Western visitors to Zimbabwe are looking for zeros. They're snapping up old, defunct Zimbabwe bank notes, most notably the one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill, as an economic souvenir.
The bill, which at 100 followed by 12 zeros is the highest denomination, sells for $5, depending on condition. That bill and others, among them millions, billions and trillions, were abandoned nearly two years ago, when the American dollar became legal tender in hopes of killing the record inflation that caused all those zeros.
"I had to have one," said Janice Waas on a visit to Victoria Falls. "The numbers are mind bending." She got her so-called "Zimdollar" in pristine condition from a street vendor, who usually sells African carvings.
"It's perfect if you like puzzles, calculus and things like Rubik's Cube," she said.
Her husband, Thomas, a physicist and engineer from Germany, said if the population of the world is 7 billion people, every person could be given thousands of old Zimbabwe dollars from the single 100 trillion note.
Janice Waas said Westerners bought the bills for curiosity value. An Australian wanted one to display in his bar back home.
Street vendors said visitors were so intrigued by the Zimbabwe bills that they were running out of them, two years after a power-sharing deal between longtime President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, made the old currency redundant.
Visitors from countries familiar with hyperinflation, such as the Congo and other impoverished states in the region and South America, showed less interest in the bills. They bought curios and artifacts, said vendor Lloyd Phiri, speaking on his cell phone in Victoria Falls.
At the height of Zimbabwe's economic meltdown in 2008, when its world-record inflation was running into the billions in percent annually and prices rose each hour, the 100 trillion bill scarcely bought a cart of groceries. A loaf of bread cost 700 million Zimbabwe dollars.