We moved on to the capital of Zimbabwe today; Harare. It’s a typical big city, nothing special. I have no pictures of it as apparently it is prohibited to take any in cities.
We arrived at lunchtime and only had about 4 hours here so obviously the first thing we did was find food… Four of us ended up inside a big bank complex that had shops at the bottom and we had mediocre sandwiches at a coffee shop. Weird prices – $4 for chicken with chips and also $4 for just chips. Iced coffee (which turned out to be a huge milk shake) was $1 and tea $3 (still just luke warm water with a bag).
Afterwards Eddie and I set out to find a pharmacy as I needed a band-aid and not in the evening when I could get to my bag. The first couple of places we tried (supermarket, corner stores) acted as if band-aids are the rarest item to come by and pharmacies even more so. However when we moved closer towards the actual shopping area of town we came across pharmacy row. Literally every shop was a pharmacy, there must have been at least 15. Most of them were of the kind that has four confused employees randomly standing around and all the items were behind the counter and needed specific calling out and pointing at as the pharmacist didn’t seem to realize that this particular store was selling them. Again, people were very polite but not especially interested in helping me or selling anything at all. In two pharmacies you could buy hairdryers, chocolate bars and cleaning utensils for your car but the question for band-aids raised eyebrows like I had asked for medical marijuana. The third pharmacy sold a strip of 10 band-aids for $1 or an entire box for $8. Two pharmacies later I finally had the option of three different varieties, all German brands and packaging, and I bought an industrial strength type for $3 while five pharmacists curiously oversaw my transaction. This now brings my band-aid count to 140… if only I had them with me when I actually need them…
After the pharmacy errand we concentrated on a head torch for Eddie. Again we found a row of shops that sold random equipment, none of them outdoor stuff though. Just for fun I asked everybody where I could find this lamp and three different places pointed me to “the Chinese” as if this was a famous superchain. “The Chinese” turned out to be a 99cent type of store with not one Asian person in sight. We did indeed find a headlamp there, the size of a coffee mug and with Chinese to English translation of the battery instructions that are worth a picture.
Fast forward to another mall with brand name clothes and higher end shops. Until then every mall or shop had been a larger equivalent to the stalls on Canal Street but this was the real deal. We had a coffee and some overly sweet cake and a croissant the size of a brick. The portion sizes were out of control and I wondered who these people were that could hang around a food court at 3 pm on a Wednesday, clearly able to afford the food prices, clearly wearing regular clothes, none of them overweight. The entire group of us is wondering where these ‘poor’ people of Zimbabwe are, nowhere we looked did we get the impression that this is a poor country. Maybe here they mastered the art of being thankful for what they got? Everyone seems happy, not one grumpy person anywhere. At the gate to the camp ground we passed a security guard or policeman, he was heavily armed but he was waving at us and smiling like a madman. The smile was pretty counteractive to the gun… The entire police force seems to have a ball; yesterday two policemen offered to trade one of theirs for a girl from our group and invited us into the car for a ride. The unemployment rate is extremely high here, yet the people with jobs seem to be bored.
Although Harare is not a tourist destination and we were clearly the only white people walking around we did not feel out of place, we were not hassled or stared at. The sea did not part for us nor were people standing or walking too closely as they often do in South Africa. Nobody begged for anything, only once did someone try to sell me air freshener but he laughed when I said that I smell good by default and he left me alone after that. We simply ‘blended in’. I liked that, it’s definitely a way of experiencing a city. As far as I know there is not much here to do but I could stay a while without feeling out of place. We bought a bunch of snacks and once again got the green-brownish rags back that the Zimbabweans call money. These are in fact US dollars and none older than 6 years, but because the government doesn’t print new money or replace it the bills look they’ve been washed a few times and then dragged through the mud. Which they probably have.
Coins do not exist so if you must pay an uneven amount you will get South African Rand coins back. I have yet to figure out how to use them for odd amounts. The bigger problem is change for big bills. Pretty much nobody can break a $10 bill or more. Last night I had a beer for $3 and the waiter practically talked me into having two more and giving $1 tip as he could not give me change. This happens wherever we go. At the place in Vic Falls the restaurant gave me vouchers instead of money. My guess is that uneven prices are only there so that the shop can automatically round up to the next even amount.
But the state of this money is fascinating. Every night I must watch out that I don’t accidentally bin the green cloth along with the other clutter in my pocket.