Zim journo goes hungry in Geneva

Imagine surviving on a menu of a cold meat bun and water. For a Zimbabwean who is used to something salty and heavy (kutsindira), this is tough.

Geneva is the third most expensive city in the world, after London and Paris – as journalists attending the recent human rights conference discovered.

Every street has more than its fair share of bars and restaurants. There is even an Irish Pub, where one can sit and watch the English premier league in the comfort of high-backed leather chairs.

There is also the Tanzanian bar, where most African diplomats congregate after a hard day in the office and wind down discussing issues peculiar to them alone. Blaring African music from across the continent greets one on entering this comfortable bar, and many a time the barman/owner has had to literally sweep fellow-Africans out at closing time.

Even Chinese restaurants are a dime a dozen. But the common thread that runs through all these is the price. A beer goes for $9, for an “export quality” can nearly half the size of dear Delta’s can. In some spots it even goes for $11.


With $11 at home I’d be singing all the way with no care in the world.

For a really good meal one needs to part with at least $24. No wonder my colleague said he was now a member of the society’s elite!

“Look man, I’m used to eating my nchima for a dollar a day, but this price really catapults me from the working class to the nouveau rich,” he says.

“Prices of things in Geneva are very high. From food to clothes, all what one can realise is that this place is not for shopping,” says a colleague from Tanzania. Shirts cost up from $24.

But the city works. There are no electricity cuts, no load-shedding and the transport system works. Public transport is aplenty, from buses to trams to taxes.


In fact, one can set one’s time according to the tram times; they are that efficient.

And, surprise of all surprises, one is not asked to pay for the bus/tram ticket on embarking. You are expected to buy your weekly ticket from your hotel, shops or vending machine. So, when you get on a bus, it is expected that you have your ticket. One is hardly ever asked to produce it.

But failure results in instant arrest, and a fine of $120. The size of the fine makes one buy a ticket without being pushed.

And they take no excuses either. Like: “Am sorry I left my ticket in the trousers I was wearing yesterday”, or “my mother put my ticket in her purse and she dropped off earlier than I did (from a 49-year old madara like me)”, or “I am actually on my way to buy the ticket, look I’ve actually got the money on me”. It will not work!


And water, oh glorious water, it is there aplenty.

I actually had my first full bath in a very long time; just lying there is a bath tub full of water and turning around like a fish in a pond. This made a massive difference from the bucket wash I am used to at home.

Because the transport system works, very few people see any need to have cars. If one does not have the benefit of a basement parking in the flat one lives in, then a car is a no-no. Street parking costs an eye-watering $3620 per month.

Most people here move around on motor bikes, which they park by the tram station and collect at end of day after a hard day’s work to go home.

And the splashy big-engine monoliths we see on Harare’s roads are a rare sight here. For us in Zimbabwe, the bigger the car, the more it is seen you have arrived. Not here.

And almost everybody lives in a flat. There is a real shortage of space such that the houses we see in Budiriro, Westlea or Nguboyenga are only for the very rich.


But the salaries are high. Most Zimbabweans working here in the various NGOs and at the mission are not complaining. They are the only lot who can still send money home to their families.

And the politics; it never gets into your face.

There is no Chipangano, Green Bomber, Zanu (PF)/MDC youth or some such poison. In fact, hardly do you hear people talking politics.

And said one Zimbabwe Embassy staffer when asked when he would be coming home: “Sort out your politics first, I’ll stay here for a while!”

But there are pick-pockets on the streets. Every hotel has a warning sign for one to watch out for pick-pockets out to nick my hard-earned dollar.

And the night games: a cool $130 – gets you a 15-minute forget-your-country-and-your-name breather. But only diplomats and NGO staffers can afford these games.

As for me, I’ll settle for Harare’s Dollar-for-Two in Epworth any time. Like they say, East, West, home is best.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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