Chronicles of Futility

Oh my, what a place. After our 1st four days of trying to get things done, we have amassed a sizeable pile of futility and frustration. The most common situation is attempting to purchase things. They only accept cash, mostly US dollars but you can usually pay with SA Rand or Botswana Pula. Somehow, this country acquired US dollars, some of the dingiest bills I’ve ever seen. The problem is they all want small bills but one ever has any change. Of course we brought $100 bills and our typical purchase involves the shop owner sending an employee on a hunt to nearby businesses for change. It has taken up to 30 min to get our change back in some cases. Also, there are no US coins here so all change is dispensed in SA Rand, about 7 to the dollar. All of this makes buying stuff an adventure. Just today I went to buy a coffee. I was ready with $10 bill. It came to $2.63 or $2 US and 5 Rand. I handed over my bill, happy that it was a manageable size. He asked if I had anything smaller and I said no. He opened his cash drawer to see what he had (this was a busy coffee shop, btw) and it was completely empty. No paper, no metal, no nothing. He proceeded to examine it closely and looked at me blankly. He asked if he could bring my change to my table with the coffee. 10 minutes later my coffee arrived with no change… Just before I finished my coffee, he came back with $5 and a pile of Rand.

The 2nd most common issue is what we call “Africa Time”. We’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m on my way” or “he’s on his way” only refers to the fact that someone is aware they have to be somewhere sometime, it does NOT denote the process of movement and impending arrival. Hearing from the joiner that he’s on his way (his shop is 10 min away) could be anywhere from 10 min to 4 hours.

This isn’t only a phenomenon in Zim. When our bags didn’t make our London to Joburg connection, they came on the red eye that night. We told the baggage agent that we’d pick them up in the morning since our flight to Zim left a few hours after the bags would arrive. In the morning, we took the shuttle from the hotel to the airport, about a 7 min ride. When we went to collect our bags, we were told they had them sent to our hotel. Ah yes, we’re back in Africa we thought and smiled and asked when they would be here. She called the driver and then told us “he’s on his way.” 20 min later, we inquired again and she said “he’s on his way.” Another 20 min later, no bags, so we inquired again. “He’s on on his way” she said. Ken then says “if he was on his way when you said that last time, he would be here. Is he really on his way?” “Yes, he’s on his way” she said. Another 20 min later, he arrived with our bags…

Our favorite source of frustration is that things here work… sometimes. Stoplights (called robots here), the internet, electricity are just a few of the wonderful things that come and go throughout the day.

Here was the highlight today. Ken went into a computer shop that had a sign saying “WiFi Here”.

Ken: Hi, do you have WiFi here?

Clerk: Yes we do.

Ken: Ok, can I use it?

Clerk: Yes, you need a card.

Ken: Ok, can I buy one?

Clerk: No, I’m sorry, we’re out.

Ken: Ok, I think I have one, is this the right one?

Clerk: Yes.

Ken: Ok, but I can’t login with it.

Clerk: The WiFi isn’t working today.

How do we manage you ask? A firm commitment to that staple of bike shop culture, the end of day beer run.