All my life I have worked hard to occupy a middle class seat. But the past six years have been a battle to hang onto what might pass off as a reasonable life. Today I have woken up to the full knowledge that I have become what my children and I call box wine poor. And I can not even afford box wine.
I knew I had hit rock bottom when a man I had been working for as a consultant editor failed to pay me for several months only to pay me in mobile credit worth US$10 one dark Monday morning. It killed my spirit but also sent me into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I laugh when I am happy but I also laugh when I am unsettled or when I hear something that under normal circumstances should make me cry. My daughter has seen me break into laughter after hearing tragic news. Sometimes death makes me laugh. It is a weird coping mechanism that my daughter finds quite disturbing.
So, when I asked for payment for work I had done and instead received US$10 mobile credit I burst out laughing. I was upset believe me but I really rolled with laughter and tears flowed freely. That day marked my official status as a poor woman. No matter how hard I worked as a consultant I would from that day continue to struggle to get paid. People wanted me to do work for them but like the Zimbabwean government they could not pay me. I was paid in hope and promises.
I have always worried about being poor. It scared me. And it manifested in my shopping patterns. I stoked up on toothpaste, lingerie, tea, olive oil, coconut milk and salt. In my head I must have imagined a day when I would exchange a pair of panties for a chicken or a can of coconut milk for a cup of flower or rice. There has never been any logic in the things I buy in bulk and stash for future use. Not having control over my financial standing scares the hell out of me.
I am poor now but at least I will not go around with no underwear. I have no money but I can cook a tasty vegetarian dish for my children with olive oil and coconut milk. I am a poor woman who cooks with olive oil. My housekeeping skills are self-taught. My father raised me and taught me a whole lot of things but housekeeping was not one of them.
At the end of November 2016, the government introduced the “funny” money known as Bond Notes. And the government would have us and anyone else who cares to listen believe that one Bond Note is at par with one American dollar. That is a stretch I know but we are a creative country and do get away with murder most of the time. The poorly produced money is in circulation together with the American currency and most Zimbabweans are just happy to have any form of money – real or imagined – to make up for the hours and hours they spend in bank queues.
In a few days the year 2016 will come to an end and I will be firmly and surely a poor woman. I have not even been able to earn a single Bond Note. Heck right now I do not care if I am paid in Bond Notes, copper dust or a simple piece of paper with a dollar sign. All I want is to be paid for work that I do. I do not know how to be poor. My children do not understand poverty.