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‘Penga’ about pengoes!

I HOPE delightful sisters Sarah McMillan and Bridget Hoard who own and run the lovely Harare suburban coffee shop, Bottom Drawer, Belgravia, don’t think I’m quibbling over their prices. I’m not!

Bottom Drawer was never greasy-spoon cheap (actually it’s silver spoon dear!), but, in this life, especially in Ha-ha-ha-rare, Africa’s fun capital) you pays your money and takes your choice. (There’s a more colourful, scatological, phrase in Afrikaans.)

If you want Zen-peaceful lush garden surroundings with ultra-secure parking, eight minutes’ drive from town, in an outlet offering pleasant, efficient service of healthy, nutritious food, prepared with choice local products, Bottom Drawer may well be it.

As it was 11-months to the day from my previous visit, the exclusive coffee shop’s tariff accurately reflected 335 days of hyper-inflationary almost daily unchecked price hikes. Mathematicians among you can now calculate what Zimbabwe’s real inflation rate is. (Don’t ask me; I’m innumerate: except with expenses!)

The last time I was there was on a baking March 2007 day, awaiting a lift to RSA for a short “sanity break” buying trip. Dean Raybould “the singing chef” served us; the Colonial-style two-storey former dwelling house was painted rich Tuscan green, swimming pool was murky, the sun shone and “full English breakfast” of the sort Brits never taste, was $35 000 (“Giddy” Gono having slashed three zeros off our poor, benighted currency earlier: or it would have been $35 million…geddit?).

I was on my latest visit to meet a blonde German former teacher, now running an acclaimed lodge at Odzi, where I’ll spend time next week. Dean has packed back-tracks and back-pack, crossing the sadza curtain; he flourishes in RSA. The building’s now a pleasant oatmeal hue, pool sparkles, the sun shines almost too brightly; the Pommie breakfast is $65 million! (Which would have been $65 billion without Gono’s nought-slashing.)

I could write a similar piece to this tale of horror about every Zimbabwean restaurant, hotel, bar or club. There’s little reflection on owners, struggling under intimidating challenges: massive shortages, inferior products, half-baked price controls, water and Zesa cuts, no cooking gas, fuel scarcity, inability of staff to get to work, an almost terminal brain drain of top skills, recurring cash shortages, consumer resistance, runaway pay awards.

It is a telling reflection on the appalling economic mismanagement which brought this once proud, self-sufficient country to its knees, proffering a begging bowl to a world ignoring whines for baksheesh, until we put our political and economic house in order. (Will we do so on March 29?)

“Bigi” is an inappropriate nickname of Birgit, who owns Musangano Lodge, Odzi, which I’ll review soon. We crossed t’s, dotted i’s and made a plan (typical German efficiency.)

I had tea, which was up from $5 200 on my last visit to $8 million. Bigi ordered fruit juice: now $19 million; previously my banana smoothie cost $13 000. Milkshakes, which were $11 000, are $22-$24 million.

We both declined food, but French toast was up from $10 000 to $25 million; chicken Caesar salad $30 000 to $47 million; tuna or bacon quiche $30 000 to $59 million; chicken-and-ham, or steak, pie with side salad (looked jolly good) had sky-rocketed from $42 000 to $87 million.

Ladies who lunch there — languidly — often have sweet teeth, offsetting otherwise sterling dietary efforts munching salad and sipping mineral water (now almost unavailable: Schweppes don’t make it; it’s unprofitable with price controls; ex-competitors can’t handle demand). Scone, cream and jam was up from $13 500 to $22 million and banoffee pie, a decadent mixture of banana, cream and toffee, rose from $11 000 to $23 million.

The place was busy; car-park (less my clunker) resembling an upmarket car showroom; many late 4WDs: Prados, Pajeros and the like, in almost obligatory metallic pearl, sported CD plates.

It’s a great place to relax and refresh yourself in good company and, probably, a year hence, today’s prices will look like the chicken-feed last year’s now seem! Incidentally, I hear it’s wrong to call Zimbabwe’s inflation “record-breaking.” At the end of World War II the Hungarian pengo was printed — not in $10 million “notes” like ours, but — in hexillions (18 zeros!). They needed 180 hexillion pengoes a month to buy a loaf of bread a day! So what are we moaning about? Will we smash the Magyars’ sad record when Hungary went very hungry?

In 1941 there were 3,46 pengoes to the US dollar — sound familiar? — by March 1946, 1 US dollar equalled 10,3 million pengoes (sound familiar?). In March that year they scrapped the pengo, introducing a new currency (sound familiar?), the forint, valued at 1 ft = four-hundred million, quadrillion pengoes (32 zeroes!) Interestingly, there was nothing like 400 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 pengoes in circulation! Is Gono a Hungarian name?

May I suggest that if “Giddy” changes our worthless currency from the dollar, as he’s threatened, the Zim “penga” is considered?

Bottom Drawer, 14, Maasdorp Avenue, Belgravia. Unlicensed. Open Mon-Fri 9-4.30; Sat 9-12.30. Child and disabled friendly. Smoking in the garden.–Dusty Miller


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