Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The longest wait

November 21, 2018

A few people have been asking about that good ol’ container. You know, that container Will (and members of our church) spent hours, and hours finding books for, packing books into, and filling entirely – including the quarter of it made up of our stuff.

Here’s a wee picture of it cheerily packed and ready to go in New Zealand, in June, the last time we saw it.

As you know, that container was shunted around Southern Africa as the documents were found and lost and then found again. Eventually it came to rest in Harare. From thence, the drama of the clearing agent began, in which a man named Wellington failed so completely to clear anything that we decided he was totally unworthy of his job title.

While Wellington wasn’t clearing, the Trust donating the books was busy handing over the wrong papers to all and sundry, such that it racked up huge penalties it couldn’t afford to pay, and began thinking of dumping the books. 

At this point, the Minister for Education decided to waive tax fees so the container could come through, and the Trust miraculously found money.

Somehow, despite the extraordinary comedy of errors, the books actually look like making it to those poor, underfunded and under-resourced rural schools we all do desperately want to help.


Now for an update on our personal stuff; we have it! YAY!! The last few days have been spent shoving furniture around in 40 degree Celsius heat, unpacking dusty boxes, and in general celebrating the pretty good condition of our stuff, given the journey it took to get here. 

I’m not talking about the sea voyage, I’m talking about the simple 12 hour drive from Harare to Victoria Falls.

On Thursday we had word from Wellington that our loooooooonnnnnggggg awaited stuff was finally on the move, after a month of arguing, scrapping and fighting for it to be picked up “tomorrow”. To say we felt we were drinking from the purest fountains of happiness is a massive understatement. Drunk on joy covers it better.

Here’s the quick version of what happened next:

First, the transport guys tried to turn up in a truck far too small, to save money and be clever. Our stuff didn’t fit, so they were delayed a few hours unpacking and repacking trying to find the right sized truck.

End day one.

Next, they made it to just outside of Bulawayo, and the truck broke down.

End day two.

Then, after multiple and tedious assurances they would be on the road early for the six hour drive ahead of them, they left at 3pm. Apparently, they were confident of arriving by 6pm.

They were here at 9pm, more than 60 hours after they first started the job.

I think we are still recovering from the psychological damage caused by the stress of those 60 hours, and fortunately my mum is a marriage counsellor so our relationship is back on track too.

And hey, the important thing is we FINALLY have our stuff.


Cholera and containers

November 14, 2018

A few of you have been asking how I am, so I thought it was time for a quick general update.

Basically, I have definitely survived Cholera…if it was Cholera. I had the one day of horrible, runny tummy, and then I was on the road to recovery. Really, the only scar was a bit of weight loss, which I ordinarily wouldn’t complain about, except that it came on the back of already needing to put weight on.

So, I am undergoing the grueling process of trying to put weight on. It’s tough, but someone HAS to eat that extra chocolate or consume the final cookie, you know?

Other than that, Will did arrive back from Harare yesterday (always a bonus when the flight arrives not on time, but on the correct day, here). Unfortunately, it was without the container. Again.

BUT we did make some important progress and I do think we are not far away now. Within a week I’m hoping we will have the container up here, and I’m a pessimist so if I feel hopeful the signs must be good.

Finally, I would like to tell you all about a new business I’ve opened up, which is exclusive to two customers.

This is Nellie’s Salon.


Basically, I cut all sorts of hair, so long as it is Will’s or Kepler’s. As you can see the customers arrived deeply unhappy with the state of their hair.

Here are the after shots:

I’m rather chuffed with the results, given that it was my first time ever attempting a real haircut. By the way, I don’t actually know why we decided to risk this…there are plenty of hair salons in Victoria Falls!

The making of a madam

November 12, 2018

So after two-and-a-half months of living as a lady of leisure, I think I’m JUST starting to get used to the whole maid thing.

Yes, it may be part of the lifestyle here in Zimbabwe, and yes, it may be a moral obligation given unemployment levels, but it is still flipping weird to get used to a stranger in your home, doing your jobs, five-and-a-half days a week for 8 hours a day.

Not only did I clean a two-story house each week in New Zealand, but I also looked after our Airbnb room and bathroom. At one stage I was cleaning my parents’ house weekly, too.

What I’m saying is that I am abundantly familiar with toilet bowls and scrubbing shower floors. For some strange, twisted reason I got a kick out of seeing those grubby little bathrooms transformed into gleaming palaces.

Then we got to Victoria Falls. Suddenly, there was Faith, doing the things I was meant to do. Initially, I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting around doing nothing while she worked. I couldn’t relax. If my staff are working, I should be too, right? Especially if they are doing MY jobs!

Then, there was the fact that a stranger was in my home…in my toilet…washing my UNDIES!

I actually got so uncomfortable with it all a couple of weeks ago that I was nearly in tears. I would have asked Will to cut back Faith’s hours, but given the economic situation that would be tantamount to heartless.

Then I realised what was going on.

Faith had taken my identity. Not actually, and not even on purpose. It’s just that I went from being a stay-at-home mum who got a kick out of cleaning her house, to being…well…a nobody.

I know that sounds terribly ungrateful of me, but it is the honest truth about how I’ve found adjusting to paid help!

Fortunately, for all of us, I’m getting the hang of it all. I’m even getting used to being called “madam” all the time, and having to refer to Will as “sir”. It’s not because it makes us feel comfortable (I’m a Kiwi, it’s quite the opposite), it is in order to make Faith and Emmanuel (her brother and our gardener) feel comfortable.

The culture here is hierarchical. Paying deference to bosses, elders or the like is done without question. For us to try to change that, to move to first names or some other egalitarian Kiwi idea, would simply change our discomfort into theirs. I know because I’ve seen it in their faces a few times when I’ve done something “unmadamly” (like asking Faith for shopping advice. Who knew questions about finding beans could make someone feel so uncomfortable!)

Aside from the whole title thing, I’ve also discovered how much more fun cooking and baking are when you have someone to peel, chop and do the dishes…I will not lie, it’s amazing. Fortunately Faith loves cooking, and wants to learn whatever I can teach her, so we’ve had a few bonding moments over that. I’ve decided not to mention how limited my skills really are at this stage, and I’ve taken on the persona of kindly teacher, gently allowing her into my vast universe of knowledge…it’s working so we’ll roll with it.

So there we are. I now march around my estate giving orders and feedback on how I want jobs done…and pretending to know the solution to a vast array of problems I’m only guessing at. My staff are now getting the feedback and instructions they need to know they are doing the job well, and I can see how much happier they are.

I am, I can confidently and honestly say, a madam. And believe me, that is not a sentence I ever thought I would write in my life.


Pet update

November 9, 2018

I’ve finally nicked the computer for a few minutes while Will argues with Wellington, the clearing agent, about our container.

For two weeks he has been telling us the papers to collect our container will be ready “tomorrow”. Suffice to say fuses are running short! Add to that a hectic amount of paperwork urgently needing to be done for Shongwe, and you have a very busy Will/computer.

Anyways, far more important updates are needed. Like this one about our pets!

I can’t remember if I told you all, but we had three Guinea Fowl for a while. The idea was lovely, but the reality was…well, noisy. Basically, it was that same feeling you get when you are really wrapped up in a serious moment at the movies, and the chicks in the row behind you are having a good, loud gossip. Except you are living with it. All the time.

So the Guinea Fowl went home, and we got Rocco, the rescue dog.

As you all know he joined us about a month ago. He was as timid as could be to start with, so it is INCREDIBLE to see him bound around our garden begging to play.

He was pretty defensive for a while there…poor Shylock could hardly move without Rocco sending up a Foghorn-decibel level warning, and throwing his body between Shylock and I. Shylock, to his credit, took it all in his stride and didn’t even pop back into his shell. He just kept munching his grass and throwing irritated looks at Rocco.

We’ve also since discovered that there is a Mrs Shylock, whom I haven’t managed to photograph yet.

Then, on Tuesday, little Simba joined us. He is already living up to his name, running around the place as boldly as a lion, and taking on Rocco whenever the much bigger, older puppy is trying to sleep! Rocco, by the way, means “to roar”, and he has unfortunately been living up to that too, lately. I need to mention that we meant the name to be metaphorical – as in he would one day roar in victory over the damage done to him by his abuse.

Kepler is loving having a smaller dog around, and has also taken to walking around naked a lot of the time…so I’m sorry for the following photo. I’ve chosen the least revealing!

So, we are, as you can see, a relatively happy family, except for the fact that I’ve discovered I’m allergic to dogs. Thank goodness for large doses of Vitamin C, and the ensuing nostril clear up it produces in these situations.

Oh, and the tortoises have tics. How you are meant to use the powder tic treatment we have found on an animal that hides in its shell whenever you approach is beyond me, but we shall persevere!

Clothes shopping in Zimbabwe

November 5, 2018

So, clothes shopping in Victoria Falls is a little different to New Zealand.

Back home, I had a range of fantastic Op Shops (second-hand clothing shops) to select from. They were all neat and tidy, the music was subtle and quiet, the sales people were mostly standing or sitting behind a counter.

I loved Op Shopping; the thrill of a bargain, the cheap-as-chips price tags, the treasures you might find on the next rack made it all rather exciting.

I think that excitement has been multiplied by a factor of 10 over here. But before we head to Comesa Market, here’s what Op Shops in New Zealand are like:

It’s all RATHER different to our bargain shopping mall here.

In Vic Falls, if we want cheap clothes we head to Comesa Market. I don’t know what it is, but the noise, squash of humanity together, colors, chaos and great drama involved in bargaining, just make it the funnest morning ever.

There are no racks, no counter tops over which to pass your purchase, and there is certainly no such thing as subtle, quiet music or dedicated changing rooms.

All you’ll find is piles of clothes – all second-hand donations from lovely aid or religious organisations who couldn’t sell them back home – and a bunch of humans lying around on them.

I thought I would bring you guys along with us, so without further ado, welcome to Comesa market.

A brush with Cholera

November 3, 2018

Heelllooo everybody! Sorry about the long delay between posts. Let me explain.

Last week we went to Harare to collect our permanent residents’ stamps, and then to collect the very, very long awaited stuff from our container.

We went Fastjet instead of Scair Zimbabwe this time, and I have to say it could have been a flight in New Zealand.

Anyway, the visit didn’t exactly go according to plan, Africa being Africa.

After collecting our permanent residents’ stamps with extraordinary ease, everything went downhill.

It started with a six hour visit to Zimra (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority), in which we applied to collect our container tax-free as residents are allowed to do. Here’s the action shots of us waiting:

(Thanks, by the way, to Nancy Pearcey for publishing “Finding Truth”. I think it singlehandedly kept me sane. Thanks also to MaryJo Sharp for friending me on Facebook so I could see awesome book recommendations.)

Now, the important thing to understand about this is that Zimra is RIGHT in the middle of Harare, and Harare is RIGHT in the middle of a Cholera outbreak. Just remember that for later.

At some point during the six hour wait, the toilet called, and I realised I was taking a risk. There was no soap, and I had to touch taps and doorknobs. We only had baby wipes to clean our hands with for the greasy Chicken Inn finger food we managed to find to keep us going.

Despite our interview going well, we were informed at 4.30 in the afternoon that, thanks to a paper work stuff up by our clearing agent, our tax-free status had been declined. That will be US$6000, thanks.

We berated Wellington, the thoroughly useless clearing agent, (I have no qualms in saying), worked out how to appeal, then went home.

That night, I woke up feeling rather queasy. Eventually, I couldn’t hold it in, and began to serenade the Robb family, who had kindly hosted us, with the sounds of vomiting and diarrhea until the wee hours of the morning.

Will and Kepler quickly followed, albeit with less severe versions, thank heavens.

Only once we were back in Victoria Falls, away from robust medical care, did round two hit.

About midday, my tummy suddenly swelled like a balloon, and I found myself running to the toilet to flush a few more kilograms (that I really don’t want to lose at this point), down the toilet.

By the evening, my half-hourly WC visits were getting closer to 10mins, and the cholera outbreak in Harare was quite present in my mind.

And honestly, I still don’t really know if that’s what it was. All Dr Google would tell me was that Cholera is “acute diarrhea” which in 1 out of 10 cases leads to death. (Medical friends, feel free to hypothesis/correct Dr Google in the comments).

It was enough to get me sipping rehydration liquids like crazy, and cramming activated charcoal into my bloated belly. Thank heavens, it worked. I was asleep by 11, and on the mend the next day.

On a positive note, I did discover post round one with Cholera (OBVIOUSLY what it was), that Harare was once a BEAUTIFUL city, and still is in many ways. Unlike many major African cities, you can drive through the middle without the slightest fear for your life. It’s full of wide avenues, shaded by tall trees, through which beautiful buildings pop up. Parking agents in bright orange vests, and uniforms, guard the streets, and the pavements are mostly free of rubbish.

If it weren’t for the whole Cholera thing, I wouldn’t be opposed to living there one day!

Anyways, Will will be back in Harare next week, hopefully to succeed in our appeal and FINALLY collect our container (tax-free!).

Ekonomikrisis Pt 2

October 19, 2018

After the events of last week, the entire nation of Zimbabwe was left holding its breath for two days.

There is no official weekend trading, so for 48 agonising hours we all punted theories as to what the rate would do on Monday.

Never in my life have I had reason to care about exchange rates (like, really care) before. I don’t intend to convert you, but I will just try to paint a little picture of all the awful, jargon-filled, language is trying to tell us.

As I said, EVERYBODY was debating the rate. We huddled in little groups at a party on Saturday, with local cafe owners, butchers, and catering people trying to keep the stress out of their voices and the strain out of their smiles.

The last week had hit hard. They had been paid in a currency that almost devalued by the day. Supplies dried up as suppliers closed their doors.

So prices went up, and cafes emptied out, fresh milk went into the freezer at retail stores in the hopes customers would come by soon.

Then the weekend hit. Will’s sources on the street told him the rate was flattening out. Someone said the government had secured US dollars and everything would be ok. Someone else said major companies had been cashing in their local currency to get rid of it for US dollars.

None of us really knew what was going on, but we all made up theories anyway just to try to make sense of things. Word of mouth is the best we have in lieu of newspapers, which no one seems to read AT ALL here.

We went to church, played touch rugby, and gathered at dinners as usual, because not doing these things wouldn’t make a difference – but acting normal now felt odd.

Monday rolled around, and word from Harare was the rate had come back…phew! Local currency wasn’t so useless after all! Except, no one could get currency there at the new rate.

The inevitable had hit by Wednesday. Local currency was tumbling again. By now major supermarkets and shops were opening later just so that they could get a sense of the rate, and rejig local prices before customers hit the store. The 7/11 became a 10/6. Other stores closed entirely.

And here we are; facing different prices everyday for the same tray of eggs, or cup of coffee; with email inboxes stacking up with official notices from banks and health care providers about “the current situation” and how on earth payments will be calibrated; with roller doors down on store fronts till mid morning, while the government remains thunderously silent.

Here we are wondering what to pay staff and the cottage builders as their wages get cut by 75 per cent in days according to some strange, unknown equation a government kicked into action without being able to control it.

And the worst economic indicator of all hit today; Will looked grim.

When an eternal optimist looks grim – very grim – and says the rate won’t recover from another hit, you know the poo is flying very close to the fan.

It’s all odd, for a naive little Kiwi to make sense of. I’ve never been in such a baffling, bizarre situation before.

For now, I’m just sticking to the plan; plan meals carefully and cross the border to Botswana for food and petrol each week if we run out here. Help our friends and family further inland however we can. Make sure we have well-stashed first aid kits, fuel cans and cupboards.

Then, just find something nicer to chat about.

Like this: hey, did you know Rocco came back! He’s got ticks and fleas, and dog flu, but still, he’s back!