When I visited Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe I would walk to the town each morning. The town is fittingly called Victoria Falls (easy to remember). The walk from my small bungalow was about a mile. This was the first (and only) time I visited this country so I was unsure what to expect in my walk. But I knew this was a tourist area because of the Falls so the walk was likely safe.
The walk each morning was actually quite uneventful. Few vehicles or people would pass my way and I just enjoyed being in the new surroundings.
The town itself was quite interesting though. One of the aspects I found interesting was the large gathering of locals at one particular spot the first morning. They were dispersed around the courthouse, but there were so many women with children I did not think they were awaiting court hearings. I thought at first they were waiting for bus transport to work or something. But later that day they were all still standing there.
Smaller group seen around the courthouse:
The second day I walked into town I saw the same image. It was the same group of people early in the morning just sitting around. Well, my curiosity got the better of me and demanded I know their story. I approached a group of women, some with babies, because I thought they looked like they wouldn't kill me for being so nosy:
I asked them what was their story. One lady became the spokesperson for the group, I assume because she had the best English skills (although I found English well-spoken in this town). She relayed the story of deep poverty and inflation that had befallen the people of this country.
Now I'll give a little background for understanding. Zimbabwe, like South Africa, was ruled mostly by the powers that came with the rich white land owners. This was a legacy from British colonial rule here. Mugabe, the prime minister for decades, forced the white landowners to give up their lands. This land was given up to his cronies as things are normally done in lands of corruption.
The land they gave up was primarily farmland. Zimbabwe at the time was a bread basket for Africa. However, the new owners were not farmers and knew nothing about it. As a result, farm production tanked.
Other policies of Mugabe led to sanctions on the country. Inflation spiraled out of control, to the point their currency was worthless (I have a billion dollar note of their money at the time). Eventually they had to abort their currency and go on the US dollar to stabilize.
I learned this one thing in my travels. Agriculture is the backbone of a country's economy. Countries can deal with high inflation in most goods, but not agriculture. People can do without electronics, cars, gas, even building materials, if inflation makes them cost prohibitive. They cannot deal with high inflation at the table. People have to eat.
Since most food in countries, like Zimbabwe, is home grown, inflation in food can be contained. That's because inflation hits hardest in imported goods, especially when a nation is sanctioned. But food grown within the country can be bartered within the means of the local economy.
Mugabe, though once popular, blew it in a big way. He beset this deep food crisis on his people. And those who sat outside this courthouse on this day felt the pain.
Back to their story....
This lady told me they all were waiting there at the courthouse for work. The men, women, and some babies (the mothers had no one to look after them) showed up each day with hopes of the prospect of making money.
I asked her when was the last time she received work. She informed me she worked doing some housekeeping for one day the prior month. I was astonished. To come here every day for a month for one day's work? But I guess it was a great place to socialize.
I asked if her story was typical and she replied in the affirmative. Men and women alike gathered for the slim opportunity to earn the US dollar that was so hard to come by. The story really affected me. I felt so fortunate to have, comparatively, so much money even in my wallet.
But I've learned not to give cash in most cases. And if I ever do give cash to those who are in need, I always give to the women. They are less likely to spend it on drugs or booze.
But here I knew their need and I knew how to address it. They needed food. And food was available at the local market, it was just not affordable for the people.
After our conversation I walked to find a man with a car who claimed to be a taxi driver. I use taxi loosely here as I doubt anything was regulated at the time I was there. I hired him to take me to the market. There I bought all the loaves of bread they had (maybe 50?). I also bought 50 or so cokes.
I put them in his trunk and we drove back to the courthouse. Here I made another big error (remember my story about the incident in India?):
You'ld think I'd have learned! No. When we got back to the courthouse we pulled in and I opened the trunk. The people were curious so they all gathered to the location where I announced I was giving out bread and cokes.
Well you can guess what happened next because I'm sure all of you reading are smarter than me. They mobbed the trunk grabbing all they could. Especially the men. They were stronger and more aggressive and they took everything. What I hoped would be an orderly handing out of the food evenly among the people was pure chaos. No chance to even document by photos.
Ok. Lesson learned. I've seen this pony show twice now. Time to be smarter.
The next day I arrived again in the morning with the bread and cokes. This time I exited the cab and told the driver to keep the doors locked. The goods were in the back seat. I informed all I would hand it out myself starting with the women and children. They gathered around and I was a bit nervous the men would charge me, but they did not. I was able to hand out in an orderly manner and everyone received something.
Here is the bread I purchased in the local market:
Ok, now that the goods are distributed it's photo op time!:
This is the initial group of women I first approached.
The woman with my arm around was the spokesperson for the group. There were some ladies among them with babies, I bought some milk for them. But the ladies really enjoyed coca-cola.
Picture of the larger group with the men mixing in.
I gave my phone for picture taking to one of the women I thought I could outrun....just in case! I'm sure I could not outrun any man that was present there. It was my secondary IPhone so, not really a big deal anyway. Besides, I had my primary phone to find it in case she ran off and I failed in my pursuit.
I'm half kidding, these people were actually honest people just looking to make a living. Of all the people I prefer to help is the people who want to help themselves but can't as these people were.
Much more orderly the second day!
Oh yeah I forgot until I looked at this photo. I bought chips too. Not the healthiest food, but it was overweighed by my desire to see they were happy.
I was a bit hesitant to share this story. I feel like it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn. That's not the intent. I'm sure most readers would look at this and know they would have done much more than I did. Or they would have done it better than me. There's really nothing here to be proud of from my stance.
But I share it for other reasons. One, it's a travel story. That's the purpose of my blog to share the unique stories of the people I encounter in my travels. The second reason is to shine light on the darker places of the world. Things don't change unless they're brought to light. And the actions of the Mugabe's of this world need to be known by the masses (all 5 of you that read this)!