pick up at any K-Mart for less than $10, retail here for about 400,000 dobras, or $26. And those are the cheapest dresses I could find.

Imported African wax print, 30,000 Dobras, or $2, per meter

If you want something that actually looks nice, Kilson’s mom owns a store in town. The dresses there, something I could pick up at TJ Maxx for $20, cost about 2 million dobras, or $125. Something so shocking I now understand why so many of the poorer women in town wear pieces of fabric tied around their waist- because it’s so expensive to do anything else!

You can buy a cerveja nacional, or the locally produced beer, for 10,000 dobras, or about $0.70. For 10,000 dobras you can also buy:

A taxi ride anywhere in the city, provided you don’t mind sharing with a car-full of people, which is how they do it here.

A patching on your motorcycle tire and filling of air, which I learned the hard way- but if you’re with Kilson, because he knows everyone in town, that’s free.

Two cinnamon bun-type pastries at the local padaria

Ten pieces of chewing gum or five lollipops (that are equivalent to Blow-Pops, with gum in the center)
A one-scoop ice cream cone (though let me tell you, the ice cream culture here is depressing)

Palm wine I think we spent about 25,000 Dobras on for a three-gallon jug

For 30,000 dobras, or about $2.10, you can get order a conch appetizer at a restaurant, or about eight small espetadas (shish kabobs). You can successfully eat a filling dinner at a restaurant, consisting of two cervejas nacionais, an appetizer, two entrees and two coffees for about 180,000 dobras, for $12.
Which is why Kilson almost shrieked with delight when, on my last night here, I was paid for teaching the English classes that I thought I was doing for free, leaving us with about 400,000 dobras to spend in one night (because who cares about saving, really?). “We can do ANYTHING,” he said to me with a smile. That night we ate like kings.