Cathy Buckle’s Letter from Zimbabwe: Poppets in a cardboard box

Dear Family and Friends,

Sitting in empty cardboard boxes on the pavement outside a supermarket, two little children paint a vivid picture of life in urban Zimbabwe today. It’s been three and half years since the winners of our 2008 elections were forced to share power with the losers and life isn’t easy for most people. In February 2009 when our own currency became so worthless that we changed to the US dollar, rent for a couple of rooms in a high density area was US$20 a month, now its US$100 a month. Electricity for those two rooms was US$15 in 2009, now its US$50. A litre of fuel in February 2009 was 75 cents, now its US$1.45 making every trip in a commuter minibus burn a hole in already empty pockets.

The mothers of the children sitting in cardboard boxes are unemployed but keep food on the family table by selling goods on the pavements.

They’ve got everything from fruit and veg to sweets, cigarettes, biscuits, belts, carrier bags, cell phones, batteries, socks, watches, hair extensions and anything small and lightweight you can think of.

Their prices are usually lower than in the supermarkets they sit outside and it’s a constant war. The vendors are selling illegally, they don’t pay rent, rates, taxes or have any overheads and are a constant headache to legitimate shop keepers, health officials and police. It’s very hard not to support the vendors when you know that’s their only way of supporting their families but equally hard not to sympathise with shop owners who are struggling to stay afloat amidst ever increasing wage and utilities costs.

These two little poppets in their empty fruit boxes watch wide- eyed as Zimbabwe passes them by on a late winter morning whipped by a cold wind. Less than fifty metres from their little boxes a huge mound of garbage sprawls across the pavement and into the road. Ash, plastic bags, bottles, rotting banana skins, batteries and the inevitable flies and rats. The pile has been there for a couple of weeks but local authorities seem unable to see it. A few metres away a vagrant wearing filthy rags is asleep, sprawled right across the pavement but local officials seem unable to see him.

From their cardboard boxes the eyes of the two children grow wide as a quad bike roars past carrying two policemen in uniform but not wearing crash helmets. Outside the bank a man walks past carrying a generator on his shoulder and inside the bank I queue to pay a bill. The amount owing is US$10 but the bank charges an additional US$2 to accept the payment.

The sights seen by two children in a cardboard box on a pavement is a dramatic contrast to those seen by our eight member Olympic team at the opening ceremony. Smiling and waving they carry our flag high and we are so proud of them: Kirsty Coventry, Christopher Felgate, James Fraser Mackenzie, Wirimai Juwawo, Ngonidzashe Makusha, Cuthbert Nyasango, Sharon Tavengwa and Micheen Thornycroft.

Perhaps one day two children who started off in a cardboard box will also have the chance to show the world what Zimbabweans can do, regardless of their skin colour and ancestral background or of the incessant dirty, greedy political fighting that suffocates all of our lives.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 28th July 2012.

Copyright   Cathy Buckle.

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