I FEEL it really was an error when Zimbabwe switched from the hyper-inflation discredited local dollar â€“â€“ after massive devaluations still being printed in squillions â€“â€“ to the â€œAlmightyâ€ Greenback.
Because thereâ€™s no change around in US dollars and, by and large, nothing can cost less than a dollar, which is in itself inflationary.
In supermarkets youâ€™re expected to take â€œchangeâ€ in chewing gum or suckers valued at 15 times their cost in RSA!
I see bananas (from vendors) are now 10 for US$1, but that makes them almost a rand each and theyâ€™re not a rand a hand, sometimes not even a rand forÂ a big bunch, in KwaZuluNatal or Mozambique.
Why on earth didnâ€™t we use the rand when â€œGiddyâ€ Gonoâ€™s RBZ paper was so thoroughly discredited? At least we could have sourced coins.
I couldnâ€™t believe how reasonable a meal was at Coimbra, The Avenues, last week on a cold, miserable, grey, overcast day. The Scots have a wonderful onomatopoeic for such weather: dreich (pronounced dreeek)!â€
Thereâ€™s no table dâ€™hote package deal at Coimbra, but individual courses are so relatively affordable, there would be no extra value for money by bundling together two or three courses.
Of course nothing, in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africaâ€™s fun capital), is as simple as that!
A soupaholic, I ordered one of my favourite examples: caldho verde, Portuguese green soup, usually served with a sizeable chunk of spicy chorizo, at just US$1. As this traditionally comes with as stack of crusty continental bread and butter, tremendous value.
I had made solid progress into the bread basket, smearing still warm slices with Irish butter or South African margarine in fiddly foil packages graphically illustrating the success of the land reform â€œprogrammeâ€, when main course arrived.
â€œWhereâ€™s the soup, shamwari?â€
â€œWe donâ€™t do soup on its own, and havenâ€™t any green soup, only vegetable soup,â€ I was told.
â€œWell serve this huku to someone else for now and bring the soup you do have, then another main course please.â€
â€œNo, sorry, I mean there isnâ€™t any soup.â€
I shrugged in disbelief, attacking a really good meaty, tender, tasty moist half piri-piri chicken: Coimbraâ€™s trademark dish and a pile of chips, not quite as crispy as I like at $8.
Spotting, in peripheral vision, the waiter hovering, I ordered another Castle ($1) and â€œsome napkinsâ€.
Pointing at the empty original beer bottle, I repeated â€œAnother one of those and a few paper napkins, pleaseâ€.
Being unsure whether the approved â€œUâ€ term in Mabvuku is napkins or serviettes, I asked for both, or either, pointing at a pile on a neighbourâ€™s table.
â€œDo you want soup now?â€ he asked.
â€œMay the Good Lord grant me patience!â€ I muttered.
â€œOf course not, man. Iâ€™m half way thought the main course. Also you said there was no soup!Â Just bring another Castle and something to wipe my fingers with, quickly, please.â€
The beer eventually came. This had worried me. In the good-old-bad-old-days at Coimbra Iâ€™ve known a round of drinks ordered at 1:50pm, refused on the grounds that the waiter couldnâ€™t possibly be served and customers drink up before their self-imposed terminal hour of 2pm!
Napkins/serviettes came after Iâ€™d finished the chicken and some 10 minutes after he brought me a by now cool finger bowl.
From pudding list, there were only crÃ¨me caramel, chocolate mousse or ice-cream, with or without chocolate sauce, â€œonâ€.Â Three scoops of the latter: chocolate-flavour, vanilla and strawberry, covered in a grand thick dark chocolate sauce was $2.
The good-old-bad-old-days are obviously over (Iâ€™ve patronised Coimbra since it was a 24-hour shebeen, aka â€œYellow Doorsâ€, where patrons were advised to carry $20 (Rhodesian, in those days) in socks, in case of a police raid and subsequent fine!
Market forces and the need for revenue now clearly reign: I was asked at 2:27 (thank goodness for flexitime) did I want â€œanotherâ€ beer? Â
Ye Gods, whereâ€™s the training? You ask punters would they care for a drink?Â Even if theyâ€™ve been on the sauce 16 hours!Â â€œAnotherâ€ is absolute anathema!
I would have loved â€œa drinkâ€, but time wasnâ€™t really all that flexi.
When I finally and quite crossly DEMANDED the bill after much dithering brought about by a total lack of small denomination US dollar change for other clientsÂ I was charged $1 for soup they allegedly didnâ€™t have and another $1 â€œ2% Government Tourism Levyâ€
Deduct the dollar for the soup which didnâ€™t arrive: sub-total $12.
And 2% of $12 is 24c.
Isnâ€™t there, surely, a case for absorbing items under US$1?
Iâ€™m sure I speak for many when I say I DETEST giving this government even an extra cent, let alone 76c bonsella which almost certainly wonâ€™t go towards professionally marketing tourism.
If it reaches the relevant parastatal, it will be squandered on one of Zimbabwe Tourism Authorityâ€™s hare-brained schemes.
Like, for â€œpublicity purposesâ€ bringing in â€œstarsâ€ of whom no one over 25 has heard; like hijacking, then trying unsuccessfully to run dodgy beauty pageants; like moving time-proven tourism expos from Harare, where thereâ€™s plenty of room, to Bulawayo: where there isnâ€™t! (Then not paying service providers in â€œSkiesâ€)
Come to think of it, arenâ€™t all ZTAâ€™s schemes â€œhare-brainedâ€ if not almost certifiably loony? Need we go any further for proof than the ill-advised Look East Policy?
What happened to the hordes of Oriental travellers who would flock to Zimbabwe, money burning holes in pockets?
They stayed away in droves! and most of the few who arrived promptly opened fifth rate Zhing-Zhong shoddy goods stores, or Chinese restaurantsâ€¦ charging 2% Tourism Levy to encourage more of their fellow countrymen to come!.
Apparently battling to find a US$10 note as change for the US$23Â proffered (after the math was semi-corrected), the receptionist glared at the floundering waiter and, in a sentence worthy of Basil Fawlty after a Manuel faux pas, said:
â€œExcuse him; heâ€™s very new around here!â€