While I have not yet been to Zimbabwe, I have met refugees from there and talked to enough people who have visited there to collect some first hand accounts. I am not going to delve into the history of the situation, but if you truly want to gain an understanding of what is going on there you must read the history.
While I have not yet had taken the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe (or as many call it in casual conversation “Zim”) but I have been close enough to get a taste of what is going on there. While we were going to the Sowa Pans we had a 5 hour layover in Francistown Botswana. Francistown is less than 100 Km from the border with Zimbabwe. And because Zimbabwe usually doesn’t have things like, oh, food and gasoline many Zimbabweans come to Francistown to shop and then take back with them much more than they can carry. Not everyone in Zimbabwe can do this of course, because the Zimbabwe Dollar is at around 1,000,000,000% inflation, so they have to have foreign currency (the Pula, Rand, or U.S. Dollar) to make purchases in Botswana. These monied shoppers come to Francistown and buy in bulk. Food, gasoline, electronics, mechanic parts. As a result every store supplying these items has come to look like a Sam’s Club with discounts offered for bulk quantities. This is good for Francistown, but bad for Zimbabwe as capital flight has become to standard method of spending liquidated money.
Yes, that is a refrigerator on top, and then other stuff is stacked even higher than that. The colorful bags are made of woven plastic (I
So while we were passing time in the direct sunlight to wait for our bus to Sowa Town I decided to go find out what was going on next to the Zim bus. First thing I noticed when I got into the crowd of people waiting in “line” to get on the bus or to get their goods loaded on the bus was that the smells reminded me of Haiti. The smell of human beings, charcoal fires, diesel fumes, and whole leaf tobacco rolled in butcher paper being shared among groups of men. If I shut my eyes and thought about the grime on the bus and everything being loaded on it I could be in Haiti. The major difference is that people ride on top of all that stuff on the roof in Haiti, and the buses are older.
In a previous blog entry I mentioned about my namesake town here in Botswana, Sowa. Well we had our spring break, or ‘short vacation’ as the emic term goes, and I convinced a friend to visit the salt pans in Sowa town. He brought along three other people as well and we all set off Thursday night on the train from Gaborone to Francistown. Boarding the train was an event. The line was hundreds of people long and everyone rushed foward to get on the train (and get a seat to avoid standing for the 8 hour ride). Well, the train had not even stopped moving as people came to blows while holding on to the side of the train car. I saw lugage knocked under the cars, but thankfully no people. We were riding first class, which ment we got a sleeper car. These expensive (20 USD) tickets were not in such demand, as we were two people to each four person room. The train is popular because it is about 7 USD cheaper than the bus.
Daily train from Gaborone to Francistown
After arriving in Francistown we had to pass a few hours waiting for the bus to Sowa Town. The landscape changed as the minibus made its way to Sowa. I noticed that trees were becoming more sparse and the heat was more intense. Upon arrival in Sowa Town we got a ride to the Country Club (yes I am serious) where we were generously greeted with free water and bags of chips and then got a free ride out to a lodge near the salt mine and the salt pans. We then walked out to the salt pans (Sua Pan) to set up camp.
Did I mention I had a 70 pound backpack? And it was pushing 110 degrees F?
So we would sit out on the salt pan during the day and watch the horizon melt, then reform, distant rocks looked as though they were floating, and at high noon heat the heat waves off of the salt in the distance made it look as though we could tell the earth was spinning as fast as it is.
Last Thursday I took a bike ride to check out the Botswana Consumer Fair. This is an annual event where producers from all of Botswana, and some from South Africa, display their products for consumers and dealers in Botswana. It was not difficult to find as all I had to do was walk with the rest of the masses assuming we were all going to the same place. Combie (15 passenger vans) prices went up so more people are walking now. I noticed plenty of parents with kids and some people even stopped me and asked I take their picture.
...and now they are on the internet. Who coulda guessed?
It cost around 3 USD to get into the consumer fair, but it was so big I bet someone found a way to get in for free. The first thing that caught my eye was a carnival set up just like it would be in the U.S. Farris Wheel, mini roller coaster, spinning vomit inducing rides ect. Then I noticed just about everyone eating ice cream. And if they were not eating it they were holding 2-5 pints looking somewhat confused as what to do to keep it from freezing. The ice cream companies were at the fair and had a promotion price of around 5 Pula per pint, which is less than 90 cents a pint. So I got some ice cream too, and it was good.