A long time ago when we first heard about traveling in Zimbabwe we heard of travelers bringing staples like sugar and rice into the country with them, to be used for barter. With the country going through hyperinflation, unable to trade for much in the way of anything, this was more valuable at the time than money. Before going to Zimbabwe we asked around a bit and were assured that markets were generally stocked and that things had stabilized but that didn’t mean that the barter economy hasn’t evaporated entirely either.
Zimbabwe is now the third country we’ve visited using the US Dollar rather than its own currency. Unlike the other two, Panama and Ecuador, Zimbabwe is far away from a steady supply of USD. Panama and Ecuador didn’t go through the same kind of hyperinflation Zimbabwe did and so it was simple for them to continue minting coins, called Balbao and Sucres, that were equal in value and size to US dollars and cents and used interchangeably. As Zimbabwe stopped minting valueless coins in the early stages of hyperinflation, a few years ago, they aren’t prepared to mint again and aren’t able to get real US coinage leaving the country constantly struggling for change. South African Rand has largely filled this void with one rand, a coin, accepted as 8-10 US cents.
But this is a post about food and although the money is the interesting part its not the whole story. Bring on the barter you could say, even in the supermarket. When in Victoria Falls our bill came to $4.14 cents at the supermarket. The cash drawer was empty and I only had a $10. I found a couple of rand in my pocket to cover the $0.14 as they found change for the rest of my big bill, but as I’d more than covered the $0.14 a couple of lollipops were thrust into my hand as change for my change. Although we’ve seen this in other places it had never really reached such an institutionalized level.
It didn’t end there though. Every time we went to any type of market, be it searching for Zim dollars or trying to buy some curio handicraft, we were asked what we could trade. This was new to us. All through the America’s when we balked at prices, those prices came down. Occasionally we had something that we offered to lower a price but it wasn’t common. Here in Zimbabwe though, it was expected and we were ill-prepared. So, if you’re headed to Zimbabwe in the relatively recent future make sure you come prepared with “change”: used clothes or other food to barter.