Despite political and economic turmoil, the country remains a place of hope.
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The soldier sauntered out from behind the barrier, fiddling with a rifle slung across his chest. We had reached Zimbabwe's Birchenough Bridge, a dusty settlement five hours from the South African border. The soldier peered into the car window. He was young, in his early 20s, I'd guess. "Why didn't you stop?" he asked. Not for the first time, I wondered whether we were right to return.
Since a controversial presidential runoff in June – which longtime leader Robert Mugabe contested alone – Zimbabwe's economic crisis has worsened. Shop shelves have emptied. The rate of inflation has risen to unprecedented levels: Some recent estimates put it at 20 million percent. So precarious is the local currency that schools now ask for extra fee payments in fuel and floor polish.
In contrast, on our two-week holiday in neighboring South Africa, the stores were full of things to buy. And the people we spoke to were incredulous when they learned where we were from. "You live in Zimbabwe?" asked a shop assistant in the Orange Free State. "And you're really going back there? How will you eat?"
On the freeway between Johannesburg and the coastal resort of Durban, a South African policeman at a checkpoint roared with laughter when he saw the Zimbabwean plate on our car. He laughed so long and so hard that we shifted uncomfortably in our seats. "So you're from Mugabeland. Who'd you vote for?" he asked.
Near the end of the holiday, I filled a suitcase with bags of flour and lentils and tins of sardines. I bought sacks of maize meal for friends, instant gravy powder and shaving gel for my mother- and father-in-law, crayons for my son.