A Billionaire in Zimbabwe
By Mark Nizer

Dateline, summer 2010 – Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), Zimbabwe, Africa

I love going to this festival. It brings together performers from all over the world. And Zimbabwe is a country sorely in need of some art and merriment. I gladly gave them a low-cost deal, since it was such a great cause and took me to an international place in the world that is different than anything else I have experienced. The final negotiations actually involved me speaking to the promoter long distance as he stood in the middle of the latest violent incident and assured me and my wife he would personally guarantee my safety.

The gig was in an old theater space in an odd strip mall. There was a grocery store next to the venue and people would wheel there shopping carts into the store with black trash bags full of money. Every register had a cash counting machine to rifle through the wads of cash being hauled around.

The Zimbabwean dollar had lost so much value it literally took bags and bags of cash to buy anything. The typical note was in the millions. The per diem they gave me for my meals alone, when laid out next to each other, covered my entire hotel room floor, bed and desk.

I did have to develop a budget to make this money last, though. I used the tried and true "measurement" method. Breakfast was free with the hotel. Lunch cost about one and a half inches of cash. Dinner and a beverage were two inches of cash.

As I came closer to concluding my stay, I figured I should buy some gifts for my family back home. The festival included local artisans who were within the HIFA hotel compound. I wanted to support them while bringing back some cool memories.

I got in touch with my handlers and arranged for one of the them to exchange $10 for me to spend on gifts. Everything was crazy cheap and I thought that would be enough to buy three nice gifts. A few hours later, she returned with my nine-inch stack of cash.

I headed down to the festival grounds and bought a hand-dyed tablecloth. It cost only an eighth of an inch! I also bought a beautiful soapstone carved statue for a 16th of an inch and a wooden serving plate for a couple bills off the top. I felt like a billionaire!

I couldn't imagine how I could possibly spend all this money in the one night I had left. I couldn't carry much more stuff with me since my luggage was on the line for weight already, so I bought earrings for my three daughters and myself, a bracelet for my wife and a nice dinner. I then headed over to the VIP tent and started buying drinks for anyone who wanted one. I still couldn't make a dent in this money pile. It was like a genie that kept on cranking out the cash.

Exhausted, I headed back to my room for the night. Once I turned off the lights, I noticed a blinking red light on my phone. I checked the message and it was from the woman who had brought me the stack of money. She was frantic, switching from crying to pleading faster than I had been buying drinks for everyone at the bar. Apparently, she had mistakenly added a couple zeros while converting my money, giving me $1,000 instead of $10.

Well, that explained soooo much!

I returned all the money I had left, and when I got back to my room, I fell asleep on my bed, still in Zimbabwe, but no longer a billionaire.


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