Thursday, November 24, 2005

Death and hardship in Zimbabwe

One day whilst we were living in Francistown we received a phone call to tell us that one of Betty's cousins had died in Bulawayo. The next weekend we crossed the border into Zimbabawe and headed to Betty's uncles home.

We crossed the border at Plumtree countless times. We'd often spend weekends in Bulawayo - either with family memebers or in hotels. Hotels were cheap. You'd change your Botswana Pula into Zim Dolars at the border and for what amounted to enough money for a few groceries in Botswana you could enjoy a great weekend in Bulawayo.

The border crossing was relatively painless. It was as frustrating at times but we were rarely harrassed. To be fair the Zimbabwean officials treated us with great respect, despite my British passport, and we'd often face more needless bureuacracy when crossing back in to Bots - even with residence permits! On the odd occasion we had to pay tax on the groceries we were carrying. The tax was piitance but the delay caused by queuing to pay it was an unnecessary burden.

The groceries we carried were for relatives in the Bulawayo area. Due to the ever worsening plight of the people of Zimbabawe it became increasingy necessary for us to carry groceries including mealie meal, sugar, flour, cooking oil and salt every time we travelled. These commodoties were unavialable in Bulawayo (and I'm talking about nearly three years ago - the stories we hear from over there today are horrorendous!)

After crossing the border one would pull over into a lay-by where one would instantly be surrounded by dozens of young lads offering varying exchange rates for Botswana Pula. After making the trip several times we got to know a few ofthe boys and we always used the same ones when changing money. That way one could be sure to avoid the special branch officers who alledgedly infiltrated the money changers. I'd pick up one of our lads at the border and drive slowly to Plumtree village, a few KM's away. As I drove Betty would sort out the exchange of currrency with the lad. The system worked well and was safe. After the deal was done we'd drop the lad off at Plumtree village so that he could make his way back to the border. Using the parallel market became a perfectly natural thing to do and literally everyone from Botswana travelling into Zims did the same.

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