Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa


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Tuesday 03 March, 2009

Fifty dollar shopping spree

Last week my sister-in-law was thrilled when she phoned to tell me she had received
five vouchers amounting to 100 American dollars. She had also just opened a foreign
currency denominated account with her bank of three decades.

Her excitement was contagious so I suggested we go shopping on her first foreign
currency earnings.

My sister-in-law has worked as a primary school teacher for 30 years. Her husband
who is my brother was laid off work almost two decades ago. For years she has been
the sole and consistent bread winner, looking after her husband and three children.

My brother has remained sane by growing strawberries and vegetables for sale. He has
also become a self-taught tailor of note. But economic instability has seen my brother's
income eroded. His wife has over the past two years earned money that could not pay
the local high school and university fees for their two children in school.

In our culture, if one member of the family is in trouble you step in. Not only did I
have to worry about my own three children in university but I now had my brother's
family to look after.

From earning less than one American dollar, my sister-in-law from this month, now
receives $100.

My brother and his wife are lucky to own their home. From her new income my sister-in
law pays a total of $30 for rates, water and lights. We immediately deducted the $30 for
utilities, $20 for emergencies and went shopping with $50. Fortunately too, no one in the
family has to pay for public transport to get to and from work or school.

With $50 she bought, 25kgs of maize meal which is our staple, four kgs of flour, six
kgs of sugar, two litres of cooking oil, two bars of laundry soap, 500g of powdered
milk and two litres of a concentrate orange juice.

Across the same high density suburb of Chitungwiza, a group of other civil servants
were making bulk purchases and singing the praises of new Prime Minister, leader of
the opposition MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, whom they credited with awarding the foreign
currency earnings.  

My sister-in-law had been on strike for most of last year but heeded the call by
the new inclusive government to go back to work. Teachers' Unions were negotiating
for salaries of US$2,300 but a $100 allowance each for civil servants has breathed
new life into them.

Yes, I still have to help my brother and sister-in-law but it was good to see her
regain her dignity. I cried when she said to me, "I feel like a complete woman
again, a proper mother and wife. My shoulders are no longer drooping. I am ecstatic!"

Keeping my family alive is a major personal goal. I worry about poverty everyday. I
worry too about the orphans and children living on the streets that I try to help
whenever I can. I am one of the lucky six percent of the population that are employed.
I have food on my table, a roof over my head, can afford to look after my children and
my brother's family. My family is healthy. I am luckier than most people and for that
I will forever be grateful.

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And are we lucky in the UK! There's nothing to beat the moment of joy when at long last something comes right. I hope you and your sister enjoyed it to the full.

Posted by OwenE2 on March 05, 2009 at 02:01 PM GMT #

Sorry, your sister-in-law.

Posted by OwenE2 on March 05, 2009 at 02:04 PM GMT #

This blog should be compulsary reading in all our schools here in the UK.

Posted by Vicki on March 11, 2009 at 07:45 AM GMT #

According to a radio report last night the relaxation of the currency regulations appears to have had a dramatic impact. I hope things are taking a turn for the better. How solid is the improvement?

Posted by OwenE2 on March 26, 2009 at 08:13 AM GMT #

How easy it is to forget how blessed we are to have the essentials of life. How encouraging to read the thankfulness in this message. Australians have so much to be thankful for,we sometimes forget!

Posted by Charis Valentine on April 04, 2009 at 09:56 AM BST #

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