Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Wife Gave Me $10,000,000 For My Birthday!

My friends and loved ones 66 years ago today I came into this world. I was premature by a month and a half.My survival prospects were not good.
One intrepid young doctor named Harold Ross worked on me all night long and saved my life.
When I would come home to see my mother, she would smile. Then she would bury her face in both of her hands and remain silent for a moment. When she looked up she would always utter the words: "Son it's a miracle that you're still alive."
At this special moment I stop and gives thanks to God for allowing me to stay on this earth for 66 years and to have the wonderful gifts that I have been given. I think about those close to me who did not make it this far including four friends who died in the Vietnam war.
If you were the house right now, I would take you to the dining room. Elena jokes that it looks like an African museum. On the dining table you would find a thick and transparent picture frame. Inside the frame is a $10,000,000 Zimbabwe dollar note. Elena gave it to me as my birthday gift. It's actual monetary value is $50.00 US, at best.
It is a treasure to me. It symbolizes the special 44-year relationship that I have had with this small and often troubled African country just north of South Africa.
I was first introduced to Zimbabwe when I was an undergraduate at Tulane University in 1970. One of our neighbors in the married student's dorm was a man named Mutizwa Chirunga. He was older than me and a graduate student. He was an articulate and intelligent man. He spoke English with a beautiful British accent. He would spend hours talking to me about his native country. He taught me much about his culture and values. I began to see how native people in African countries resented the colonialism imposed on them by European countries.
Mutizwa's wife Jackie gave birth to a son. He was also named Mutizwa. When the little baby had its christening ceremony, my first wife and I were the only Europeans invited to a ceremony attended by Africans living in New Orleans. We were touched and honored.
In 1971 I said goodbye to Mutizwa and Jackie as I left Tulane to go to the US Navy. I never saw him again. I later found out that he had died at age 62 of cancer in 2004.
I never forgot all of his tales of his native country. In September of 1981, I drove across the South African border and found myself in Zimbabwe. It was not as Mutizwa had described it. I saw no jungles. It was all high veld or high plains. I did not see any improvement of the life of the African population after Robert Mugabe had come to power. I drove through the country side and ended up in Harare. It was an educational experience for me. I boarded a flight for Frankfurt,Germany. I did not see Africa again for nine years.
When I returned to live in South Africa, I ran into many people who had fled Zimbabwe to avoid the rule of Robert Mugabwe. I even dated a beautiful woman originally from Zimbabwe.
I left South Africa in December of 1994. My next contact with Zimbabwe was during the time that I was international sales manager for Telewave, Inc. I sold some products to Zimbabwe. Our South African representative, Mike Daykin was also from Zimbabwe. During my time at Telewave l also developed a wonderful friendship with Zimbabwean Mandy Findlater. I also developed a wonderful friendship with Zimbabwean Andrew Field and former Zimbabwe soldier Tim Bax.
Ten years ago I opened a modest brokerage account with a company in Johannesburg, Imara SP Reid. It has been a wonderful business relationship that prospers to this day. It is an investment company started in 1938. It is basically a Zimbabwe company. I have built wonderful relationships at this company including Guy Algeo, Cameron Horsfall, Rajeev Sokur, and Warwick Lucas.
In one of Zimbabwe's presidential elections, it appeared that Robert Mugabe was going to be voted out of office and replace by Morgan Tsvangarai. Elena and I made a substantial investment in the Zimbabwe stock exchange. Sadly for us, Robert Mugabe won reelection because a third-party candidate had taken votes away from Morgan Tsvangarai.
Hyper inflation racked Zimbawe. At one point our account there was worth tens of billions of Zimbabwe dollars. I would joke with Elena that it was the only time in her life that she was a billionaire.Then the whole market crashed. It appeared for a while that we had lost our entire investment. Then some sanity returned and we recovered 60% of our investment. Our money was sent back to Johannesburg. The skilled investment management of the Imara team recovered our loss.
Zimbabwe eventually gave up on the Zimbabwe dollar as currency. Now all business is done in US dollars and South African Rands.
For the longest time I have wanted one of those big-denomination Zimbabwe dollars. Elena got lucky and found one for me in Sedona, Arizona of all places. A man from Zimbabwe named Gedion Nyanhongo supplied it to her. Elena thank you for a wonderful birthday present that touched my heart. Zimbabwe thank you for being a part of my life for 44 years and making my life richer!

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