Thursday, June 19, 2008

What hyper-inflation looks like

The bill for a dinner for one at the Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. [Via Amit Varma.] Some parishioners I know here are going on an African trip next week, including a stop in Victoria Falls. I wonder what their bill will look like.

When I visited the country in 1991, it was doing amazingly well. It had been 11 years since Mugabe's ouster of Ian Smith and his brutal regime. The capital had recently been renamed from Salisbury to Harare, and it felt like being in Europe. Everything was clean and efficient. There seemed to be sense of keeping white Zimbabweans involved in the country and the country's economic development, though even then talk of radical land redistribution was making people nervous. The highest denomination was the Z$20.

And now?

What a tragedy!

*I was there with mom and dad. Dad was there consulting for the IMF. In his words, "I earn the money, and you and your mother spend it!" We went to Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park (which was awesome, cause we had lions saunter right next to our jeep!) and the Great Zimbabwe ruins. We also walked into Zambia. On the way back, we were routed via Addis Ababa (on Ethiopian Airlines, which then was really a fantastic carrier.) This was around the time that the Eritrean rebels won the civil war. We kept watching the news and seeing the rebels get closer and closer to Addis. The day we were to fly out, the rebels were only 10 miles outside the capital. My dad was wondering if we ought to cancel and reroute ourselves -- but that would have involved going via London back to Bombay, and was prohibitively expensive! We took the flight (Harare-Llongwe, Malawi-Addis Ababa), the last time I've flown in a 727. In Addis, the airport was in chaos. The computer couldn't find our reservations. They put us on the flight to Bombay anyway. "There are a lot of no shows today!" Duh. After we landed in Bombay, and took a cab home (which got a flat tire on the way! My poor father, who was back in Harare still, was in quite a state, as he was waiting for our phone call!), we found out that the airport shut down about an hour after we left. And remained closed for 10 days afterwards.

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