We weren’t sure it was appropriate for people to be witty and charismatic in Zimbabwe anymore. There’s oppression and cholera around these parts, you know. It’s like taking a bunch of starving kids to a pro-bulimia rally. You just don’t do it.
Which is why we raised a theatrical eyebrow when we came across http://www.rustygate.org: a blog by Joe Ruzvidzo, aka Joe Black. How can your interest not be piqued by a guy who is “Wanted by your mama” and “Inspired by Obama”? Brownie points for lyrical dexterity aside, we were genuinely intrigued by Mr. Black. We wanted to know how Funny and Creative are getting by in nose-to-the-grindstone Zimbabwe. What would he be like? Garrulous and upbeat with a beefy laugh and a generous charm? Like a black Santa without the gifts?
What we found was a dreadlocked “Joe Black”. Still smiley and charming but not nearly as upbeat as we’d expected. Joe, a graphic designer by trade, blogs “when something pisses (me) off”. That’s twice a week, right now. We meet at a place called The Maiden. Formerly a swish English style pub overlooking the grounds of Harare Sports Club’s cricket ground. Now, sans cricketers, it’s a grimy bar we wouldn’t visit by ourselves, where waitresses look at you as though you’ve asked them to point you towards where the virgins are being sacrificed if you order anything as outrageous as a cocktail. Dirty plates are left stacked in full view for hours while surly servers in flip-flops do their best to provide as underwhelming a service as possible. Job done, ladies. Job so very done.
Mr. Black. We haven’t lived in Zimbabwe for about 12 years but we want to come home now.
Don’t do it.
Why not? Isn’t everyone happy? You know, because of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the return of democracy.
Nope. Everyone is depressed. On the surface, it might look good but it’s a bubble that’s about to burst and nothing that is 100% self-funded thrives, or even survives, here.
But we’re smart, Mr. Black. We are smart and hardworking. That must count for something. Surely we could make a go of it?
I tried that here, I tried it in Botswana and it didn’t work. I ended up coming back here and taking a 9 to 5 job working for someone else. Now every 25th of the month, at least I know my check is coming. I know that I’ll be able to pay my bills and I don’t have to spend eons chasing revenue that will never come in. But at least I have a job, so I’m not complaining.
Ok. But we see lots of fancy cars, Mr. Black. Lots and lots of them cruising along the streets. People must be working.
Unemployment is 80% and rising.
But there is money here. There must be. We drive past houses that look like exclusive spa retreats – every single day.
Sure there is money, but it is concentrated in the hands of a teeny tiny minority.
Did you really just say “teeny tiny”?
No that was your poetic license; but I did say the minority is very small.
Who are they, this tiny minority? Perhaps we could date one of them. We are still single, you know.
Bankers, corporate concerns, politicians, relatives of politicians…
That’s a pretty big dating pool, Mr. Black. Do you have names? Numbers?
Ok, never mind, we can do our own research.
So, why don’t you own a farm? Apparently people our age (none of your business, Reader) we are all very farmer-ish now.
I’m not ready to sell my soul yet.
Ah. Well, of the things you could sell, we’d recommend getting rid of your soul before, say, a kidney.
I’ll keep that in mind.
But we used to read reports of empty shelves at supermarkets and endless queues for fuel. That isn’t a problem now.
Sure but that’s a bubble that is going to burst soon. None of the goods on the shelves is Zimbabwean. Apart from the way they are transported being environmentally unsustainable, it also hikes the prices way up until they are artificially and prohibitively high for a lot of people.
But everyone is a farmer now, Mr. Black. We don’t get it. Didn’t we used to be a “breadbasket” or something?
Zimbabweans used to be the kings of Africa. Now we are at the very bottom of the continent’s totem pole. The very bottom. To be pitied or resented.
That’s kind of a downer, Mr. Black.
It’s also true.
Ok, so that’s how people live. What about where they live? We hear people are buying houses for rock bottom prices like USD 100,000. For that kind of money, we could pay off our mortgage in well under 10 years.
Mortgage?! There is zero credit in Zimbabwe. None at all. No loans. If you want to buy something, you buy it in cash.
Even a house?
Especially a house.
But we don’t have that kind of money just lying around.
Then rent. But choose your location carefully. People don’t feel safe in their own homes anymore.
Because of the persistent blackouts?
Because of the violent crime. Armed robberies are often carried out by the very people you would expect to protect you from lawlessness.
This is very disheartening, Mr. Black. Why don’t you leave?
Because I am a Zimbabwean.
Well, so are we. Do you feel that you are more patriotic than us?
Yes, I do. And … if I can’t make it here, I can’t make it anywhere.
That last bit doesn’t really make sense to us. But it is the opinion of someone who cannot be accused of having done it, whatever “it” is so far, the easy way. So we leave it at that. Mr. Black leaves the pub before we do. He is engaged and has a Mrs-Black-to-Be waiting for him.
At the table, we’re left to wonder, not for the first time, if the sticker-arounders are mindless lunatics or admirable loyalists. And how do you tell the difference between the two? As we get ready to make our way out of the bar, we’re not sure how to put a positive slant on that conversation. A lot of realism and not as much stardust as we’d hoped. But Joe Black is getting on with it. This living in Zimbabwe business. Articulate, cynical and salaried. We enjoyed that…
Wait! Don’t go just yet…
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