Page last updated at 06:10 GMT, Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Shopping and cooking in Harare

Harare skyline [Pic: Robyn Hunter]

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of annual inflation and just one in five has an official job.

On Thursday, I bought a chicken burger for my lunch which cost me 30m Zimbabwean dollars [less than $1 on the black market].

Then I tried to buy the same on Friday. But it was going for $95m. The price had more than tripled in less than 24 hours.

I was so shocked.

So, I just bought a packet of potato crisps for my lunch.

Esther has been promised some cheese when her sister visits

After work on Friday, I went to one of the fairly big supermarkets. Four of their aisles were completely empty and of the shelves that did have goods on, about 30 - 50% of the space was bare.

But that's normal here.

Except of course if you go to one of the supermarkets in the upmarket suburbs - they have everything you could possibly want or need.

But it costs you four-times as much as it would cost you to buy in South Africa.

It is so extremely expensive - it is just ridiculous.

I haven't been able to get away from work and take time off recently to go shopping in South Africa... sounds fancy but it's not!

What I do, like many others, is buy a one-way ticket to Johannesburg. Normally I'd go on a Thursday evening after work. Then, once I'm there I shop, shop, shop - for basics though!

Things like sugar, salt, toilet tissue, pasta, rice...

Then because you're so overloaded with stuff you can't fly back so we get a night bus back to Harare.

The authorities in Joburg don't even ask us anymore why we arrive on a single airfare... or how we plan to return home to Harare.

I know in other parts of the world the authorities would think it's because you're planning to stay but there in Joburg, they know now that we're just coming to buy our bare necessities and then we'll hop on a bus back home.

At the moment there are so many foodstuffs unavailable it makes cooking certain dishes a challenge.

For instance, I can't cook pasta meals anymore because there's no milk and so I can't make sauce. And dry pasta just doesn't do it for me.

You cannot buy fresh milk. If you're lucky, you can find powdered milk. Otherwise you have to rely on condensed milk and evaporated milk - like you hear of people doing when war is raging.

Also, I haven't baked in such a long time because I can't find margarine. All you can buy is low-fat spreads but you cannot bake with that.

And eggs are so very pricey. You have to pay 3.5m Zimbabwean dollars for one egg.

But then of course, I am lucky in that I can afford to eat three meals a day.

I suppose everyone is looking forward to the long Easter holiday weekend - families coming together and sharing time together.

But to be honest, the shortages have taken the fun out of holidays. I haven't heard anyone making plans.

People are not even buying Easter eggs. They just seem so frivolous during times like these.

Looking ahead

But people are really looking forward to the 29th.

People are really psyched up for election day.

I don't think the country has been this excited for such a long time.

My work colleagues and I are counting down the days to cast their vote.

Everyone's mood is very positive. It's a great feeling.

Until then, I'm looking forward to seeing my sister. She's flying up from South Africa for Easter.

And she's going to bring me some cheese.

It has been months since I ate cheese - it will be my Easter treat!

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