Jul 2, 2006

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe –  The $30 visa sours my mood. Surely this money will pad the pockets of leader Robert Mugabe and his henchman: the same princely lot that meddled in the Congolese civil war and destroyed Zimbabwe's economy.

"The people are starving," explained my friend Marie Javins in New York last week. She's something of an African expert, having traveled the continent extensively and lived there many years (her book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, debuts on the shelves in August).

"Then it's wrong to support the corrupt government," I fretted. "Should we even be going to these places?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. Take handfuls of hard currency – dollars, pounds, rand, anything but the Zimbabwean dollar – and spend them at the Victoria Falls craft village. That wooden carved giraffe puts food into their mouths."


I hate shopping. But it's for the power of good now, so I plunge into the market's maelstrom. Hands beseech, pluck at my shawl. Vendors banter, barter, outright beg. The hustle is fueled by survival, not greed: that much is painfully clear.

My wad of rand – all that remains after the theft – won't help much, I know. But I burn through it all anyway. What would I do with it back home anyway? More Thai lunches? Wrinkle-retarding, SPF-15 moisturizing lotion? Sacks of kitty grit?

I know, I know: fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, cats gotta crap on perfumed clay. But I don't have to feel good about it. Not today.


  1. I'm proud of you. Your wad of rand probably went to feed an extended family of mismatched children, their parents lost to HIV. What did you manage to buy? And what did you do with it when you got home?

    Though it's depressing that you can no longer get in on a day-pass for free at the border, but I suppose that's to be expected.

  2. I bought a few of the emerald stone bangles, which I didn't need, and two large carved salad bowls, which I did.

    Oh yes, I also bartered 50 pence and a quarter for one Zimbabwean dollar. Given the exchange rate – U$1 = Z$250 – this was the vendor's deal of a lifetime, I'm sure.

    The bill now has pride of place on my fridge, a mosaic of foreign money.

    I handed out a lot of hotel pens too. Finally, a happy home for branded swag!

    A day pass might be possible Zambia-Zimbabwe. We entered from Botswana and spent two nights in Victoria Falls, hence my three-year-entry stamp.

  3. Anonymous11:21 AM

    What? No marriage proposals this trip?

  4. Anonymous11:26 AM

    she doesn't need a marriage proposals. I have someone lined up to lift her curse...and he can sing too..even in Oz...

  5. For those unschooled in the “Castleman curse,” 75% of my exes migrated to Australia. Fifty percent proceeded to shag Germans. The sample size ain’t large, but, golly, it is consistent.

    Several friends believe I’m trapped in a karmic loop until I go walk-about with a handsome Teuton…

    Anyway, no proposals or even propositions, despite the complimentary condoms in southern African hotels. I did, however, receive a hug from a drag nun .

    Go on, people: beat that for summer excitement!

  6. My curse involves having been chased by a hippo, mit mein Herr. That's when all the crap started. I'm not real sure how to lift it. I made the hippo gods angry. Since my curse also involves a German, surely there's a way we can work these curses off together.

  7. Concerned friend3:25 AM

    I want to hear about the potential cursebreaker! Is this bloke legit? Good enough for Mandy?

  8. That nickname has never stuck: Mandies are much more buxom and blonde.