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Visiting a Tobacco Auction

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Abeja checking out the tobacco
Raj, Memory and I stared in wonder at the inside of this huge warehouse full of tobacco and large, busy crowds of people buying and selling this stuff. I stepped closer to the first row of tobacco... "Look out!" Raj screamed and pulled me back, just as two men zipped by wheeling huge bales down the aisle. That's when I noticed the big sign saying, "CAUTION! BARROWS!"

I began again--this time we remembered to look both ways before crossing the aisles, and joined the men who stood examining the rows and rows of open bales of tobacco. The full leaves are about a foot and a half long, dry and leathery. The stench of tobacco was overwhelming, but not as bad as the factory in the Bvumba mountains where we saw the tobacco hanging in dark rooms and barns, drying. There, they were sorted by rows of women, many with babies on their backs. They were sorted by quality and type, compressed into bales, wrapped in brown burlap and sent off to auction houses like this one.

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Analyzing the tobacco before selling
"All the tobacco here is Virginia tobacco," said a man.

"I'm from Virginia!" I laughed, marveling at the fact that a crop that came all the way from my home state was sold on the other side of the world! The auction consisted of a crowd of men shuffling towards us. None of us could follow it at all. We could hardly understand the words the man said, and I couldn't see what the buyer did to signal his bid. A wink perhaps? A wiggle of the nose? I'm still confused. Afterwards, the bales were closed up, and rushed off to some "behind the scenes" place.

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One of the many people who labor to bring the tobacco to market
"For only $173, we could buy a bale!"

"Yeah, that'd be a great souvenir from Zimbabwe!" I joked, picturing myself with a 100 kilo bale of tobacco on my backpack. "Except that we don't smoke."

"How many cigarettes do you suppose you could make out of that?" Raj pondered. It's about 100,000 cigarettes.

"Enough to kill us AND all our closest friends," I estimated. I was trying to be funny, but it's really no laughing matter. Tobacco use and tobacco-related deaths are growing in most developing countries. Here in Zimbabwe, tobacco is the most popular business, so, basically, the country needs this deadly drug to make money.

What else do you think they could do?


Shawn - Leaving on a Jet Plane :-(

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