Bulawayo

16 Mar

Bulawayo has a lot of Whites. You can spot them a mile away because they’re always driving jeeps. An old-world posh and rather dramatic jeep driver gave me a lift and his take on the local character.

“[Guys from Harere] are talkers, they’re wheelers and dealers and scheisters… Shooners [guys from Bulawayo] are placid, laid back, but when they snap, they kill you.”

Old Mrs Lottering never leaves the Youth Hostel, she sets a 9.30pm curfew, then bolts the perimeter gate, locks the iron grill in the porch and tells me to make sure my bags are kept away from the windows in case a hand can squeeze through the bars.

The train to Bulawayo is old and slow, and shudders along for 15 hours between Vic Falls and Bulawayo. There’s a real risk of massive injury or death if the train hits an elephant, which it does occasionally, but it’s still a great way to travel. A South Korean called Aromi and I shared a comfortable 2nd class cabin. We had no electricity but plenty of beer.

This week in Bulawayo, all of Zimbabwe’s chiefs are getting together for the 1st time in 10 years. Bob’s ‘petting them’ before the upcoming election, apparently.

The standard of english spoken here by everyone is generally first rate. In the street you get ‘hi’s, ‘not too bad’s and ‘how’s Wednesday treating you’s. Even so, many signs around town are still lost in translation – there’s a shop called ‘Kinky Boutique’ that sells men’s hats and football shirts. Next door you can get takeaway fried chicken from ‘Creamy Inn’

One of the first things you’ll notice about Zim – it’s an expensive country with a currency problem. Most products are rounded up to the nearest US $. Small change is given in SA Rand. Smaller change is given in bubblegum and sweets. One piece of bubblegum is worth about 4 US cents. A woman in a Spar supermarket gave me 2 bubblegums as change, and I asked for a plastic bag.
“A plastic bag is 8 cents”
“Ok, here’s 2 pieces of bubble gum.”
“No, 8 cents.”
“It’s currency. It’s money, this bubblegum. You just gave it to me.”
She looked at her supervisor who gave a little who-gives-a-f*** nod, and I got my bag.

Zimbabwe is another fan of beaurocracy. You can’t pay for something without taking a receipt*. A handwritten receipt, usually. Impatiently, I walked to the front of the crowd queueing at Bulawayo train station and explained I just wanted to pay and didn’t want a receipt. They refused. I went to the back of the line. I stood there for 20 minutes and didn’t move, apart from fidgeting. I could have been there for another hour had I not gone back to the front, slapped my money on the desk, hopped over a barrier and pegged it.

* For Joseph K style beaurocracy, you can’t beat the post office. If you plan to post a parcel from Zim, set aside at least 4 hours. Be prepared to write your own name and full address 14 times while filling in 7 forms.

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2 Responses to “Bulawayo”

  1. Lynn Bosch March 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Hey Jack, I grew up in Bulawayo!!!

  2. Daz March 16, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    Are you gonna put all this is a book jacko?

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