Thursday, July 3, 2008

Crying for Zimbabwe

I was going post this as "Nothing says Zimbabwe as Apple Pie.." but thought better of it, I'll explain the alternative title later...

My main point of this post is to explain the life here in Zimbabwe and I've only seen the 'better' part of it. As I mentioned in my other post things here are terrible and as I have met the locals, things here are dire. I'd like to share some stories with you all.

* Ndooga was my river guide for my canoing (really a raft...) trip down the Zambezi river, the river that feeds Victoria Falls. This guy was funny and smart, knew almost everything there was to know about the river and wildlife. Though because of him we got charged by an elephant, but again that is another story. The point of mentioning Ndooga was during our lunch break we started talking, one thing led to another and then I noticed he was crying, or at least brimming on the verge of crying. I paused and realized we were discussing the finer points of rent prices in London and New York how a 'small' room costs $1500 to $2000 to rent. Here was a man struggling to feed himself and his family. How absurd was the topic, I really didn't know what to do at that point, what do you say to a person like that? It will get better? Always hope for the future? Tomorrow is another day? We talked about other issues, but I was surprised to see a grown man cry. In the end I gave him a 100Rand tip, but that was probably more to assuage my guilt more then anything else.

* Roy is the night watchman at my hostel. He's 70 years old, gray haired, hunched and missing most of his teeth. Yet he has so much stoicism and yet sadness. This is the only second grown man brim with tears in a very long time. This time we were talking about Zimbabwe, it's people and his family. Again what do you do? What do you say?

* Phillip was my waiter at Mama Africa (in Victoria Falls), he was so skinny I wasn't sure he had a decent meal in years. How does a person eat thinking about that? And then there is a Mama Africa itself, set up like a dinner party expecting guests that will never come. All the gas lamps, the silverware, the napkins and place mats, all laid out and I was the only guest there.

* Then there is the chef at the hostel where I stayed. At one point he tells me he doesn't have a receipt book and would like me to pay him cash and we all keep it hush hush. The way this place was supposed to work was I ordered food, I got a receipt and the carbon copy went to the bosses and I paid the bosses on the way out. So him asking for cash was basically stealing from his boss. I knew he had a receipt book or that he could've just walked 15 ft to the office to get another one. At first I agreed with him, handed him $5 CAD in cash (as all my USD was in twenties and RAND in hundreds). After eating the food, it didn't settle very well knowing that just helped someone steal from his boss. So in the end I asked him for a meal slip and told him to keep the cash. Later in the day he made a page from a regular ledger and gave me that as a meal slip; not sure if he was covering his tracks or what... But how desparate does a person have to be to steal? Risk his job?

* At the airport I decided I wanted some Zim Dollars as souveniers. I went to the exchange office and got $2 USD changed into into 30 367 407 992 Zim Dollars. It was a 1 USD to 15 183 703 966 ZIM Dollar exchange rate. Now the messed up part was when I arrived the exchange rate was like 1 USD to about 12 billion Zim$. That is a 3 billion dollar or 20% increase in 5 days. Talk about inflation. One of the guys at my South African hostel was in Zimbabwe in November and it was 1 RAND for 100,000 Zim$, now it was 1 RAND for 1.3 billion. Adding on top of that, the exchange rate wasn't consistant. In Victoria Falls the rate ran from 13 billion to 15 billion for 1 USD in Harare it was like 40 billion for 1 USD. The Victoria Falls owner to cover his basis would phone multipe banks to get the best exchange rate. Also prices for some items were subject to change on an hourly basis (if quoted in Zim$).

Anyway, that is the serious part of this blog. I figured if I can't do anything about there or anywhere else, I'd at least tell you all about it. Hope that you tell everyone you know about it and maybe, maybe we reach the right people who CAN do something about it. In the end I ate the food, in fact I've never cleaned up my more then I've cleaned my plate in Victoria Falls, and those who know me, KNOW I usually CLEAN my plate. I also tipped very well, hoping a little here and there would make some difference.

* I took a canoe trip down the Zambezi river, the river that feeds Victoria Falls. During the trip we ran into an Elephant on an island. The guide beaches his canoe and goes ashore, I do the same as does the American couple on the trip. I make sure to keep the guide between me and the elephant. When we got about 30 ft away, the elephant decided to charge us. We all turned an ran, I stoped at the shore, the American couple ran into the water and fell face first into it. The guide at that point turned around put up his arms and the screamed, the elephant stopped about 20 ft away. The guide approached the elephant again, and again the elephant charged, stopped and then walked away... a very interesting experience indeed.

* I say that British tourist are as bad as American tourist, key here is differentiating tourists and backpackers. Tourists are short-timers. I was on a lion walk with a bunch of English tourist, one of the guys was dressed in typical safari dress and one of the women had a wide brim hat you'd commonly see the Queen wear, and it even had a faux flower on it. Lions like all cats yawn here and there. At one point the hat woman goes 'Can you make him yawn?' I was astounded! I was annoyed the lions were as well trained as they were, but here she goes 'Can you make him yawn?' WTF!?!

Anyway time is running out, photos are being uploaded, this blog will be proof read later.. I hope..

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