Friday, January 21, 2011

A brief update

Hello. How are you doing? Me? I could be better. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving Zimbabwe right now, but my personal life has been, and still is, on the sucky side. I could talk about divorce and an ex wife who never quits, but I'm sure most of you would be like, move along pal nothing to see here. Its a well studied, documented and accepted social paradigm. So I wont get into that now.

Back to you. How has life been treating you? I've been receiving questions from people wanting to know how Zimbabwe's doing. This my beloved small country has been notorious for grabbing headlines in the past decade or so. Zimbabwe is doing better thank you. We still suffer from serious unresolved issues politically and otherwise, but if I were to choose the Zimbabwe pre-dollarization and the Zimbabwe now, without blinking, the Zimbabwe now is like heaven.

Even Santa came back this Christmas, and December 25 felt all Christmasy once more. We had drinks and parties and beer fests and tours by international artistes and parties and beer fests and... wait... I think I've said that already haven't I? I guess all I'm saying is we did have some fun!

It is going to take sometime before powercuts end. It will be a while until our potholes filled up and roads resurfaced. Some of our traffic lights have been fixed, but it will still take time to fix all of them. Our education system is in pain, teachers, and civil servants in general, are still getting very low remunerations, but they are back at work and we continuously hope that things will improve.

We are slowly re-learning how to budget. We still don't trust keeping money in the bank though. The trauma of past years isn't over yet, but we are learning how to operate in an environment with rules. A number of people who had left are back, and for the first time in a long time it does feel like we are moving forward.

Some of our local brands are back on the shelves, but we still have lots of imports, but that's OK, they have got fixed price stickers on their shelves, a sign that they will not change price while you are still in the queue to pay, like it used to be before. And talking about queues, they are pretty much gone. Banks have queues once a month while people make sure they take out all of their few dollars, in case they decide to do a repeat of yesteryears.

Zimbabwe is definitely healing, and I'm loving it. For the first time I can actually invite you to come visit, OK, so I'm not working right now and my income streams are limited, but if you do come, I'll buy you a couple of beers, I know a few good bars in town!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Years later

It's been 3 years since I last updated this blog, and with what has been going on in Zimbabwe, that much silence might mean the dude's no more. But no, I'm alive, I've survived the worst Zimbabwe ever, and I'm still here with the scars to prove it. The last time I was here, bread was like what? $100,000.00? And I thought that was bad!

After a while it got to a point where complaining about life in Zimbabwe stopped making sense. I watched forex dealers moving into flats and houses, and pushing cars I could not afford with my 17 years of education topped by a bunch of professional qualifications. I watched illegal diamond dealers spending US dollars like they were being printed at Fidelity Printers (where our dear Governor used to print our beloved Zim Dollars). At some point I had like 10 Quintillion dollars in each of my various bank accounts, for it was now necessary to have an account with every bank, and whatever did I get with all that dough? Those were the days of the 'burning phenomenon' where the bankers (well, not bankers really, but people who worked in banks) had their turn to make money. Then came the profiteering bunch, who would cross into SA, buy packs of beer, drinks, e.t.c for something like US $4 or less a piece and came and sold them to the bankers, diamond dealers, and the forex dealers for amounts not less than US $15.

I started feeling like a spectator, me and the other bunch who kept on trying to live life by honest traditional means, as if the environment was treating us honestly. Of course it wasn't, but what else could we do, by the time I got to know about diamonds in Chiyadzwa, the army was already moving in to break legs of those caught 'stealing', and when I started understanding how the burning thing was working, Gono stopped transfers, so stuff kept happening around me, leaving me out to continue suffering, and you think I'd have found time to blog!

So anyways, why do I talk like it's the past? Is Zimbabwe healed? No. Far from it. But I don't see that many forex dealers anymore, except a few who are always calling out "ma cross rates ne ma good rates", Chiyadzwa is down to trickling few, and honestly, there are now much fewer ways of living by dishonest means. We are past the period of taking advantage of loop holes in the system to reap where you never sowed, at least not for the ordinary masses. Because people are still taking advantage of others, like I don't know why everyone fixes the USD to 1:10 to the Rand, but it's not the same madness of years past. Shops still charge ridiculous prices but at least they don't go up everyday.

I know some nurses are back at work, so are some teachers, and a bunch of others who, working for a living, is what they know best. They complain of course about the remuneration, that it is not enough, but if you talk to them, especially coming from the crisis of the yester years, they are all like, yeah we want more, but half a loaf...

So like everyone I feel some calming in the air, something close to hope, of course it can't really be hope, we lost that a while back, because as it is, Zimbabwe hasn't turned around, yet. I think it has kinda of slowed on its course to where it was fast headed. It's tempting to want to comment on the new GNU (Government of National Unity), but I'll resist that for later, this delicate period is more of a watch and see, and don't get me wrong, I do have opinions about it, in fact I have a blogfull of stuff I'd share, but let's not do that now.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Street friend

I consider Simon as my friend. We sort of hang out together each time we bump into each other in town. He's much shorter than me, which of course is explained by the fact that he's much much younger than me. We both live in Zimbabwe so that gives us a lot in common. But Simon practically survives on the streets. Though he doesn't necessarily sleep on the street at night, his life is a life lived on the pavements of Harare's central business district. The last time I met him, which is now a while ago, he wanted some money to buy a school trousers.

Simon and I go back together a number of years. He was not yet of school going age when we met. Now he's grade 3 or 4. So hows life for Simon like? Each time I think about it, I cannot even start to image how it must be for him. He once narrated (still with all the childhood innocence) to me how he got arrested during the days of the clean-up operation. He told me how he had to sneak out and run when he got a chance. That day he had walked from Epworth into town, now, I'm not too good at estimating distances, but it should be at least 10km outside town. Seeing that Simon is probably 8 – 9 years old, you cannot help but ask why?

Simon didn't choose to be on the street. He didn't choose to beg for a living instead of doing what every other 8/9 year old should be doing. I don't even think Simon dreams about what 8/9 year olds are supposed to dream. Simon now knows who is likely to leave him something when he begs. He knows which shops he's not allowed to enter, and which corners of the street are the most 'fertile'. Simon thinks in money. He is my friend. He knows if I have something to give I will give. He knows he doesn't have to ask me to give him money, but each time we hang around together, he'll still try to sweet talk me into giving.

Simon was telling me how life has become tougher now. More and more people have 'taken to the streets' for survival, and its not accommodation that's any issue, it's just more and more people can barely survive without an income. People are now giving less, Simon says. Simon raises his own school fees, and money to feed him, his brother, sister and grandmother from what people are willing to give. So, though Simon doesn't pay any taxes, he's employed and already burdened with responsibilities to look after the family, just like you me, only that Simon is a street beggar by profession and he's 8 years old.

Simon's grandmother by the way, sits at some corner, not really begging, but waiting. She waits for Simon to go round begging and bring all he gets to her 'for safe keeping'. This is a new trend in Harare's street begging tactics. Children are now being (ab)used to beg because, hey, who doesn't feel for the kids? People respond more to kids than adults. So that's why Simon is my friend, that's why he stays on the streets until 9, 10 or even 11pm on school nights. Isn't Simon's future already destroyed? Haven't we already taken away his innocence?

I wonder if Simon can grow up to be a doctor, or a computer geek, with all the iPods, mp3 players, blackberry enabled cellphones and all that stuff? Will he even know such things exist? Will it be his fault when he ends up a thug or in prison? How many children out there are in a situation like Simon's? Surely someone's to blame... who?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hundrend Thousand Dollar Bread

Several times when someone discovers I'm from Zimbabwe, I immediately get questions like, “So, how are you surviving?”, “So, how's Zimbabwe these days?”. How's Zimbabwe? If you are hopeful, your answer to that question, ranges between, “Not so good.” and “Don't ask.”. The price of bread is up again from about $60,000 to at least $88,000, which is not news anymore. I remember a time long ago when bread was 75c, our parents were already not too happy about that price. I remember the discussions in the streets, people reminiscing on the old days, telling us how so cheap bread was back then. Then bread went up to 99c, I remember the boycotts, the complaints people saying we can't get only 1c as change from a dollar after buying bread.

I remember it going up again to $1,50. Those were the days I learnt about strikes, demonstrations and all that people do to let it known that they are not happy about the way things are. Where's this country going, people would ask. Then after that, I lost track, but today I'm getting into a supermarket and bread that was $60k yesterday is now $88k and I don't complain. I look around and I don't see anyone complaining. You dig deeper into those empty pockets and folk out the extra $28k (if you have it) and buy the bread and go home. On the way you might meet your friend going to the shops, you warn him that bread is now $88k. He will say “Ah! Zimbabwe!” and thank you for the warning.

So what the price of bread is up? Unosvikepi uchichema kuti chingwa chakwira? What about everything else that's been going up everyday? With an inflation rate that's has never been imagined before, if you make a fuss about every increase in price, you risk a serious heart attack that can easily be followed by death. Now, it's also not news anymore, doctors rates are up. I heard consultation fees are close to $6,000,000. So getting a heart attack is out of the question.

It's now a trend that hospitals and clinics get a surge in the number of patients when it is a month end. One way of explaining this would be that people tend to get sick towards the end of the month. The real explanation however is that, you cannot afford to get sick any other time of the month. If you do decide to get sick mid-month, you've got to get yourself prepared to nurse yourself until you get paid so that you can afford just the consultation fee.

I know some people who are taking home $6m as their monthly salary. Don't ask me how one survives the whole month with that. I know they commute twice to get to work. Assuming that it costs $50k for them to get into town, and also another $50k from town to work, it means it costs them $200k a day to go to work and back everyday. In a month they spend $4m on transport costs. Here, we just have to assume the impossible and say they don't buy bread at all, then it will take them 3 months to save the $6m consultation fee. And that's just consultation fees, for someone who has not been eating for 3 months. What with the inflation as high as it is? What are your chances of getting to the doctor's in 3 months time to be told that the consultation is up again?

So the next time you walk on the streets and meet people with heads bowed down and whispering to themselves, you know they are feeling what you are feeling. They are suffering the same pain as you, so that loaf of bread you are holding, make the best of it. If it happens that bread goes in short supply while you are still holding it, put a price, any price, and sell it to get the consultation fee.

And if you are in the diaspora, call home and tell them you are sending £100 or US$100 this weekend. Tell them you will do what you can to help. Tell them to buy bread, and keep healthy. Tell them you do not recommend that they get sick.

P.S. Prices quoted in this post are valid only for 12 hours from the time of publishing.

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Bad Day

There are times when you think you are having a very, very bad day. Then there are times when bad days are in season. Of course bad days can be a result of a number of various causes. For example schools are closing in a few days time. That's an obvious bad day coming your way right there, because it means in a month's time you need school fees. So though Easter is somewhere in-between schools' closing and opening, it simply does not exist. The best use for the Easter holiday is to go kumusha and basically terrorise the rural folks so that they give you a bucket full of maize, some manhanga and nyimo and a bit of peanuts. (Umm..., peanuts as in peanuts, not the peanuts you get at the end of every month.)

That in itself is a cause of serious bad days for them rural folks. You see, we, or rather they had plenty rains this season. The weatherman sort of hinted that to be an effect of the cyclone activity off the coast of Mozambique. Which in itself is a candidate cause for a farmer's bad day. Really, should we then wish for this cyclone stuff to happen again next season and risk floods for our neighbours or, I don't know,do we go back to the dry spells that haunted our previous rain seasons?

Anyway, everyone knows that it takes more than rain for one to end up with a decent harvest at the end of it all. You need inputs. Any kind of farmer knows, no matter they are new farmers, white commercial farmers or our own breed of cell-phone farmers, they know. Not being a farmer myself I cannot sound informed about the inputs these farmers require, but of course I have my own grandma who called me in December last, asking me to get her fertilizer ye top. (It's called top dressing fertilizer, I think, and it's usually Ammonium Nitrate). Having done this a number of times in previous years, buying fertilizer is a no-brainer really. Just get in the shop with a bunch of bearer's cheques and come out with 2 or 3 bags which you know will be enough for your granny's small piece of land.

Bad day. You get to learn once more that money can't buy you everything. As you come out of the shop without the 2 or 3 bags, you are once again reminded of the word that you have come to use and accept as normal – shortage. Remember you already have shortage of basic commodities, shortage of fuel, shortage of transport, shortage of X. (where X can be anything, bread, water, electricity,...). So you hit yourself in the head for taking it for granted that you could just get into the shop and buy fertilizer. Haven't you thought that it could be in short supply?

So you see why terrorising the rurals is not such a good idea. You'll not get anything, even peanuts, out of it. Some places did well this season, I'm told, but others will have to rely on food aid to survive. Those are not bad days, its a bad season. So Easter is still coming and you are not going anywhere to get 'freebies'. You are stuck in the bright lights with serious bad days ahead. Its getting colder and colder and the bright lights are getting dimmer and dimmer. ZESA promises you that they are working flat out to put a system in place to make sure that load shedding happens smoothly. You shall have darkness every second day, and this will happen at the time you need power most. I guess since you wont be having much to cook, you cannot complain that much can you?

That's the life. As you walk down the street, calculating and thinking of how else you can make money, so that you can go into some shop and come out disappointed that you didn't find it, whatever it is, you meet your pal and you greet them the way we do it these days “Urikuzvigona sei?”

Forgive me for blogging nonsense, I'm having a bad day, I haven't had sadza in two weeks, do you know anyone selling mealie-meal?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A New day in the life of a Zimbabwean

Yesterday I caught a cold and today I woke up with a cramp; it isn't very comfortable sleeping at a friend's couch with one blanket in this cold winter. Of course you might already be asking why I'm sleeping on a couch, well, the thing is, this is not my house and it is crowded as it is. So maybe again you ask why I'm not sleeping in my own house? Good Question!

See my cottage was demolished by Operation Murambatsvina (Operation 'we don't want dirt')on Thursday last week, so I had to move in with a friend since I had nowhere else to go. At least I didn't have to do the urban-to-rural migration that most peeps who have been hit by the tsunami (which is what we now call the Operation Murambatsvina these days). Not that its a major benefit that I'm still living in the 'bright lights'. Only the day before yesterday we had no electricity at night, I don't know whether this is one of those rationing cut-offs or someone at the power company forgot to put the switch to 'ON' before knocking off from work.

Anyways, that day, the day of the powercut day, I had to buy bread (or at least I wanted to), I rushed out to the nearest tuckshop by the corner, which was.... you guessed it, tsunamised ! So there was no way in Zim I could get bread there, so I put my tail between my legs and went back home to hope that ZESA would just come back before I sleep so I can eat something warm. And so the story goes, I slept, with no power and no food in my stomach.

That's then. Today I woke up with a cramp, you see I'm still trying to master the art of sleeping on the couch in someone else's house. These days I have cancelled breakfast, because the typical breakfast that I can afford: Three slices of bread with two cups of very sweet tea and occasional fried egg; has become impossible to prepare. The last time I saw sugar it was being sold from the back of TM supermarket with a long queue winding to the front of the shop. Cooking oil is rare. I have seen some brands that look like imported stuff going at unearthly prices which are quite out of reach. The only bread that you get these days has a name like 'Super white' or 'Special Milk bread' and also going at not so humanly prices. So there goes my breakfast.

So after bathing I had to rush to the bus stop. I have, by the way, parked my Mazda 323 1999 model in a fuel queue at Wedzera Filling Station in Samora Machel. Its been 7 days now with the tank dry and no supply of fuel. I got to the bus stop at 6:30am, I needed to be at work by 8. I was lucky to get a gonyeti (a haulage truck) that was coming into town. The other day my trousers got hooked on some metal and got torn I had to go back home and change.

On the way to work we were talking about the tsunami (our Murambatsvina), how this clean-up should have been done, how some police were being beaten by zvitokoroshi (goblins of some sort) in some of the shacks they were destroying. Which, I was being told, is the reason why they no longer destroy anything but want you to demolish your own stuff.

When I got to the office I tried to call my pal, but I'm on this cellphone network that has recently 'successfully upgraded their systems to give better service', so what happens is I have to try 10 times before I get through. Of late it has been behaving strange, when I do get through, the other person could not hear me at all even though I could hear them clear.

But anyway, I called him to find out if he had had any breakthrough with getting fuel, I needed about 5 litres to move my Mazda 323 from that filling station to another one that has been pouring at night. He told me that for some ZW$ x00,000.00/per litre I could get something on the other market they usually called 'black'. I had no option so I said OK, but hopefully I will have it tomorrow.

I also tried to look for accommodation, its not safe anymore to rent a cottage at some dude's place cause you don't know when tsunami will strike. Flats in the Avenues have reviewed prices drastically so I wont be able to afford it there.

So now as I'm sitted here writing this, I'm thinking about the 3-5 combi's that will take me home. Well, small combi's are being banned so it'll be even more tricky. But I'm not complaining, this is life. This is the new way we are living it down here in our lovely Zimbabwe.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Redefining my position

Last Year I wrote a "thank you" message (its there somewhere on the internet!) to all the people who had been in my life the last 20 something years, its so unbelievable that a year has already past. This time I'm turning a year older and a lot of things have changed. I've met new wonderful people, my relationships with some of my close buddies has sort of faded, and more sadly there is one person I will never be able to get as close to as I would have wanted. Now, that is a way of putting it lightly, the other way would be to explain how heartbroken I am. She asked me "not to write" and I listened. So basically where that leaves me is somewhere between confusion and hope. Hope that I'm still quite young and have a lot to look forward to ahead of me. Hope that one of these days, I will wake up one morning to a smiling brand new day where my life will be changed forever.

I have shifted from the position where I was asking "Where do you find the right one?" to here, where I'm standing in an equally confused state, asking, "How do you know this is the right one?" Here most people are likely to give you the theoretically artifical answer, "Just listen to your heart". That however would be very easy to do if and only if, your brain is quiet. How can you hear your heart speaking when the brain makes more noise? Looking into it further, you discover that the brain is louder because all around you standards are continually being set. Society is putting all kinds of pressure on you. Society is busy shaping your needs to conform to common acceptable modern day standards. No matter how much you tell yourself you are your own person, it still remains true that the person you are is a product of many factors of which society is one.

You will tell yourself you dont care what whoever thinks, you only care about what you want. All you then need to do is ask yourself howcome you want that which you want. What influences your decisions and choices? I have always told myself I'm a simple guy who wants simple things, but sadly its not that simple. Until recently though, I think my greatest problem was the fear of committing to one person. I was so afraid of being tied down for the rest of my life. Afraid that soon after I tie myself down someone better would come along. Afraid of the responsibilities that come along with having a permanent partner in life. But all that is changed, right now all that is required is to reach the velocity of escape or the critical mass required. So that why I've declared this year mine.

All I need to do is to train my brain to speak the same language that my heart speaks (or vice versa), so for now pray for me (and my country in these trying times, please pray for Zimbabwe)... eh, but don't forget me

I am manulite.