Million Dollar Loaf?
Saturday 25th March 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
Almost every night now the electricity goes off for at least two hours and
that's if we are lucky. In the last week the daily power cuts have ranged from 1
to 6 hours at a time and they almost always coincide with the main evening TV
news bulletin. In these circumstances it is very hard to keep track of what is
happening in the country - both news and propaganda. Frankly most people would
rather not know anymore as it's all just too shameful. On the one evening when
both electricity and news were on at the same time this week, I watched a group
of agricultural experts presenting the facts and figures about the imminent
winter wheat crop. It made me feel very afraid for Zimbabwe.
According to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Zimbabwe
is planning to plant one hundred and ten thousand hectares of wheat this winter.
If everything was as it should be, this hectarage would yield four hundred
thousand tonnes of wheat - this, coincidentally, is almost exactly how much
wheat the country needs for a year. According to the agricultural experts
though, this 110 000 hectares is unrealistic in the extreme and three main
farming unions said that at best they would only be able to plant 45 000
hectares this winter. The reasons were glaringly obvious. A shortage of tractors
for ploughing was one reason, no fuel was another and then there were the nitty
gritty's like money, pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation. A pesticide expert
said there are currently only enough chemicals in stock to treat thirty thousand
hectares of wheat - just over a quarter of the government planned crop.
Referring to crippling controlled prices imposed by the state, the fertilizer
representative said that unless government allowed them to charge viable prices
they would go out of business. The expert didn't give figures but said there was
currently "hardly any fertilizer in the country" and that 72 000 tonnes would
be needed for the wheat crop. The final "challenge" to the winter wheat crop was
apparently going to be ZESA . (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) The
experts pointed out that wheat is dependant on irrigation and said that any
periods of "outage would derail the crop." Outages, in ordinary English, are
power cuts and the acronym ZESA, it is now joked, stands for Zimbabwe
Electricity Sometimes Available.
In March 2005 a loaf of bread was four thousand eight hundred dollars. In March
2006 that same loaf is sixty six thousand dollars. Unless something dramatic
happens in the next few weeks and assuming prices continue to rise at their
present rate, a loaf of bread in March 2007 will be nine hundred and eight
thousand dollars. Imagine, almost a million dollars for a loaf, what shame upon
Zimbabwe. It is impossible to believe that just six years ago we were called the
"Breadbasket of Africa".
Until next week, love cathy.
Value Bacon for a house
Saturday 18th March 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
It was with a feeling of great sadness to watch the opening ceremony of the
Commonwealth Games this week and not see Zimbabwe walk in with all the other
countries. All our African neighbours were there, smiling, colourful and
bursting with patriotic pride. Even though I knew that our President had
withdrawn Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, still I watched, expectant, hopeful
but at last sad and disappointed as we were not present at the "friendly games."
What a shame it is that our rising young sportsmen and women have to suffer
this isolation. It is things exactly like these lost opportunities which push
more and more Zimbabweans into the agonising decision to leave the country. For
six years we have been going backwards in nearly every regard and now almost a
whole generation of youngsters have gone from home. It is hard to see what
Zimbabwe has to offer that would entice them, or their parents, to come back.
There is still no place like home but right now Zimbabwe feels like somewhere
else, nothing makes sense anymore and the overwhelming feeling is one of
A simple shopping trip to a supermarket has become an exhausting and depressing
event. You cannot take the price of anything for granted as almost everything
seems to go up every third or fourth day. It doesn't take long to gather up the
few things you can afford and then you wait, twenty or thirty minutes to get to
the tills. A combination of exorbitant prices and ridiculously small
denomination bank notes makes for very long delays while tellers count great
handfuls of money. As I stood behind ten people, none of who had more than six
items to pay for, it was a long twenty minutes to get to the front of the queue.
The woman in front of me had a bag of flour, it cost four hundred thousand
dollars, she was paying in ten thousand dollars notes and that meant forty notes
for her to count and then forty notes for the teller to count. As I stood
waiting for my turn I looked at the prices of things and it is like being in
cuckoo land. A 500 gram packet of "value" bacon costs more than I paid for my
entire house just five years ago ! A single egg now costs twenty five thousand dollars
and a friend told me that he had bought his two thousand acre farm a few years
ago for the price of two eggs and half an egg shell! Familiar international
brands of things like toothpaste have disappeared and been replaced by complete
unknowns. Products once made in Zimbabwe but now imported because companies have
relocated, are ludicrously expensive. You see a familiar product, put your hand
out and then gasp in despair when you realise that just a bottle of shampoo
costs 1.2 million dollars. Five years ago I could have bought a prime luxury car
for just over a million dollars.
When you finally get to the till and your goods are rung up, there is a scam
going on but you have to know about it to benefit. If your goods have cost more
than three hundred thousand dollars you can buy a bag of sugar - its on the
floor under the tellers feet. People being supported by families outside of the
country are still coping with Zimbabwe's nightmare days but the vast majority
are struggling desperately and everyone is so overwhelmingly tired of it all.
Until next time, with love cathy.
Scrappy little thorn bush
Saturday 11th March 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
In my garden a scrappy little thorn bush appeared from nowhere a few years ago.
Its a weed really and is very common in the bush, on road sides and river banks
and often in disturbed land. Almost all year round the bush has clusters of
berries which are hard green, then red and at last dark purple, almost black
when they are ripe. The berries are a nightmare to get at as the thorns are
viscous and prolific and are on all stems and branches and even the undersides
of the leaves. Its not really the sort of bush that proper gardeners would
encourage or cultivate and is more the kind of bush school kids stop and raid on
their way to and from school. At first, when the bush appeared in my garden I
left it because the berries were attracting a lot of birds. Then, I noticed my
son and his friends picking the berries when they were playing football in the
garden and I too began picking the odd berry here and there. Then, as prices
began to rise and foodstuffs as simple as a jar of jam became something I
afford anymore, I began really tending the scrappy little thorn bush in my
garden. Every day I carefully picked the berries as they ripened and put them in
a container in the freezer. There were never more than three or four berries a
day but they soon added up to quite a substantial amount. Making up my own
recipe, adding a couple of lemons and a few chunks of chou chou I ended up with
a great bounty of jam from nothing more than a scrappy little thorn bush.
I know that little stories like this are a bit silly coming from a country in
such dire trouble but they show what incredibly resourceful people we are in
Zimbabwe. In the last six years we have learned so many things across races,
cultures and classes. Despite, or perhaps because of the political horrors, we
Zimbabweans are perhaps now more united than ever before. We are all affected by
food, fuel and electricity shortages. We all have to drive on the same
collapsing roads, drink the same filthy brown water and pay the same outrageous
prices for the most basic groceries. Inflation reached 782% in February; the IMF
says we now have the highest inflation in the world. The ordinary people of
Zimbabwe are desperate, utterly desperate for this to end, all that is needed
now is the political will - from both the ruling and opposition parties. We hope
and pray it is near as our summer days are shortening and winter will indeed be
Until next week, love cathy
Tuesday 7th March 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
This letter is being sent out three days later than normal because I am now
entering the 92nd hour with only enough electricity for lights in my home. At
midday on Friday the voltage to my home crashed and the power is insufficient to
heat the water geyser, run a fridge or stove or even boil a kettle. 25 telephone
calls to the electricity supplier in the last four days, a personal visit to the
faults office, a number of offers to provide fuel or go and collect electricians
are all to no avail. In the villages less than 15 kilometres out of Marondera
there is also no electricity which means the grinding mills are not working. I
was told by a friend that there are scores of people now going without food and
that the atmosphere is extremely tense.
This morning there is literally mud coming out of the taps in my home which
means there are problems pumping water too. Zimbabwe is now entering the darkest
of days. It is hard to describe how anyone is surviving now and this week I had
the most amazing encounter which helped me put my own problems into perspective.
Standing at the entrance gates of a wholesaler there was a thin, gaunt, tired
looking man. On the ground next to him was a small pile of empty cement bags. He
bent and picked up a bag and held it towards me, asking me to buy it. An empty
cement bag, turned inside out and with two crude holes cut into the top for
handles. "Only thirty thousand dollars" the man said to me. This was literally
just an empty cement bag, it hadn't been sewn, reinforced or even cleaned very
well. I could think of no earthly reason why I would want an empty cement bag
but the look in the mans eyes, the slight trembling of his hand and the thinness
of his body gave me a whole lot of reasons. I gave the man forty thousand
dollars and told him to keep the change. I took my cement bag and the man called
out "God bless you, thank you," as I walked away. We both knew that the money
I'd just handed over would the man just half a loaf of bread but to me, and
obviously to him, selling cement bags enables a slither of dignity to be maintai
ned. Please keep the people of Zimbabwe in your thoughts and prayers in these
very hard times and thank you for reading.
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