Zimbabwe – Ashley Currier (2000)

Ashley Currier was a master’s degree student in English at the University of Pittsburgh. During the summer 2000, she worked on a project to promote women’s literacy while interning with one of Zimbabwe’s national presses. Ashley was awarded a scholarship in the amount of $1000 to pay for the cost of her airplane ticket to Harare, Zimbabwe.

Here are Ashley’s travel safety tips:

  • Check in with the U.S. embassy when you arrive just to be safe, and leave a copy of your itinerary, including the relevant contact information, with them. There are Internet cafes in all of the major cities so you can (and should) email your parents and friends regularly.
  • I suggest leaving your bankcard at home. You can get by fine with traveler’s checks and cash. Always secure your belongings due to the high incidence of pickpocketing.
  • Keep your wits about you at all times when traveling. Remember that being polite at all times can diffuse potentially awkward situations.
  • If possible, fly direct from New York or Miami to Johannesburg and then on to Harare. The trip will be far less grueling.
  • Do secure letters of introduction, especially if you intend to do work at the University. Letters of introduction help immensely.
  • Taxi drivers are quite helpful and are good sources of information in general. They can tell you what suburbs to avoid, what routes are the safest for walking, and if there are strikes or protests planned. They also offer a unique perspective on the economic and political situation.
  • Commuter omnibuses (or “combis”) are quite affordable but do pose some safety risks. The conductors squeeze as many as 20 people into a minivan and there are no governmental agencies that regulate their operations.
  • A bicycle can be purchased for a reasonable price if you don’t want to use public transportation. You must be careful of erratic drivers of combis and emergency taxis (whose drivers can be scam artists).
  • Be sure to set aside money for your exit fee. In 2000, the exit fee was US$20, payable in US currency.
  • Change only small amounts of money at a time, and be aware of where you’re changing money. Thieves loiter around banks and bureaux de change waiting to take your cash. Don’t ever change money on the street. You can get scammed and even arrested.
  • Most people are quite happy to take US currency anyway.
  • Leave your passport in a safe place and carry a copy of it with you.
  • Try not to carry a large bag or purse with you as it will make you a prime target for muggers.
  • Be aware that there are a lot of street children in Harare – good kids who’ve ended up in rotten situations. Don’t let them dupe you, though, and NEVER pull out money on the streets to give to someone. Keep some change in your pocket if you want to be able to give people money on the street.
  • Victoria Falls can be seen as a day trip. You can fly round-trip on Air Zimbabwe and have plenty of time to see the National Park in a leisurely manner and still make it home before dinner.
  • The postal system is slow but adequate for sending postcards and letters. It’s expensive, however, to ship items back to the US. You may want to consider air freighting bulky items.
  • If you travel to Zimbabwe in the winter, it gets chilly at night. Pack clothing items that can be layered because day temperatures can fluctuate dramatically. Also, be careful to apply sunscreen often, even if you’re only outside for a few minutes.
  • Be sure to pack an adequate supply of any prescription medications you take and carry a copy of the prescription with you. Other types of personal care products can be purchased in Zimbabwe.
  • There are national celebrations commemorating the national liberation movement on August 11 and 12. Plan on things being closed on those dates.
  • One of the most helpful tools in planning my trip was the Lonely Planet guide for Zimbabwe. Their online site “Thorn Tree” was also helpful.