Posted by : Karen Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Zimbabwean International Airport
built to resemble Great Zimbabwe

I've returned from Zimbabwe this week after visiting my mom for her 60th birthday and it's left me changed.

Irrevocably I hope.

Zimbabwe is a special land, a land whose beauty leaves you breathless....
.... as does the brutality she has experienced.

Zimbabwe leaves you speechless as you wonder how she is still holding on,
... and yet the promise of hope (surely this is hope?) on her horizon make you want to shout out loud!

It's a RICH land. The red soil confronted me even as I drove out of the airport, and brought tears to my eyes. This fertile, ripe land has caused so much division in our country. It is these grains of sand with such a wonderful combination of minerals that have caused death, greed, brutality, hope, prosperity, corruption  - all the good, the bad and the ugly. Even though it is the end of the dry season and the soil is gasping for the summer rains, its potential can be seen by the oasis-like verges fed by boreholes as I drove to my childhood home.

A walk on the farm Brent and I
used to live on

The jacaranda trees throw down their blossoms, (just for me?!) and I love hearing the flowers popping beneath the tires. I love the striking blue of the early Zimbabwean October sky, and love the hazy days where the sky is almost white as fires burn on the outskirts of the city. I loved the constancy of the temperature and that summer has opened the door and is about to move in for 6 months (six whole months...sigh....!). For five nights, I slept without socks... that should tell you something!

My childhood home
(this is one of three parts of the garden!)
So much space!

It's pretty easy to quickly take stock of who has means and who is less well off within the city now, who is coping with how Zimbabwe has been crippled over the last few years. Those with luscious verges have a borehole and means to a water supply. The reality of the homes behind the  dusty brown verges is that they have little or no water. There is no municipal water at all in Harare - it might trickle in once a week, if you're lucky. Most people (who can) have resorted to sinking boreholes, digging wells and connecting their house water mains to this supply. Can you imagine? No water comes from the dams around the city as equipment has eroded,  or broken down or there is still no money to buy the necessary chemicals to clean the water. What is happening under Harare is cause for concern. How large is the aquifer on which Harare is built? How long can it last? A city cannot survive without water ... even a  Zimbabwean one!

I love these yellow flowers that fall with the purple
of the jacarandas...
Although initially being struck by her beauty, I too was struck by the strange parameters Zimbabwean society is living within. Things we consider basic necessities and building blocks of our society are absent and missing in Zimbabwe. I've mentioned the water. Then there's the power - my family and friends still there are delighted ( I kid you not) that they now know when their daily power cuts are. It's preposterous for any Zimbabwean to expect power all the time, but now they can plan their lives: they know which days require them to make dinner in the morning, and when to do a load of washing in the evening. Can you imagine living like that? Those verges I mentioned earlier are commonly littered with rubbish, for there is no regular refuse collection - if you have the means, you can take your own rubbish to the dump, but if you can't or don't care, rubbish is just dumped in the nearest open space. I find it terribly sad what my people, my country has been reduced to.

walking up Domboshawa
I could not shake the feeling that Zimbabwe is dancing with anarchy. Sometimes, it seems she refuses a dance, and the law is upheld. But too often, I heard stories of corrupted law enforcement or a complete lack of it, and it left me wondering how people like my  law abiding friends survive. How does one live in a society where one's own moral code is so strong but there is no greater good? No common desire for what is true and noble and just? In many ways the police have blatantly lost control (which was true with the history of the land invasions), and so road usage is mind blowing - it truly vies with India! My brother is one of many who now just skirts around road blocks rather than being stopped and fined for nothing of any consequence  Why did this surprise me so? I guess it's because I have become so used to the civility within which I now live.

At the top of Domboshawa
with my brother and friends of
my parents

The roads are in shocking condition - they are mostly full of potholes, and the edges are wearing away. I'd say a good 75% of the roads have no road markings - they've faded and once again, there's no money to repaint them. Robots seldom work, or have had fittings stolen from them (whilst still living there, all the metal signs indicating road names were stolen to melt down to make coffin handles - Zimbabweans sure are industrious!).

The view to the east of Domboshawa

It was really hard getting my head around the economy working in US$, and seeing the abject poverty in spite of it. Zimbabweans can look back and laugh (can anyone really?) at the fact that in the beginning of 2008 the limit on withdrawals from the bank was 1.2 million Zimbabwean dollars, and you needed that to buy bread and milk. But it's not really a laughing matter. My parents lost their hundreds of trillions (not a lot really after the inflation of the previous years) in their bank account when overnight the money changed to a US$ system. 2008/9 were the hardest years by far. There was NOTHING in the shops. Bare, empty shelves  And when a consignment came in, say of Mazoe orange juice, shelf packers would line ALL the shelves up with orange juice. Nowadays, had our money remained in Zimbabwean dollars, it is speculated that the denomination we would be working in as a result of our inflation would be octrillions. I kid you not. (Now I can't even comprehend a number that big - 1 million is 10 to the 6th power, 1 trillion is 10 to the 12th power, 1 septrillion is 10 to the 24th octillion in 10 to the 27th power....1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!!!)

This is a Fruit and Veg City (Sam Levy's Village),
complete with sprinklers outside
to keep everything cool in the (glorious) heat!
I chuckled!

I'm also saddened for another reason. The shelves in Zimbabwe are packed - all with familiar South African products. And whilst this is wonderful and it means that food is available, it is often 2 or 3 times more expensive than it is here in South Africa. A packet of Lays chips imported from SA is now cheaper than a packet of local Zimbabwean chips. It doesn't take an economist to tell you what that means. The last remaining local Zimbabwean industries that have survived the onslaught of such horrific government policies are closing down, and adding to the already chilling unemployment statistic of  95%. Is this why the South African government took on a "quiet diplomacy" stand when all the chaos took place? They stand to gain by exporting and monopolizing the Zimbabwean market?

Aah yes, the menu at the airport is
handwritten as everything
changes in availability...

Another aspect of this US$ economy is that there are no US coins in circulation in Zim. Prices are however, given with cents. So if you buy something and need say 60c change, you can either buy eggs, a banana or two, chewing gum, or chocolates to that amount OR you are given a "credit note" which allows you to redeem the money the shop owes you on your next visit. It's amusing....

Schweeps orange!!!!
I happened to visit the school where I taught in Zim, which was wonderful on so many levels. Wonderful to see old staff, to see how much the school has grown and changed and the hope springing up. But again, so sobering as the cost of this private education is now ridiculous.  Homeschooling is becoming a serious alternative for so many purely for financial reasons. I was also privileged to catch just a glimpse of how education is being used to offer people a hope and a future with Makomborero, and to meet the student that we are helping to sponsor. He is a proud ambassador for Makomborero.

Ryan, and incredibly bright student with an even
brighter future thanks to Makomborero!

And the people.
The people....
Zimbabweans are beautiful and brave, and I think the real reason I so want to write about this trip is to honor those who have stayed. Who have endured. Who have persevered, and weathered the political storm day in and day out.

These black and white people make Zimbabwe great.

Together they have stood, facing the corruption and the anarchy with a desire to see Zimbabwe rise from the ashes: they believe in her potential.  When I look back over the 8 years I have been gone, and I track what they have had to endure, it sobers me. It makes me realize how wealthy I am with all that I take for granted - power, running water and available affordable food for me to buy.

Zimbabwe, I am so grateful to you, for giving me a perspective so many ways.

Till the next time...

3 Responses so far.

  1. Beautifully written - I savoured this as I read it - both nostalgic and yet tragic, hopeful yet not. Well done. I felt like I was right there with you.

  2. Shells says:

    So special to read a about a little part of you, my dear sweet friend...what an eye opener.

  3. lynne dunham says:

    This brought tears to my eyes.Wonderful sensitive writing. Thank you.

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