May 2011


I absolutely love this spelling of quick that’s on the ads in Harare.

On Thursday, the power went out starting just before sunset, around 5 o’clock. It didn’t come on again until the next morning. As one patron said, “How come you don’t have a generator if you’re a five star hotel?” As I lit the candle in my room and waited for the internet to come back so I could make calls back home, I thought of all the locals who probably don’t have any electricity at all. I thought of how I still had running water and a phone line, more than they can say. One of the many moments where my expectations based on the type of establishment we’re given (5 star) is at odds with the true reality of life here.

Yesterday, we met everyone at work and set up what we’ll need. In the afternoon an American named Yvette took us to a few of the shopping centers. Apparently outdoor markets are as prominent as in some other countries.

Zimbabwe used to be the southern half of Rhodesia, a British colony. Like Ghana, another former colony of the British Empire, English is commonly understood here. What’s different is that people do drive on the left side here whereas Ghanaians drive on the right. Perhaps because Ghana became independent in 1957 and Zimbabwe was much later in 1980. Regardless, traffic is nothing at all like Accra. It’s very easy to get places, and perhaps that is why there are so fewer peddlers in the roads and on the streets.

Local languages here are Shono and Ndebele, which are both official languages as well as English. “Tatenda” is thank you in Shono, the main local language you’ll hear in Harare.

Our hotel, the Meikles, opened in 1915 and still feels very English down to the artwork: European tapestries on the 2nd floor lobby and fox hunting scenes in some of the bedrooms. That it’s an older hotel is obvious from the lack of outlets compared to modern hotels. The best part is the pool deck on the top floor that has a covered cafe and is relaxing to just sit and enjoy the pleasant winter weather of 70 *F. Sadly, the gym is a bare minimum without free weights I was counting on.

Today was our first day being real tourists. Aaron picked us up at 9:30 this morning. First we headed outside Harare to Chiremba Balancing Rocks. He couldn’t believe we didn’t know of any similar structures in the States. It was another clear beautiful day, and we enjoyed trying to climb the rocks.

Then we drove to the Lion and Cheetah Park that also had other animals. One of the things that impressed me was how clean the areas for the animals were. These “wild beasts” were well cared for, which isn’t always the case. From what I’ve seen and how Yvette praised the beauty of local gardens.

Our last stop was the Bird Park, which Kelly and I thought would be a sanctuary. Instead, it was more like a bird zoo, again well kept. It was at the end of a lovely lake. We fascinated Aaron with our explanations of sailing, swimming, and lifesaving. He can’t swim and hasn’t ever been on the water. Under the shade of large trees while admiring the water, the three of us had a good conversation that shared cultural traditions and norms.

I think my favorite part was playing with the six month old lion cubs.

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In other news, I have a new book recommendation: Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo, who is from Zambia and earned a PhD in Economics at Oxford.

The book is going to probably make you think that Uncle Allen and Uncle Van have won and that somehow I’m a good Republican now. Sad to disappoint but that isn’t the case. Dr. Moyo brings up one point that really hit me hard: no one is letting Africans have a real say in how Africa can come out of its slump. It’s almost like another form of colonialism with the West dolling out aid.

Her valid critics of the aid coming to Africa now is that much of it is government to government. Although there are “stipulations” tied to the money, they are rarely upheld. Furthermore, aid is rarely decreased or withheld for political reasons even as the West insists that African countries try to be democratic.

Moyo argues that by working on creating an economically viable middle class in these countries, African governments would be able to generate national revenue through taxes–see, told you I’m still a Democrat ;). I am wary that she seems to think non-democratic regimes can be held responsible by the local population if this change takes place. I’m not saying she’s wrong, just that her economic analysis is much stronger than her political one.

Regardless, the book is well worth reading for anyone at all interested in international development, giving aid, or Africa.

As many of you know, I’m in Zimbabwe (and in  a few weeks Zambia) for work. I’ll be home in a month, and I just got into Harare last night. But already I have a funny story:

Luckily the seventeen hour flight from Washington to Johannesburg, South Africa was miraculously NOT as painful as it sounds. It was a South African flight, so the food was much better than United. However, the plane was old enough that only 3 main TVs were in the center aisle. It didn’t bother me too much since I never watch TV on these flights unless I can start and stop them so I can sleep when I want. (Which is sadly still not a feature of United, and since 98% of the time we fly United, I never watch movies on planes.)

Connection to Harare was fine. Our person was very friendly when he picked Kelly and me up and took us to the Meikles Hotel. When it was our turn in line, they told us we’d be upgraded to Executive Suites because the hotel was full. Excited, we followed the porter up to our rooms.

I opened mine to find a full dining room table with six chairs, and I thought, “OH MY GOSH!!” Then I walked into the connecting room that had about twenty chairs in a circle. Hmm…that didn’t seem right. I looked for the next door, which only led to a powder room. They had given me the conference room!!

I called down the hall to the porter. It took him two trips down to reception to get me the room next to the conference room. Sadly, it is not the lovely suite that Kelly has. Still the marble bathroom is lovely, and the bed slept fine.

Today has been my technology testing day. My adapter doesn’t quite fit into the one plug in the main room (there aren’t plugs in the bathroom), so I have everything delicately balanced to keep my computer charged. The wireless is $12/day, which is highway robbery. It took over an hour of waiting in line to get a SIM card for my phone, and now the SIM card makes my phone not work. Skype has decided it refuses to work on my computer, and Gvoice is doing the same. Yes, I’m complaining, but I’m also letting you know that until I get to Zambia on June 12th, you may only be hearing from me via emails, chats, and these updates. Don’t worry: I’m working on changing that.

Kelly and I explored the area surrounding our hotel this afternoon. Right across the street is African Unity Square, a lovely small park. We walked to the Harare Gardens and through the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe. We also passed by Parliament and the High Courts.

Harare is much more built up than Accra. There are more skyscrapers and at least in this part of town, less peddlers, which I almost miss.

My main beef is that there isn’t an electronic kettle in the room. I mean who outsides the States does something like that!? So I called, and they don’t even have one to bring!! I know some of you coffee drinkers out there are thinking, “Ah! Now she’ll understand how I feel in Europe and sympathize…” but I don’t know that I can do that yet. 😉 I mean, you drink coffee! But yeah, seriously, you’re getting some sympathy from me. Asking for hot water from room service takes over half an hour.

And with all that, I’m still kinda happy to be back in Africa. Crazy, huh?

Sometimes everyone thinks that nothing interesting is going on at home. Not true. My work purse (with my life in it) got stolen at the end of March. Weeks later I was still buying stuff and processing paperwork. I don’t intend to have such a thing happen again (who starts out the day thinking, “I’d like to get robbed today”?). However, I’ve created a list of steps to make the process easier and thought I’d share them just in case.

RIGHT NOW:
1. Create a Google spreadsheet with the types of all your electrical appliances (eReaders, cell phone type, computer, TV, etc) and important valuables.*

2. Create a document that is secure that contains your driver’s license number, a copy of your insurance and any other important cards you carry in your wallet.

3. Get home or renter’s insurance. This will usually cover stolen items in cars or purses, but read the policy carefully to be sure and remember you’re still responsible for the deductible.

4. Register your devices like your camera, etc. This information has been used to find stolen goods. (Something you’ll want to provide to the police.) IN DC, REGISTER YOUR SMARTTRIP CARD NOW!!

WHEN YOU’VE BEEN ROBBED:
1. Call your banks and all credit cards to cancel cards and report fraud.**
2. Call the police and file a report (this is a necessary step in getting your insurance claim filed).
3. Call your insurance and follow their procedures.
4. Don’t forget checks: you can write yourself a check and get cash from your bank branch as you wait for your cards to arrive.
5. Make a list of everything that was stolen. This is required for the insurance and is a good way of prioritizing what you need to do next, i.e. what can you live without for a week? two? need immediately?
6. Locks: if your keys were stolen, go to Lowes to buy new house locks or call a locksmith. If your car keys were stolen, try to get new door locks. With your driver’s license, the robber will know where you live.
7. Email Equifax or Transunion to put a 90 day Fraud Alert on your credit report. Contacting one of the three agencies will put the alert on all of them.
8. Treat yourself. Do something nice for yourself and take time off of work if necessary to get everything in order.

*The great thing about Google documents is that you can access them on any computer and you don’t have to worry about losing them.

**If your phone’s been stolen but you still have a computer and wifi, use Skype to make these calls.