Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Life in Harare

Here are excerpts from a conversation I just had with a friend that lives and works in Harare. He rents a house in Greendale (a middle class suburb on the eastside of the city) with five peers and works for a very large insurence concern in a north Harare suburb:
“Instead of asking me how I am making it you should ask me if I’m making it at all.

After last year, I thought I’d seen the worst of life in Zimbabwe. I didn’t think things could get any worse. At least then I could afford to live month. But somehow things are much worse. I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

Here’s how my day goes, I wake up three hours before I have to be at work to get to the bus stop early. The fuel crisis is crippling the public transportation system. There’s just no telling what time you’ll be on a kombi (minibus) on the way work. A one way trip now costs ZW5,000. I take two kombis to get to work so it’s ZW$10,000 to work and another $10,000 at the end of the day. I get off work at 4:30 but I don’t get home till about 10:30 at night. Everywhere you look there are long winding lines for transport in town.

Going to the supermarket to pick up groceries is even more depressing than the transport situation. The low quality bread we have here if you can find it costs $4,500 and only lasts a single person two days. Half a liter of milk (about 17 fl.oz) $7,500; beef $48,000 a pound; and whole chicken $80,000.

Last week my landlord gave us a new lease which doubled the rent we pay. Rent jumped from 3 million to 6.5 million. I will end up paying 1.3 million for my share of the rent. They also changed the terms of our lease so they will now be able to revise our rent quarterly. There’s just no way I can afford to pay this, my take home salary is only 1.5 million.

The most depressing part is that that my employer doesn’t seem to care at all about the price increases we continue to face. Our salaries have not yet been revised in over year. Our union is engaged in a protracted struggle with the company over raises that were due to us last October. I’m being paid at rates adjusted before last year’s inflationary surge. They just went to arbitration, I don’t what the outcome is going to be.

Sometimes I have thoughts about not going to work anymore and just staying at home. Life would be a more affordable that way. Only in Zimbabwe do you lose money when going to work. The thing that keeps me going to work is fear of life without a job because there is no welfare program in Zimbabwe.

I’m only surviving by grace. You know what they mean when they say “hand to mouth?” That’s exactly what my life is like. I don’t know if I’m going to make it especially now that they are clamping down on the informal traders, whose wares sometimes are priced such that I can afford them. Life in Harare is just horrible I tell you, it is just unbearable now.”

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