In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, formerly called Rhodesia ( An interesting topic that helps explain Africa http://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Zimbabwe) my friend and I were walking alongside a flat, wide paved road to see Victoria Falls.
The monkeys are not afraid of humans. They are faster and stronger than people. This one crossed my path, choosing to ignore me. They do not make good pets. They change their mind quickly and may decide to snatch something from you. Monkeys are like greedy little children with no manners.
As we walked along the roadside, a young man strode up from behind us, quickly matching his strides to our pace of walking. He looked about 20 years old, young and energetic but with a quiet desperation. This thin, tall man wearing dusty, dirty flip-flops said in English to my friend, “I would like to exchange shoes with you”. She was wearing sturdy sneakers for the 9-day camping trip.
Laura had the perfect response and was totally non-committal. She stated the facts “But, I am wearing them” and continued walking.
He responded with the facts as well. He said “I know. Those are nice shoes. I would like shoes like that.”
“Then what would I wear?” Laura redirected with another question.
The young man replied “I will give you these shoes.” He points down to his feet, half covered with sandy and well-worn flip-flops. It is clearly not an even trade, his shoes are made of plastic and are probably the only shoes he owns.
Laura responds, not acknowledging the huge differences of economic disparity between us. “But I like my shoes. I don’t want to trade.”
He accepted that for an answer and veered away, going about his business of living another day, and potentially trading his flip-flops for something better to someone else.
His presence was immediately replaced with another person selling a small souvenir ,a fist-sized, wooden, hand-carved elephants. When that person was finally convinced that we were not going to buy anything, he gave up made by his uncle, he stopped walking with us,, left our sides and went off to do whatever it was he was doing before we crossed paths, to be replaced by a new, different person trying to persuade that that he not only had elephant carvings, he also had wood carvings of rhinos and walked with us while showing us the beaded jewelry his wife has made, and after him, another vendor with other trinkets he was selling. They were not working together, they just hoped that one of us would buy something, anything. Each person walked along with us for a short while until they were replaced by another person selling something else, beads, ice cream, wood carvings.
This is a country where there was no respite from the onslaught of desperately poor people who live under a dictator. This is a country that used to be the bread-basket of Africa, feeding the nation. Now, they import food.
As I walked, another vendor replaced the one who had just left.
My energy drained. The word that perfectly describes my feeling was one of being worn out. It was wearing that there was a continuous approach of someone wanting something from me (money). I felt like a walking ATM . Each person who approached me still had hope and a renewed sense of energy to make a sale. Each was eager and excited when they saw a tourist.
I picked up the pace so it was difficult to carry a conversation with me. Each person has a different way of dealing with the vendors and this is my tact.
The people didn’t want my time, they just needed resources. The people who approached us never ended.
It is not because these people want a handout. They had been working people, many were farmers. To make a long, complicated, interesting story short; A new government took over and changed the currency to American Dollars. The trillions (yes, there was lots of currency with that many zeros, because an earlier decision was made to print more money) were worthless, as was all the other money anyone had. All cash was worthless. Oh, and the farms where many people worked were closed down and the tractors and equipment was sold so the elite class could live a lavish lifestyle.
As each vendor walked away, I felt a pang of guilt like leaving an animal shelter, knowing there was little hope for the ones left behind. Each spirit looking at you with hope that you would pick them out of the shelter and help them to have a better life, only asking for some food and shelter, or in this case, American dollars.
One vendor said / begged to another friend “Please buy something, anything. I haven’t had a sale in 3 days and I am supporting a family of 11 people” His items cost two or three dollars.
A hand-carved elephant cost $1. If a person bought more than one, that vendor would have an wonderful day. By selling one elephant trinket, he would have enough money to buy “Pac”.
Pac is a fine, white, coarse powder that is made from maize. It looks like cornmeal. It is added to boiling water to thicken. This would feed the entire family. For a family of eleven, six who are children, that dollar could probably feed all of them for several meals. The family supplements Pac with what was grown in the garden. If a family owned a chicken and it laid an egg, they might add that too. Or trade the egg for some something else – maybe even a pair of flip-flops.