Lunch Money and Wild Food

Source: Lunch Money and Wild Food – Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

The number of people in Zimbabwe in need of food aid has gone up from 7.7 million to 9 million apparently. The government said it’s going to cost US$3.3 billion to feed 9 million people until March 2025. Zimbabwe, known as the bread basket of Africa until 2000, now has 54% of its population hungry. Apparently the last harvest yielded 700,000 metric tons of our staple food maize but the country needs 2.2 million tons. The blame has been put solely on an El Nino induced drought, no one says anything anymore about empty silos.

It’s been three months since I last chatted to the old man in the village and after the customary greetings we always start with a bit of a laugh. James said there were 10 of them in the Honda Fit car that he’d travelled to town in: four on the front seat, four in the back and three in the boot. ‘Four in the front,’ I exclaimed, horrified but that’s now accepted as standard practice that someone sits on the driver’s lap or sideways so more passengers can get in. When they got to a police roadblock the driver went with his standard US$3 unofficial ‘fee’ that was needed to pay the police in order for them to look the other way and allow the Honda Fit to proceed. No receipt, no paperwork, no overloading warning, just pay your three dollars and you can get through their road block unhindered for the duration of the day.

‘It’s lunch money’ is the phrase we all use these days as the levels of corruption trickle down to every sector. You can get a very decent ‘traditional’ lunch for US$1 here, a big plate of sadza and relish; a large smoked sausage and chips; a piece of meat with rice and coleslaw on the side. The fact that civil servants are paid most of their salary in local currency and it isn’t enough to last ten days let alone a month may explain the corruption epidemic here but it’s an unstoppable scourge in our country and on our reputation.

When James and I got to talking about the food crisis and the 9 million people in need of aid the first topic was if any food aid had come to his area yet and the answer was no. ‘People are already in trouble,’ he told me, those with money are going door to door asking if anyone has got maize to sell but the few who have are mostly saying no, they’ve only got enough for themselves and their families. Some are selling but mostly it’s for barter trade. ‘A second-hand shirt for a 5 litre of bucket of maize,’ a big goat for 40kgs of maize, soap for vegetables and the list went on and on; ‘whatever people can find to swop for food they are trading,’ he said.

The conversation turned again to the ‘old ways’ as it often does. ‘In the old days we would be able to find so much wild food during hard times,’ James said. ‘Like honey,’ he chuckled. ‘You would watch bees going into a crack in the ground and come back at night with smoke and dig them out and get the honey. Or we would go looking for tsuro (rabbits) with lights at night, and that would be a meal for the family. Wild fruits were everywhere in those days, and berries and tuber roots also.’ James spoke with emotion and nostalgia in his voice, his eyes shining. ‘And now,’ I asked, ‘why can’t you do that anymore?’ ‘People are everywhere,’ he replied, ‘people are walking everywhere. Since the farms were taken over there are mostly no fences left to stop them and no security and people just walk everywhere doing what they like.  Trees are cut everywhere, there’s no place for bees to hide, no place for animals to escape to as people come with packs of dogs to chase everything down. There are not even any rabbits left,’ James told me. We reminisced about the time when reedbuck and kudu walked across the farms and James laughed. He said his grandson had come with a picture of a kudu in one his school books and asked him what it was and where he might ever see one.  James had told his musukuru that kudu used to walk wild all around the area and could jump over very high fences but now they had all gone.

The lessons of the old days, the traditions passed down from father to son and grandson are getting lost in the chaos caused by decades of financial ruination. Sharing the lessons of the old ways of surviving are now all we have left in such hard times and so we talk to whoever will listen and learn from each other. This is the hope for our future and for those yet to come.

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 24th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy 29th May 2024. Copyright © Cathy Buckle

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