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Page last updated at 18:34 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Harare diary: 'Diaspora dollars'

Cigarette and Santa hat vendors in Harare
Vendors in central Harare capitalising on the festive season

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, describes how Christmas will be celebrated this year.

It is Christmas Eve and the queues are something else.

I was at this shopping centre a few hours ago and it was packed, everything there is sold in foreign currency and you have to be prepared to stand in a queue for more than an hour - it's so full of people doing their Christmas shopping.

The good news for Christmas is that Jestina Mukoko is alive

While Zimbabwean dollars are still in chronic short supply, there seem to be more US dollars about for the festive season.

The queues at money transfer agencies are really quite long, so I think there's a lot of foreign currency coming in from people with relatives in the diaspora for the holiday period - and that's the reason for the queues in supermarkets.

Usually at this time of year, there are decorations up - Santa Clauses in the department stores and all that stuff, but there aren't that many this time.

A woman shopping in Harare
Without US dollars it is hard to buy goods in Harare

At home too, we've just been remarking on how different Christmas is - usually our house is covered in Christmas cards, covering every surface, but this year we've only received two.

I've just been to my uncle's house and they haven't received a single one.

Normally we have this family gathering on Christmas Day where we get together with our cousins, uncles and aunts, but we've cancelled that this year for a quiet day at home instead.

I think many people have decided to be defiant and enjoy the day despite all the many difficulties here - and many Zimbabweans are strong Christians.

'Scared'

There's quite a number of foreign-registered vehicles around - people home for Christmas.

A Zimbabwean family bury a relative who died of cholera
Cholera victims need to be buried quickly

However, I was saying to my friends earlier that many of my contemporaries seem reluctant returnees - saying how scared they feel about coming home because of the situation here.

Today, I saw this girl who used to stay in our neighbourhood and she was saying her husband had just come from the rural areas and the cholera outbreak has spread to that area. She said it was really very bad.

The cholera is affecting funeral practices. Usually we gather for three days and bury the person on the third day.

But cholera victims have to be buried immediately and people aren't allowed to gather, which is out of sync with our culture.

The good news for Christmas is that Jestina Mukoko [the human rights activist missing for the last three weeks] is alive.

She appeared in court today. I was so scared she had been killed.



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