Jun 2011 17

I jumped on to a flight to Zimbabwe and I’m not sure how much you know about Zimbabwe but its currency has devalued upwards of 1 trillion percent in the last 10 years.

1 trillion percent is a number that I am yet to come to terms with. If 100% means doubled (as in from 5 to 10) and 200% means from 5 to 15 then 1 trillion percent (1 thousand billion percent) is a number that doesn’t bear thinking. It would cost you more brainpower than you have to figure that one out.When I was here in 2003, changing 100 dollars would get you a foot- long plastic bag of very tired- looking Zimbabwean Dollars.

The thing that took the longest when making a purchase was how long it took to count money. It’s as if one would save time by paying a deposit to the cashier on the way in to a shop, saying ‘Hi, I’m going in to look for a shirt. Why don’t you take this money and start counting it now?’ At that time, at least in the shops I visited, there were no counting machines. I assumed it was because money-counting machines hadn’t yet been programmed to count notes that had the consistency of soggy leaves.

I know you’ve seen an old note but you haven’t seen an old note until you’ve seen one in Zimbabwe. It’s a complete paradigm shift (or ‘paradijim’ like Raila said at the General Assembly in New York- I voted for him so I can diss him). Encountering old notes in Zimbabwe is like when you complain that your car is getting old then you turn on to a street and see a Toyota Crown from back in the day when license plates only had 4 characters-KPK 1 or something like that. It’s like when you walk into an Indian-owned printing shop in the basement of a building in Nairobi’s CBD, then get a warm fuzzy feeling that these 50- year old men are so sweet that they let their 80-year old father still come to work. Then the 80-year-old man’s father shovels past.  So you get what I mean when I say a Zim dollar is soggy.

I wasn’t sure that I’d have access to email when I got here ,so I figured I’d shoot off a short email to a potential business partner in the US in a move that was committing me and my wife’s company to a whopping $10,000 (in USD; there’s nothing very whopping about 10,000 Zim Dollars). In fact I was to find out on arriving here that the internet is alive and well and the answer to the crushing inflation was to get rid of the Zimbabwe Dollar completely, and start over with US Dollars and South African Rand. ‘I guess if you close your eyes long enough you can pretend it never happened,’ is my guess as to what the governor of the Central Bank here said. So there is no longer a Zim Dollar. It shrank and shrank until it disappeared altogether, like the little dot that held on to dear life when you switched off your black and white TV- getting smaller and dimmer until it seemed to disappear into the depths of the universe that lived behind the cabinet.

I am intrigued by a nation that has no currency of its own but still manages to function though. There are no lines at gas stations like before. When I was here in ’03 gas stations looked like parking lots. People would leave their cars parked at a gas station and come back the next day and hope to get fuel. I guess no one would steal a car with no gas right. I mean how far would you get?

All in all Harare was great fun. The Harare International Arts Festival (HIFA) is a must-attend. I saw bands that in some cases had never heard of but had such a major blast. HIFA is a necessary valve for the pent-up frustration that Zimbabweans continue to feel. In that sense it contributes a great service and I hope it goes on forever.  Viva HIFA! Not so Viva Robert Mugabe.


1 comment

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