By Sherin Saafan
Translated by Aisha El-Awady
"To my dear wife Susan, Happy Birthday.”
This is not a text message or an e-mail, it is a note written on an Egyptian one pound banknote, from a husband to his wife wishing her a happy birthday.
I found this note in someone’s personal paper money collection. But this is no ordinary paper money collection, nor is it a collection of foreign currencies. This is a collection of messages and dedications that people have written down on paper money.
Nora, the owner of this collection, collects any cash notes she finds on Egyptian money, starting from the 25 and 50 piaster notes up to the 50 Egyptian pound notes.
But why bother collecting cash notes that are of meaning only to their owners? If the owners themselves were not bothered enough to hold on to these notes that carry special meaning to them and them alone, then what value could Nora possibly find in them?
Nora explains that she picked up this hobby as she likes the idea of writing on money and that she feels that there must be a story behind each of these cash notes or dedications and that she tries to imagine what it could be. She believes these individuals must have lost the money by mistake, so she began collecting any money that had anything written on it, irrespective of what it said.
“When I was little, my Dad told me that US dollars cannot be used if they have writing on them, but I found that here in Egypt we write on money and it can still be used,” she said.
Nora says the strangest cash note she ever found, at least for her, was one that said “Ahmad Salim, Kafr Al-Shaikh.” The reason she finds it extraordinary is that this is her father’s name and hometown. It is also his same handwriting. But since he passed away she will never be able to verify whether or not her father wrote this note or find out the story behind it. In any case, she says she will keep this 50 pound note forever.
Her collection includes numerous and varied notes, including notes between married people like the one above, as well as notes from teachers to their students such as these two, “Every container exudes its contents: knowledge-manners-spirit, ‘Manar’, your math teacher,” and “To the best and most beautiful student I ever had, M.M.”
Other cash notes have words and phrases on them such as, “congratulations”, “love forever,” and “I love you.” While others have people’s names and phone numbers written on them, which may seem pointless unless they had the well known Egyptian phrase “money goes round” in mind, hoping that this money might one day wind up back in their hands.
Some of the cash notes have well-known sayings and aphorisms on them like, “If you see a white crow this means you have a good friend.” While others have found it to be a means to spread their thoughts or religious statements like, “prayer is the foundation of religion,” and “glad tidings to those who have patience,” and “Hallelujah and praise to Allah.”
Some people even use cash notes as a form of advertisement for their businesses or themselves, such as the note that has the name of a Consulting Engineers office stamped on it, and yet another used by people who wanted to nominate themselves for the People's Assembly or the Shura Council elections.
Speaking of electoral advertising, on 18 February 2010, the Al-Shorouk newspaper published a piece about a restaurant owner in Cairo who wrote slogans on the daily revenue of his restaurant, in support of Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, as a way of expressing his thoughts, as well as his way of supporting the campaign for El-Baradei, a potential Egyptian presidential candidate.
This assortment of notes with varied intentions behind them may leave us thinking: Why didn’t their owners hold on to them even though they often times contain words of praise, gratitude, best wishes or love? Could it be that the money itself (although of little monetary value) was of more worth to them than the gesture or did they lose it by mistake and are still looking for it now? And has money become more valuable than memories?
Some may consider that writing on money defaces it even if it wasn’t meant to go back into circulation or to be used again. One thing is for sure though: no matter what happens in the future and even if all money is converted into the form of coins or new technology is used to send notes and dedications, these cash notes will remain in their owners’ memories, whether they got rid of them intentionally or lost them by mistake.