Obtaining current information on Zim was extremely
difficult before I arrived in the country.  Every
traveler and overland truck I encountered the prior
two weeks in South Africa and Namibia sidestepped Zim
and even the useful Thorn Tree travel forum 
came up short.  I'm certainly not an expert on the
country or the situation but just someone who traveled
through there in the past week.

The official exchange rate is 6200 ZIM/1 USD but I
received rates ranging from 7800-7000.  The hostel I
stayed at in Victoria Falls had an in house black
market guy (dressed pimp style like all moneychangers
there) and he was offered at 7500.  On the street, the
bureaus de change generally offered 7000 with the USD
being the preferred currency.  Bureaus are sort of a
legitimate black market operating out of offices
rather than on the street corner like all the young
men offering 8000-9000 but those lads are guaranteed
trouble.  Like all markets, liquidity is THE
predominate role in pricing and the influx of holiday
visitors narrowed the spread from what I heard the
locals say.

For travelers, the biggest issue is having to bring in
plenty of hard currency otherwise the only other
options are withdrawing from an ATM at the official
rate of 6200/1 or making a day trip across the border
to withdraw then reconvert.  Every backpacker I spoke
w/was short of hard currency and helping them out
almost exhausted the large supply I came with.  Like
my trips to Cuba and Iran where I was cut off from
additional funds, I found an affinity for local goods
but this time it was beautiful black stone sculptures
instead of cigars and rugs.  (my favorite bargaining
lines, "you're asking Cape Town prices in Zimbabwe"
then when battered down "it's extortion but I'll pay
it.")

For every gas station w/gas, there were many which
were empty.  The petrol queue in Vic Falls was
approximately 4 hours (spent not reading or anything 
productive, just staring out the window) the times I 
passed it although it was perhaps 15 minutes in Bulawayo, 
a city of about 1 million people.  Part of the shortage 
stems from a low price, approximately 1.75 liters per USD.  
The newspaper in Bulawayo listed daily prices per litre of 
30 local stations but most had "not available" listed in 
the price column.  

Supermarkets had plenty of food on the shelves
although I considered it all to be grossly unhealthy
and spent my two days in Bulawayo living off protein
bars I keep for such a situation.  Fruits and
vegetables, although not missing, did seem to be a bit
short in supply in Bulawayo.  Prices at the grocery
store looked to be about in line w/what I pay back
home in Chicago.  For anyone traveling to Vic Falls, I
suggest a meal at Boma in the Vic Falls Safari Lodge
which offers game like warthog (delish!) in a buffet
style bbq.

Safety was never a problem for me although everyone
who was there a few years earlier spoke of the drastic
increase in crime.  Many likened the Zim side of Vic
Falls in the past to a bit like Khao San Rd. (in the
capital of ----land) which is the backpacking
epicenter, but now no one walks in the dark.  However
in Bulawayo, I met a South African gal who had her
purse snatched out of her hand whilst parked at a gas
station w/the window rolled down.  The recurring theme
of every white local I met traveling the region (which
has been plenty) is that violent crime is increasing
at a ridiculous rate.  Everyone seems to have been
victims of attempted or successful robberies,
carjackings, home break ins, etc...

Few whites seemed to remain in the two cities I
visited but the handful I did encounter came off to me
as poor white trash (PWT).  I don't say that to offend
anyone but that is the impression I got and my
hometown of Topeka, Kansas is almost 100% PWT so I'm a
bit of an expert in this.  One 25 y/o white Zimbabwean
I met said 70% of his high school class in Harare is
now abroad and he was to leave for London in a few
days.  

Zim is one of the few places now where they seem to
still love Americans since their disdain is for the
British and South Africans.  Not surprisingly, it has
the highest proportion of hip hop clothing (50 cent, G
unit, Ruff Ryders, Roca Wear, etc...) that I've seen
elsewhere in the world.  Everyone I met was extremely
kind, inviting, and helpful but I did my best to
appear as the type of broke and dirty backpacker I
usually make fun of.  

After the hellish trip from Vic Falls to Bulawayo on a
local bus, I scratched the idea of continuing on to
Harare since I felt like I had a decent impression of
the situation.  Instead, I've made a quick retreat by
bus through Botswana (economically impressive) to the
Jo'burg Park Hyatt where Partagas Series D No.4s and
Lagavulin are in ample supply.  

Ryan