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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe
MAY 31, 2007

Wilbur Smith's Material

Those that know me will whole heatedly agree that I am as proud as punch to be Australian and of our colonial past; for damn sure you won't find me saying sorry on 'National Sorry Day’ and I am happy the Queen is our Head of State. You will also know that I am an avid fan of the written novel, specifically historical fiction. I was brought up on such greats as Wilbur Smith, Patrick O'Brian and Bernard Cornwell. So when we took a two week jaunt through Zimbabwe you can bet I was impressed with the way the white Zimbabweans are currently conducting business. For me, Zimbabwe is the novel waiting to be written.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Zimbabwe remains very much a situation of black and white. Thanks to Mr Mugabe's slightly problematic policy of land re-allocation back in the 1990's, he has single handedly managed to piss off every single white man in the country. You can hardly blame the remaining white Zim's for taking advantage of the few perks left in their country. More than once we were warned that the conversation around the camp fire may be a tad on the racist side (in hindsight, we think the Zim’s are bitter more so than racist and who can blame them).

Having moved out of home at the ripe old age of 17, both Donna and I are fairly independent people - it took quite a bit of getting used to the fact that for once we did not need to do everything for ourselves. In the morning a cup of tea would be there waiting for you, dishes were cleaned, clothes were washed and animals fed. Yet amazingly, after a few days of being waited on - you get used to it. Actually, it’s quite nice!

In the grand old style of the Trek Boers and the early Explorers, we took camping to a whole new level. With two grooms and a maid we packed everything from the mattresses to the kitchen sink into the wagons. From the chuck wagon each morning would come steaming hot cups of tea and coffee and meals were cooked by the chef and served to the group each evening in a proper sit down affair. And let me tell you, it's nice to come back to your tent in the evening to find that your bed has been made, and your sheets and blankets folded back.

Do not get me wrong - life in Zimbabwe is not all peaches and cream. In fact it is bloody frustrating. During our time beer prices went from $ZIM 15,000 per bottle, doubling in a single day to $ZIM 30,000, then climbing to $ZIM 40,000 before we departed. Duracell has a steady flow of business thanks to the Zimbabwe Electricity Company. Not a day went by when we didn't have a random power cut - switching on the torches became second habit by our second week. Most farmers have now either installed generators or resorted to car batteries to power their lights. Domestic servants have a standing order to have the evening meal cooked by 2pm just in case.

In any normal country, running down to the local supermarket to buy sugar or cooking oil is taken for granted . In Zimbabwe, most supermarkets have half their fridges and freezers turned off and the shelves were largely empty. Even in Chiredzi, the main town in a district built on the sugar cane industry, you could not buy sugar from the supermarket. This of course has led to a wonderful invention called the Black Market.

It seems that everything in Zimbabwe revolves around the Black Market, the barter system, and the constant hustle to get things done. We were with a group of young guys who bought 20kg's of sugar off the side of the road purely because they can not buy sugar in the north of the country.

As a good Christian boy I know that breaking the law is wrong, but in Zimbabwe, without the black market nothing would work. The current bank rate is $US 1 = $ZIM 250. On the black market we were able to exchange $US 1 for anything from $ZIM 30,000 to $ZIM 40,000. With the country in the grip of hyper inflation this rate is blazing out of control (only 12 months ago they dropped three zero's from their currency and it look's like they will have to do it again soon). Money is in the form of promissory notes, ours was valid till 31st July 2007!

While on the topic of money - the banking system is a shambles as well. Individuals are only allowed to withdraw or deposit $ZIM 1.5 million per day, for businesses this is increased to $ZIM 3 million. With petrol currently at $ZIM 42,000 per litre, you would struggle to fill your car with fuel and purchase basic necessities within that limit, let alone pay your staff their monthly salary. Many small business owners we spoke to begin drawing salary weeks before pay day (think boxes and boxes of worthless currency).

Life in Zimbabwe is constantly about trying to beat the system, when the Government introduces a law that requires all gold mines to sell their gold to the Government then mandates a price that is a small fraction of the market rate, what is a poor guy to do?

Unfortunately this kind of life style is not conducive to happy families. With the harsh reality of farm invasions - this country really is the last frontier - a place for men who are willing to bet it all for a chance to make their fortune. We met guys running everything from gold and silver mines, to game ranches and coffee plantations. It was not unusual for some to sell diamonds or run alcohol over the border to make ends met. Because the money is worthless, rather than using cash, goods are swapped and neighbours dig deep to help each other survive.

We admire the colonial spirit of these brave pioneers. We were welcomed into these communities and shown true hospitality. And while we looked on and wondered how and why they were still there living in a harsh hostile environment, they continue doing what they do, for the country they love.
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  Thankyou for the insight to Zimbabwe. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to live there but a part of me would dearly love to see it first hand and without prejudice and politics what the life would be like

SB - June 08, 2007

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