Foraging made easy

3 12 2007

I got back from a week in South Africa late on Friday night. I don’t think I’ll be tempted to drive at night for quite some time. There were no near misses but it was very tiring. Often there were no road markings, about 10% of oncoming vehicles could not find the dimmer switch, vehicles had a variety of headlights in a variety of working conditions, and there were no lights on in the towns en route to show me where I was which I found very disorientating. On arriving in Harare I had to guess where the centre of the road was. Fortunately it was not raining which would have made it even worse. It all drove home just how far we have slipped in this country. We seem to live in a cocoon and with no outside reference it’s difficult to see just how far we have fallen. Suffice to say it’s a long way.

I could only afford to take one week off which was not really enough to forget all the stresses but I just had to do it for a break and to do some shopping. Time was when we used to go “South” to shop for luxuries but now we do it for essentials. Amongst other things my shopping list read:

  1. Flour (to make bread)
  2. Yeast (ditto)
  3. Sugar
  4. Light bulbs
  5. Breakfast cereal
  6. Borehole pump
  7. Vehicle spares
  8. Toilet paper
  9. Cooking oil
  10. Olive oil
  11. Marmite (essential!)

And it can all be got easily, and ALL the groceries are available under one roof, the only difficulty being deciding which brand to get! Definitely easy foraging.

For some truly absurd reason one is only allowed to take ZW$3m out of the country. It’s certainly not exchangeable and anyway, the truth must have sunk in because no-one was remotely interested. I took out a lot more than that and got a good bit of humour giving out $200000 notes with the explanation that our biggest note was (past tense intentional, it’s already changed) worth all of 70c South African. There was a good bit of incredulity but most people believed me, I think. On the way back the touts were out in force at the border post “helping” to clear one through customs for a bit of real money. I was carry a good bit over the duty free limit and it was hot so I succumbed. I was through the border in all of 10 minutes for R100 (about US$15) and a wad of Zim dollars. Oh well, it IS Africa I guess (what happened to all those high principles I used to have?). Impressively enough my declaration of goods purchased was rewritten in about 2 minutes flat for a fraction of the original value. The customs official was suitably uninterested (did she recognize the handwriting?) and I was waved through.

On the way down I managed to not take a critical turning and ended up some 30km off route heading towards Pretoria. I stopped in a “location” (black settlement area) and asked for directions. It was the sort of situation on which bad movies are made; you know, “White man takes wrong turning and ends up in wrong part of town and is murdered/raped/stoned/beheaded for his silliness by sullen, angry blacks”. Except that as far as I could see, no-one was the slightest bit interested. What did interest me was that right “next door” to this heavily populated and not obviously poor area is the distinctly wealthy white farming area of Groblersdal. I was told by my hosts that Mbeki (the SA president) has already made comments on this too. I wonder how long it will take…

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