Some years ago (everything happened to me a long time ago!) I was invited to speak at a big conference in Harare.  The organisers explained that, due to currency restrictions, I would have to fly out Air Zimbabwe and my fee would have to be paid in Zimbabwean dollars which I would not be allowed to take out of the country.

At first this didn’t sound like an attractive proposition but the organisers went on to explain that the usual arrangement for overseas speakers was to travel to Zimbabwe a few days early and spend the fees sightseeing. A visit to a game reserve, Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe was on the itinerary. And my wife could come too.

Naturally, I accepted the invitation.

When the time came to go, we checked in at the airport – Air Zimbabwe of course – and we waited…..and waited…..and waited.  We waited so long (three days actually – but we returned home rather that sleep on the airport floor) that it gobbled up most of the time we were supposed to be sightseeing. In the end, we had to abandon our holiday plans and I went out to Harare by myself, with only enough time to do my stuff at the conference and come back again; a quick dash there and back, with no time for any sightseeing.

After I had delivered my keynote to an appreciative audience, the conference organisers gave me an embarrassingly large, brown envelope stuffed full of Zimbabwean dollars.  I had less than an hour before returning to the airport and the currency restrictions meant that the Zimbabwean dollars would have to be disposed of in that time.  I could, of course, have opened a hotel window and simply scattered the notes (I rather regret not doing this – it would be such fun) but instead I rushed into the nearest gift shop and told the astonished black lady sitting behind the counter that it was her lucky day.  I gave her the bulky envelope and explained that it must all be spent in about 30 minutes flat. She kept a running tally as I dashed around her shop gathering up handfuls of bangles and beads.  Quite understandably, she gave me a big hug when I left.

We always refer to this windfall as The Zimbabwean Loot. It provided birthday and Christmas presents for quite a few years.  A year later I was invited to visit Zimbabwe again with the same caveats.  This time there were no hiccups and the fees were spent staying at Victoria Falls and visiting Great Zimbabwe.

Since the hoard ran out, family and friends have noticed that the standard of Christmas presents has dropped.

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