One of the most interesting aspects of our visit to Zimbabwe was that not only could we get diesel (!) but also American dollars – right out of the ATM!
Today, Zimbabwe uses the US dollar as its currency after the complete and total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.
The rate of inflation shot up so much that Zimbabwean dollars became worthless. At the height of the crisis, a man was pushing a wheel barrow chock full of millions of Zimbabwean dollars when he was attacked. The thieves dumped all the money on the ground and stole the wheelbarrow. Inflation happened so quickly that you would sit down at a restaurant and by the time you finished your meal and were ready to pay, the prices had already inflated.
To stabilize the economy, Zimbabwe switched to American dollars in 2009. So there we were, in the middle of Zimbabwe, handing over bills with Andrew Jackson’s face on them. This made our trip even more fun! No challenging exchange rates to calculate in my head – well, actually, no turning to Sandy and asking how much something costs… Even though I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t translate kwacha into dollars anymore, it was so refreshing to have everything in a familiar and relatable currency. “What? That stone carving only costs one dollar? Give me ten of ’em.”
Switching to US dollars seems to be working and while the economy has stabilized, it’s not without its quirks. While dollar bills were plentiful, there were no American coins. So when you buy something that costs $1.25, the store or vendor won’t have quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies to give you your change.
Instead, Zimbabweans have gotten creative. Many stores will issue coupons worth different denominations that will total the amount you’re owed.
Others use South African Rand coins.
The grocery store gave us our change in candy. $0.60 equals three hard fruity candies. I like that exchange rate.
And finally, there was the vendor who gave his change in small stone hippo carvings.