**Now that I have more time on my hands, I realized I never posted my Zimbabwe article. Imagine this post came out a few months ago. :)**
–I want to give a special shout out to my best friend, Sharon, her friends, and her family for hosting me these past two weeks in Zimbabwe. I had the most unbelievable time in Zim. I could not have felt more welcomed and accepted. I could not have had better holidays away from home. For that, I thank you.–
One of my days in Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe), Sharon and her friends took me to Domboshava to see some natural balancing rock formations and a hike. While we were there, I was completely aghast of the beauty that laid ahead of me. To me it was a perfect example of humans living in harmony with the land. The lush, colorful landscape filled with hills and rock formations collide so intricately with small houses made out of rocks, straw, and mud. Unlike the U.S., where rows of corn and beans chop up land into structured squares, Zimbabwe grows tobacco, maize, and other vegetables in all sorts of geometric shapes, molded by the land’s peripheries. I lost my breath at its harmony.
Often times traveling, I think to myself, why would anyone travel to the U.S. to see our sites if they have these to visit every day? I must have caught myself in one of these moments because I turned to my new hiking friends and blurted out, “Guys, you live in heaven!” They all rotated their heads and contemplated for a moment in disbelief. I realized my exaggeration and responded, “Well, its heaven with some minor corruption.”
After a moment of silence, my new friends simultaneously began in a chorus of laughter. Have you ever shared something from the depths of your heart and only to be returned with an unexpected reaction? This is what it occurred. I did not quite know how to take their cackles.
Suddenly Sharon picked up on my bewilderment. She turns and says, “Minor? BAHA! More like, Major.”
I then realized. I had no need to be polite. Zimbabweans accept and openly discuss the deep corruption of their country. Sitting at a brunch with Sharon’s friends, much of the conversation revolved around family members caught up in the corruption of the government.
It does not take long once one lands in Zim to recognize the corruption. Driving through town, I see police officers everywhere. Stopping people if and when they decide to. Imagine if in the United States all the police officers decided to one day stop responding to 911 calls, shootings, or even rescuing kittens, only if they were bribed to do so. Imagine that if you are to question any police officer, you could be arrested, burned, or shot. Imagine driving down the road and you are pulled over because “supposedly” one screw is loose under the car and now you have to pay a $100 fine. And the only means to pass such madness is to have a particular license plate if you work for the President.
This is the world Zimbabweans live in every day.
This is when I realized how much I have taken for granted. In the United States, although there are some racial issues, there is a system to fight against it. If there is an emergency and you call 911, you know someone is going to answer. You know some form of security will trace your call and come to you within a matter of minutes. You know if you go missing, that your family, but the city, police, FBI, and maybe even strangers will be on the look out for you. There is no such thing in Zimbabwe. Security is personal. Any time you exit your house, you are rolling the dice.
Now, I might be exaggerating a bit. Obviously, many Zimbabweans have figured out means to counteract this corruption, but it still exists. And for many of the lower class, it is 10x as difficult to surpass this pugnacious behavior.
What gets me is how nonchalant each and every Zimbabwean is about it. They accept it, as it is the norm. But this is the thing, it’s not the norm. Someone is shot by the police in the ghettos? Well, what were you doing in ghettos so late at night? You know the police might get you. Anymore they do not place blame on the system, but on their peers. Their family members. People my age are taught to be smart. Protect yourself first and foremost. Learn to trust only certain people and you will be okay.
But can you blame them? If a system exists and it is perpetuated by a public, supported and enforced by those in power, what is there to do? If the general public knows no difference, then what is there to do? At the end of the day, security and living is the most important. Should anyone attempt to revolutionize if the end result is something excruciatingly painful? Perhaps death?
I don’t think I blame them. At the end of the day, I want those close to me and I want them protected. If I can scrape by with the system, then why challenge it. In other words, I don’t see Americans challenging how or why we get roads. We accept that the system takes care of them. Has anyone ever thought about a private sector taking care of him or her? If so, they surely didn’t go very far.
The system runs wide and deep in Zimbabwe. The system is as unequal as it is corrupt. The same day at Domoshova, I looked down to see vast farms, a brunch bar, and then a well where close to 30 people huddled around taking water, placing it in buckets, and moved on their way. I turned to one of the friends and inquired, “How many people around here do this?” Despondent, he says, “Too many.”
Sharon took me to the ghettos of the city where about 150,000 people live confined in maybe a few miles. Everyone is working tirelessly to make a nickel. I had people ask to take pictures with me because white people rarely enter these quarters. Sharon’s good friend told me the travesty of international companies… There are these 100,000 people who create clothes and goods like the African patterns that are fashionable these days. Companies buy this cloth at next to nothing. Ship it to another country where men and women huddle in closed spaces working 12-14 hours per day sewing in unsanitary conditions to make almost $1 per day and then these clothes be sold to high class, many Americans, for $100 or $150—reaping all the profits. I walked around a corner to check out some apartments in these ghettos, where maybe 2-3 families share 1-2 room apartments. As I was looking I found a shed. As curious as I am, I opened the shed. To my surprise, I found 6 or 7 grown men sewing worn clothes inside the shed. At the beginning, they were a little nervous, but once I let them know that I was neither affiliated with any political party or a journalist, they welcomed my pictures.
I immediately thought back to my junior year at Simpson when I was the interfaith intern. In Religious Life Community, we did a variety of campaigns for Lent. One of our campaigns was to raise awareness of human trafficking and slave labor. I remember taking a quiz to see how many slaves I have contributed to just by the sort of clothes and objects I bought regularly. I couldn’t help but think, are these some of these people. Could these people be traced back to me?
I felt for Zimbabweans at that moment. They are only trying to make enough money to feed themselves, their family, and pay rent. They don’t know where any of their products are going nor do they know the price it could possibly be going for.
If it is anyone’s fault, it is a combination of international companies taking advantage. But also, some of this pain and suffering is attributed to the Zimbabwean government. We may talk about the true top 1% in the U.S., but not many know whom they are. In Zim, everyone knows who he or she is. They live in particular areas and they are associated with the president. Billions of dollars go missing yearly. Money for schools, roads, and vaccination– yet there is no trace. However, in the news, everyone knows the President is taking his extended family to Dubai for the Holidays. And then onto other countries for some light travel. In America, if this happened, the IRS would hunt down the president and then s/he would be impeached within minutes.
Normally if you are to ask anyone what they know about Zimbabwe, they will respond with “They have a long-ass serving President and major inflation problems.” You could guess these might have some correlation.
What through me for a loop when I arrived in Zimbabwe was that everyone uses American dollars. I forgot back in the later 2000s, the inflation rose so high that something that might cost about $10 would actually cost about a billion Zimbabwean rands. There are actual trillion rands printed because that is what was needed to buy daily products. They eventually put a halt to it by switching to the U.S. Dollar.
However, what perplexed me is how the government obtains U.S. money. I always asked people my questions. Does the U.S. export it? Does the government buy it? And yet even the economic all-knowing friends of Sharon had no answer. Supposedly it comes from tourists and that explains the shortages of money. While at the hotel, the ATMS only gave out dollars to foreigners. Zim is beginning to incorporate some new currency into circulation, but its economy has a long way to go.
Maybe there is hope, though. What I found among most Zimbabweans that I haven’t quite found anywhere else in the world is their humor. Everyone I came into contact with accepted life as it was and was willing to laugh about it. They were willing to laugh about their situations, the government, and the dooming world we might be in. In fact, it gave them energy.
On my flight from Harare to Johannesburg, I chatted with a lovely woman from Harare who now works in South Africa. We laughed away all the ironies, quirks, and messed-up situations in Zim and the United States. Within an hour, we became friends. What I loved about Zim is that this was common. Their welcoming attitude. You might not know someone, but just by one introduction, you acted like you are close friends. Their willingness to not let life keep them down and accept one another.
Something she said stuck me. She visited the United States many times, so we were able to compare and contrast each other’s countries. She asked me if I had the opportunity to ride a kumbi (an African van/bus that often fits maybe 15 people in an 8-person van, plays loud music, and has no exact route. It only stops where you want it to.) She asked me if I enjoyed it and I said I did, it reminded me of a party bus and I liked that I could just tap on the door and it would stop anywhere I wanted. She told me I am extraordinary, the first American she met to appreciate the kumbi. I asked her why and she said Americans have no patience.
And I thought about this thoroughly as this is something I have heard many times, Americans being impatient. I responded with something along the lines of, “I definitely think I have become more patient since traveling, however I still have issues sometimes when arriving at airports. It never fails that the line is an hour long and there is one person working at the counter. Or that all my African flights can never be on time. But there became a point where I have accepted the unwarranted.”
Then I reflected deeper. Why are we ALL impatient? What do all Americans do that makes us become patient- something that is not in many other countries. Then it came to me. Americans value time management. To be late in the U.S. is to be lazy. Maybe, yes, in cities with the metro it is acceptable sometimes, but normally everyone can plan their day accordingly to how long it will take them to get to work.
Then it hit me. Americans have the opportunity to plan. They have the opportunity to be impatient. Americans have the opportunity to be time efficient and time managers because we run on a system of trust. We know public transportation is coming at exactly 8:36 am and if it is one minute late, there is a reason. We have cars. We do not have policemen and women roaming the streets looking for bribes. We have the freedom to be efficient.
While us Americans are debating if we can put in an extra 15 minutes of sleep and still catch the right bus or avoid traffic, many Zimbabweans are worrying if they have enough money to pay a random bribe. They fill their time planning for the unexpected. An extra level of security that us, Americans, take for granted every day.
And for this, I am appreciative. I am appreciative that I grew up in a home where I knew I could get my drivers license, buy a car, and get to school, but if I didn’t, the school bus would be there to pick me up at 7:15 every morning. I am thankful that I can call 911 if there is an emergency. I am thankful that I know when I do pay taxes, they are going to better roads, building public libraries, and preserving national parks. I am thankful for trust- trust in the American people, in a democracy, and the government goes a long way.