Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One reason why I love Zim...

Yesterday started out as one of those days. You know exactly what I mean. I’d had no sleep, felt sick, was late to my first meeting of the day, and broke my favourite coffee mug in the morning (pouring coffee over my carefully chosen outfit). The internet didn’t work so I had to drive to a friend’s house to get my email to meet my deadline, then rushed out to find my car had a flat tyre, thanks to me rushing to get there and falling unceremoniously into a deep new pothole.

Some other friends were also having a challenging day: their internet was also down, they couldn’t do any business and were frustrated by the high internet fees and the fact that we never get the bandwidth and reliability that we are promised. So they dropped by for a visit.

And that’s one reason I love Zim. It doesn’t matter that is a Tuesday, that its 10am, and that my day is already unravelling. You can always make time to spend with your friends.

We made a pot of tea and sat under a tree in the garden, chatting. Within five minutes we’d told everyone about our days, within 6 we’d discussed politics and what our predictions are for Zim (no change for now), and within 10 we were all feeling much better. My hubby was having a meeting with a client (we both work from home), but when that was over, he joined us, and since it was 11.30 we felt justified in opening a bottle of white wine.

Well then it was lunch time so we rustled up some scrambled eggs on toast, and had some more wine, and made weekend plans for a mini bush adventure, and then chatted some more, and then it was 3pm, and our friends had to leave to pick up their kids from school, and we had to get back to work.

The rest of my day went so much better. I felt so refreshed, so lucky to have good friends who also work from home and can be flexible in their working hours. So happy that they thought of coming over for a chat, even if we ended up persuading them to stay much longer than they’d planned.

My husband and I are not the sort of expats who have come with a company or aid agency, and can access company resources/help on occasion. We came here to set up our own small business, and therefore our friends fill this void: they are our equivalent of an extended family: our support network. We can call on them night or day to help with anything. Even without asking, offers of support come flooding in, our friends wouldn’t think twice about driving us to the airport (a 40km round trip) or lending us food, fuel, money, their car, or help fix the boiler. Likewise, they can call on us to help move house, or look after the kids, or help fix the roof.

People are generous with their time, and that to me is worth so much more than earning a fortune, climbing the career ladder, owning a fancy car or accumulating goods and chattels. Of course it means that we also have to be prepared to drive across the country to rescue someone with a broken car, or share water supply with our neighbours. We provide professional services and advice to our friends and family for free. But it is not an inconvenience at all, merely part of life, and it’s a joy to be able to help!

Of course I’m not comfortable realizing that people in Zim are suffering and dying, while I drink wine under a shady tree and chat with my friends. I do my bit to help, both in a personal capacity and professionally – I work for aid agencies and NGOs. But sometimes I need to relax, and to let go of my deeply-held concerns for Zim. Otherwise I will explode. We are all under huge pressure here, and we need coping mechanisms to deal with the challenging environment that is Zim these days. My favourite coping mechanism is spending time with friends or family. It epitomizes true quality of life for me – and it’s one of the reasons I love living in Zim.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Holding our breath...

Today could be a momentous day for Zimbabweans. A mere 11 months after the election, which was resoundingly won by the opposition party to the current (self-declared) Zimbabwean President, a new government is being formed. Not only that, but the opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai has been sworn in the newly created post of Prime Minister.

What a turn up for the books.

It was less than a year ago that Tsvangirai was photographed with a broken skull, beaten and bloody in the violent run up to last year’s election. And in 2005, Tsvangirai was locked up on treason charges – which, if proven in the (likely to be rigged) court case, could have resulted in the death penality. And yet today our TVs show pictures of him being sworn in as Prime Minister, by – who better – than his former nemesis, the Old Man, Uncle Bob himself.

What a week it’s been. Last Tuesday , we woke up to the news that 12 zeros had been removed from our currency, rendering our newly minted 100 trillion dollar notes (only released at the end of January) worth a mere 100 zim dollars – still barely enough for a loaf of bread. All of which was a waste of time by the way – since we’d been told a few days before by the (Mugabe-imposed) minister of Finance, that Zimbabwe was abandoning its currency and businesses are free to trade in foreign currency – which is pretty much what we’ve all been using solidly for the last six months in any case.

Then on Friday the deputy leader of the opposition party, Tendai Biti, was released from prison where he’d been held pending a trial for – you’ve guessed it – a charge of treason.

Yesterday we were told that Mr Biti was appointed by Tsvangirai as the new Minister of Finance – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. Officially Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of 231 million per cent. But in reality it must be in the sextillions – and no, I can’t tell you how many zeros that is. Think of the longest number and double it. At least 5 times.

But what was the big story in The Herald, our very own version of Pravda, the old communist propaganda paper? Yesterday The Herald published and emphatic denial that Zimbabwe has abandoned its currency (as previously reported by The Herald in an interview with the Min of Finance), and deploring the greed of companies that refuse to accept Zimbabwe dollars in payment for goods and services. In my experience, no one has accepted a Zim dollar cheque (including the government utility companies) since November last year, and since then it has proved impossible to get the cash to pay for the smallest, most menial debt.

And yet today, we held our breath and the world watched as Tsvangirai was sworn into his new role as Prime Minister. He promised to tackle the economy , the failed health system, and to ensure that food aid is distributed regardless of political affiliation or ethnic origin. With inflation at incalculable rates, over 90% of the population unemployed, a massive cholera epidemic and over half the population in need of food aid, the Prime Minister has his work cut out for him.

As for us – yup, we’re on tenterhooks. Emotionally drained. Dare we hope that things will actually start to change? We’ve had our hopes dashed so many times before. Cynicism reigns supreme.

And yet, and yet… we can’t help ourselves; we secretly, quietly and desperately hope for a new dawn in Zimbabwe.