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Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 14:38 UK

Harare diary: 'Almost normal'

Herald newspaper front page one year ago

Esther (not her real name), 29, is a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

She describes how she is feeling one year since her country's opposing political leaders agreed to share power.

It seems far, far away. Life has just changed so much.

Now I can walk into any supermarket and buy one cake of soap, because I know that when I need another one, the shops will still have it

Yes, we remember how life was really tough, people were killed, they were arrested, they disappeared for supporting the opposition or for being suspected of doing so.

Supermarket shelves were empty, cash was more precious than gold, running water and power were scarce (still are I guess though), kids were not going to school (some of them still are not) and government hospitals were actually shut down.

I remember the heavy, intimidating police presence in the capital.

Thinking about it and writing it brings it all back and makes it feel raw.

We lived through hell.

'Dwelling on it will kill you'

But we survived, or at least some of us did.

bus driver collecting fares
Zimbabwean dollars can only be used to pay for a fare these days

And as is human nature, we have blocked out the horrors and are moving forward.

Yes it happened, yes it was terrible, but dwelling on it will kill you.

I suppose it is different for those who were eyewitnesses to or victims of the atrocities, and those who lost a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend.

I suppose it is harder for them to put the past behind them. I'm sure for them it is still raw.

And it cannot help that the politicians decided to let bygones be bygones. Can you imagine having to live next door to the person who beat you, or torched your belongings, or came with the group that abducted your loved one, knowing that they will never face justice on this earth?

'One cake of soap'

Working with a multi-currency system is a little confusing. Initially business had decided to use a 1:10 rate for working out prices in US$/South African rand but lately the rand has strengthened so much that this is no longer practical.

I think the rate most are using now is 1:7.5, which means if you are going to use rand for a purchase you had better have a calculator with you.

My mum, my sister and I were just saying this weekend how shopping has become fun again.

You can basically buy whatever foodstuffs you want. Gone are the days when you had to go down to South Africa for sugar, salt, soap, cooking oil etc.

Back then we shopped like we wanted to open little corner stores - everything was bought by the carton.

Now I can walk into any supermarket and buy one cake of soap, because I know the when I need another one, the shops will still have it.

Zimbabwean normal

It is great for the budget - you need to have lived here through 2006, 2007 and 2008 to get me here - it is such a joy.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his second wife, Grace, at Zanu-PF party youth conference
Esther says the politicians seem to be letting bygones be bygones

The only time you see Zimbabwean dollars is whilst travelling by public transport. The operators still accept them for fares because there are so few foreign coins around and a single fare costs 50 US cents.

Three trillion Zimbabwe dollars is the amount you hand over. For everything else, the money is useless.

All salaries and wages are now paid in US dollars, all vendors sell their wares in US dollars, and so everyone making an honest living is doing so in US dollars.

Some companies are still paying their employees via envelopes to avoid the high taxation rate. Most though are paid through bank transfers. Yes, banks are working.

All the people I know, however, do not keep their money in the bank. They withdraw it all on pay day, or the day after, and keep the cash at home. The reason given is: "For as long as Gideon Gono is governor of the reserve bank, you never know what will happen to your money or your bank."

And that is not something you can just dismiss.

And so, life is normal - for Zimbabwe in a Zimbabwean way.

I would love to be able to sit down with my bank manager and discuss financing so I can buy a house and a new car, and open a boutique for the young, trendy career woman.

I would love for that to be my normal but it is not. Not yet anyway.




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