Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about change. In the shops, at the café, on the street, at the bank – change, change, change, we need change. This morning I overheard two pensioners talking. Change is the issue, the one told the other. There is no change.
This shouldn’t be surprising – Zimbabwe has been in desperate need for political change for years now. But that’s not the kind of change people are talking about. They’re talking about change for a ZWD 50 million note. Or change for 20 US dollars. Or change for 100 Rand.
And, in the absence of change, people are doing flick flacks to make sure their purchases come up to a nice round number. Shops are getting creative about whether they give you a credit slip for the difference, or urge you to buy a few rolls of sweets to bulk up your bill. Till operators are getting shifty – hiding small notes at the bottom of the drawer, lying to customers that they don’t have change when they do.
I dropped a friend at the airport the other day. When I went to pay for the parking, I asked the guy at the gate how he was. I have a headache, he told me. Because people keep giving me big notes, but I don’t have any change. Adding to his headache, I offered him a ZWD 50 million note for the ZWD 30 million I owed for parking. He counted out his Zim dollars – around 15 million. I offered to take them even though it was less than he owed me – but then he wouldn’t have any change at all. He offered me a small gold coin. I looked at it puzzled – turns out it was a two pound coin. It was worth more than the change he owed me, but it was useless to me. I gave it back. I offered him the only USD 1 note I had. He got a big smile. It was worth less than I owed – but having some small notes was worth more to him. He took it.
Big notes, big bills, big chefs, big motorcades, big dicktators. Zimbabwe needs change.