The Bad Old Days

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A few months ago we had a glut of radishes from the garden. Not being fond of waste, I peeled a pile and pickled them. This morning, after realising that I had run out of gherkin slices for my cheese pancake, I added several of these instead. I tell you this only to let you know that the pickling of radishes should never be contemplated, and if you are ever confronted with such a thing, don’t eat it. The problem is that they really are very nice. The larger problem is that they appear to be dangerous. I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse bellyache. These radishes have got me thinking though.
When Zimbabwe’s economy totally melted down a couple of years ago, the country got to the point where nothing was available to buy. People starved. We were a lot more fortunate than most. I’ve spoken about how horrible this was before, but this morning’s pickle peccadillo had me remembering how inventive we all got. Zimbabweans are an especially canny nation. They’re known not only for their friendliness, but also for their ability to generally make a plan. When we first realised that it was actually happening – we were living in the middle of an absolute economic collapse, we all dithered a little, and for quite a while went without most things that we generally now take for granted. Towards the end of the hard years, a group of us used to shop online from a South African supermarket, and everything would be trucked up once a month. Before that we had “runners”. These beloved intrepids would hop on board some fairly hazardous buses and taxis, zoom over the border to neighbouring South Africa, sleep on benches in parks, buy your groceries, pop them on top of more terrifying buses and taxis and deliver them right to your door. I remember my runner very fondly. We’re still firm friends, and she now has a thriving business from her personal shopping days. This didn’t work so well with things that had to be kept cold though. After several months without essentials such as cheese and bacon, experimentation begun in earnest. Life without cheese is no life at all.
Living in a farming community, milk and meat were a lot easier for us to get hold of than for those poor souls living in the bleak cities. Panir or soft cheese, made by stirring lemon juice into simmering milk and then straining, was learned first. Inserting a tablespoon of pepper and a triangle of processed cheese (if you could lay your hands on one) into the middle of it, then leaving it in the fridge to mature for a week produced a rather lovely result. Thinly sliced belly pork sprinkled with salt, brown sugar, allspice and cloves left to soak for a few days produces something that quite a few people still make, even though you can buy pretty much anything you like here now. My favourite fish shop has cheese and seafood flown in from all over the world every week, so I don’t often think about those crazy food experiments. A couple of people became totally self-sufficient, making everything themselves apart from loo rolls, and still pretty much are that way. We are so used to living with solar power and generators that we probably wouldn’t suffer too much if the zombie apocalypse really did happen. The zombies wouldn’t get to eat anyone here either before some clever Zimbo discovered the joy of undead pie, or something to that effect. I learnt a lot from those days though. I never waste anything if I can help it. Apart maybe from radishes from now on. I’ve learnt that people are much more resilient than they think they are. And also that amazing friends can be found in very unexpected places.
Tomorrow Zimbabweans vote for their new constitution, and I really hope that all goes well from there. It would be a fine thing indeed if this country could forget all about the terrible hardships they’ve endured, and move forward to happiness and health. They deserve it. One thing that stands out for me is that no matter how bad things got, I never came across many people here who lost their smiles. Thinking of those hungry days also got me thinking of how people banded together then. We helped each other in all sorts of ways, we got to know each other in ways that we never would have in times of plenty, and I for one, fell further in love with the people of this great continent. Here’s hoping for peace and prosperity for Zimbabwe from now on.

Till next time friends. xxx


6 thoughts on “The Bad Old Days

    jennieorbell said:
    March 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I love these insights into your ‘world,’ Jo. But I agree, ditch the radishes!! x


    Christine Campbell said:
    March 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Having several friends from Zimbabwe, I would agree…they are always smiling. No matter the hardships they have endured, they look on the bright side.
    This was a lovely insight into conditions over there, not a moan, not a grizzle, but a bright, optimistic, honest revelation.
    Thank you. I enjoyed reading it.


      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Thank you Christine! And hi to your Zimbo friends *waves*. There is a lot of good here, and hopefully a bright future. 🙂 xxx


    adelesymonds said:
    March 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    This was a really great blog to read, when everybody is in the same hell hole community comes to life.


      jorobinson176 responded:
      March 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      It’s always funny when you think back – and looking after each other is actually something really good to remember. There are some kinds of fun you can only have in hell holes. 🙂 xx


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