Let me begin by first saying before coming to Africa, despite the multitude of “be safe” and “don’t get malaria” warnings received from friends and family, I literally had no time to comprehend where I was headed– I just knew I wanted to get the hell out. However, as I boarded the plane towards Zimbabwe, it began to sink in on me…holy shit – I am going to Africa!
As soon as these ridiculous thoughts dawned on me, an Angolan man who sat next to me on the flight, reached out and introduced himself, “Hi – I’m Francisco.” We ended up chatting for the next 10 hours and thus ended my nonsensical hysteria.
And these thoughts would quickly vanish once setting foot in Zimbabwe...
My first impression of Zimbabwe is that the country prides itself on family. Life is centered on family (not work!). Most people will start work at 8/9 and leave by 5/6 to see their families. I remember working with a co-worker who had bought a Hello Kitty doll during lunch to treat her daughter for not having seen her in 4 days due to long work hours – Zimbabweans would shake their head.
In terms of food, their staple food is called sadza, which is a cooked cornmeal and usually served alongside meat and vegetables. A meal will run you $2 and turn your afternoon into a 3-hour nap session. Most restaurants serving sadza are not your typical run of the mill restaurants but are located inside someone’s house or backyard – it pays to be a local to know the good hotspots. And if you don’t want to look like an overblown tourist, eat like the locals and use your hands.
Potholes…more potholes…and more potholes. You get used to the roller coaster rides after your first few days. And when you see drivers weave in and out – they’re not trying to hit you, just trying to avoid some more potholes.
However, the country has been marred by socioeconomic and political turmoil. It’s a mess to say the least. Land reform policies that redistributed farms from white farmers to local indigenous blacks led the country into a downward spiral and hyperinflation. Most locals I’ve talked to agree the land reform idea was the right idea but was badly executed. Agriculture was the backbone of the economy and as soon as the white farmers were forced out, so was the economy itself. And this led to the infamous hyperinflation period. Imagine trillion dollar bills that would buy you nothing. Imagine taking a taxi in the morning for $20…and in the afternoon, the price would’ve fluctuated to $100. That’s how bad things were. And when the dollar was adopted as the national currency, everyone lost everything in their bank accounts and had to start over.
And prices? Prices are ridiculously high compared to average earnings! Domestic workers make $125-$250 per month while office workers may rake in $800 - $1500 per month. But you are still paying westernized prices in the supermarkets.
Despite all the economic hardships, the people here are resilient. They are happy. They are tough. They laugh. They sing. They enjoy life, and that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from Zimbabwe – as long as you have family, you are good.