Zimbabwe

20 12 2008

Posted by: Laura

We had been talking and drinking beer with a man from Zimbabwe for about an hour. While discussing the differences between our cultures, we laughed when he told us that he still owed his in-laws a goat from the dowry he paid to his bride’s family in order to marry her. He laughed when he found out Chris and I had been dating for four years and weren’t yet married. He shook his finger at Chris and said, “If she were my daughter, I would chop your head off!”

After another round, he paused and said, “So I want to ask you a serious question: What would you do if your democratically elected leader took control of the military, arrested leaders of the opposition party, and began torturing citizens?” Then our friend began to describe the current situation in his country.

As he spoke, I tried to imagine President Bush siezing control of the military and throwing Obama in jail.  It just seemed too far fetched.  Then I tried to imagine the other horrific events our Zimbabwean friend had just described about his life. His brother’s arm chopped off above the elbow because of his support for the opposition. Thinking about the political aspirations of my own brother, Andrew, this thought made me shudder.  Our friend described roadblocks every 35 miles. The only way to buy gas, he explained, is on the black market. And even then, it is not possible to get diesel at all, so you can’t run any farm equipment. Since Zimbabwe was known as the “breadbasket” of Africa, I thought about the farms of Mississippi and imagined tractors sitting idle on Highway 49. He added that the agricultural situation gets more complicated. In the future when Zimbabweans are able to operate their farm equipment and produce crops again, half of their crops have already been sold to China in return for money that has already disappeared.

According to CATO Institute, inflation was 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%  on November 14th, 2008. Our friend told us that a liter of cooking oil costs 420 billion Zimbabwean dollars. Going to the grocery store to buy milk, eggs, and bread requires a bag full of money. You pay at the checkout counter with bricks of money. You have to spend money as soon as you get it. If you are paid in the morning, then the money has depreciated by afternoon. I thought about standing in line at Kroger with a backpack full of almost worthless bills.

Finally, I tried imaging Mississippi with a population of 12 million people (8 million adults) and 3 million of them infected with AIDS. “What would you do?” he asked.

Chris said he would go about his business and try to lay low, staying out of political trouble.

I thought about it, then asked, “Do I have kids?”

“Yes, I have four children,” was his response.

“Then I would take them and leave,” I replied.

Our friend considered doing the same thing. Then he consulted his father and the elders of his family who asked him: Where will you go? If your really doing this for your children and you take them to another county to raise them once you bring them back, they will be strangers in their own home. After weighing his options and realizing his bank account was full of a  worthless currency, our friend decided to stay.

Over the next three hours, our friend told us his life story. He related  tragic stories about the current events in Zimbabwe with such a matter of fact tone, that it was hard to realize they are actually occurring. Out of respect to his anonymity, I won’t post the details of his situation, but I will say he has been a positive  influence in his community.  Since he cannot speak freely in his own country, he seemed eager to share his story with us.  We all need to tell our stories at some point. I’m glad I was there to listen to his.

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2 responses

21 12 2008
brian from nodebtworldtravel.com

This is what travel is all about: Listening and Learning.

Thru your blog many other people heard his voice when he cannot even speak freely in his own country. Safe travels to both of you.

6 04 2010
max

I’ve traveled to Zimbabwe many times, going there again in July 2010. It’s an amazing country with beautiful people. It’s unstable politically, but still relatively safe for travelers. Getting around is difficult though, I stay in the south where I’ve built up a relationship with a small rural community. I enjoyed reading your blog, I too traveled for 11 months last year.

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