Cathy Buckle's Letter From Zimbabwe.
I have One Bar !
Saturday 19th November 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
I was at a small local function this week when a father stepped forward and addressed the gathering about the dire needs of an institutional home for mentally handicapped people. He told of how the institution had always been massively subsidised by farmers and businessmen. Farmers who would just arrive with sacks of vegetables, potatoes, meat and fruit. Businesses which gave bedding, furniture or cash donations to help with plumbing, maintenance and upkeep. In the last six years as the majority of farmers have been forced off their properties and as more and more businesses have closed in our shrinking economy, it has become almost impossible for specialist institutions to keep going.
At the end of his short appeal for help, there was clapping and encouragement from the audience and the man returned to his seat. As he did so the electricity went off in yet another power cut but before the candles had even been found, people were coming forward in the dark. One after another they passed over handfulls of cash and others gave bottles of brandy and vodka to be used as prizes in a raffle. Someone suggested the bottles be auctioned and amid cheering and applause an auctioneer was nominated and the bottles of spirit came under the hammer. There was nothing at all special about these bottles, they were the cheapest locally made spirits with unknown brand names which sell for around a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.The bidding for the first bottle began at a hundred thousand and with much laughter, taunting and insults it rose to two, three, six, eight hundred thousand dollars. "One Bar" shouted the auctioneer, "I have one bar" which is the latest Zimbabwean slang for one million dollars.This became two bars, and then three bars. At last the bidding was done and the sale made.The hammer went down in the candle light, the applause was defeaning and a desperately struggling home for mentally handicapped people was given a small reprieve.
Not long after the impromptu auction, talk turned to the ludicrous situation these days where the banks are short of big denomination notes. In a country with galloping inflation, presently at 411 percent, none of us ever seem to have enough money. A businessman told how he'd been short of 30 million in cash to pay his small work force. The bank said that at such short notice they could only provide it in one thousand dollar notes. Can you imagine drawing 30 million dollars in one thousand dollar notes? Later that night with a large sheet of paper, a calculator and kitchen scale I worked out what this entailed. Thirty thousand bank notes, three thousand paper clips and 30 elastic bands make up thirty million dollars. This large pile of paper weighs a staggering 45 kilograms and when the businessman got to the bank to collect his money, they had to loan him a tin trunk and two security guards to carry it. And what can you buy for thirty million dollars in Zimbabwe this week: twelve hundred loaves of bread or 90 frozen chickens or a drum and a half of petrol on the black market. It has all become very much like living in the land of Alice in Wonderland but the people are still the friendliest, kindest and most generous people in the world.
Until next week, love cathy