Daryle and I also had the chance to experience a country with amazing natural beauty and wonderful people. A number of our friends and family have asked about our impressions of the country, so
The people in Zimbabwe are unfailingly friendly and optimistic. They love their country. And they should, it’s beautiful! There are still free-roaming elephants, Victoria Falls is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world on nearly any version of the list and looking out the windows of the train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls I saw more stars than I knew existed. When you think of the African bush, Zimbabwe is what you picture.
However, I spent a lot of time wondering how this country could possibly be functioning. In the town of Victoria Falls, someone on the street will approach you roughly every 10 minutes wanting to sell you a set of the now defunct Zimbabwean currency. The top ranking bill is a trillion dollar note. They will sell you a whole set of bills for US$2. A few years ago inflation got so bad that they completely scrapped the Zimbabwean currency and switched to using US bills.
There is a huge disconnect between the cost of goods and the income of the average people. The availability of goods is certainly less than we are used to and the prices on what is available are often even higher than in the US. The pay for the average worker is certainly no where near the US (you can get a haircut for $2) and unemployment is certainly upwards of 70% by most accounts, maybe even as high as 95% (although the government would have you believe it is below 10%). Yet, crime doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem.
It started to make a bit more sense when I learned that of the 13 million people who call Zimbabwe home, its estimated that about 4 million are working outside the country and sending money back. Our experience certainly evidenced the flow of Zimbabweans across the South African border. There are dozens of buses to and from South Africa daily and they are primarily if not completely filled with Zimbabweans. When we crossed the border into Zimbabwe (at 1am), there were atleast 10 other buses. I’d wager ours was the nicest and we still only had 4 tourists. The rest had Zimbabwe passports.
The general feeling you get in Zimbabwe is that things were quite nice at some point but have been in decline for some time. For example, the wood-paneled sleeper cars of the train we took from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls gave the impression of a once stately form of transport. But today, the sinks lack running water, a fraction of the lights even have bulbs and I’m not even sure where to start on the condition of the bathrooms.
I have to wonder how long this decline can continue without more drastic consequences. How long a country can keep forcing its people to leave in order to make a living. And how long the people can continue to be optimistic.