Saturday, 3 August 2013

Zimbabwe (Part 1) -- A very underated country -- Guest blog written by Anne Moyes

Todays guest blog is written by Anne Moyes. She is sharing with us her travels in Zimbabwe. When I was in the travel business, I won a trip to Zimbabwe with the Zimbabwe tourist board but it was cancelled two weeks before departure, due to the troubles with Mugabe. I have always want to visit and despite hearing horror stories it has not put me off. Anne has made me want to go even more! Please read on and delight in this beautiful country........
Zimbabwe usually comes last in alphabetical lists of countries, and it’s probably in the same position on most tourists’ lists of must-visit African countries.  Never one to follow the crowd, I shall be making my fourth visit to this beautiful, damaged country in December.  I’ve been told by my cousin Helen that as long as I bring a Heston Blumenthal orange Christmas pudding, they’ll kill the fatted calf for the feast day.  Then it’ll be roasted on a braai – this is a barbecue made out of an old cyanide drum.  Did you know that cyanide is used in gold refining?

You can go to the toilet behind the bushes but watch out!
The first time I went out to Zim was five years ago, to visit Helen, who moved out there in 1997 to teach children with learning disabilities. The family were horrified at her wild behaviour, and warned me that if I didn’t starve to death, I’d catch malaria, be bitten by a black mamba, get trampled by an elephant, or all three.  Actually, it turned out there was a cobra living by her fence, but as it was winter, the snake was too sleepy to bother us.  On the other hand, the nest of killer bees which was tucked into the eaves were rather more bothersome, and I must confess that when Helen said she couldn’t have it dealt with for at least another month as their honey wouldn’t be ready to harvest until then, I did realise that Africa’s not for the faint-hearted.

Poinsettia - Copyright Anne Moyes
My cousin lives in Kadoma and works in Chegutu.  Both are small towns a hundred miles South West of Harare.  It’s a region of rich, red soil which grew wealthy in colonial times on cash crops of tobacco, oranges and cotton.  Alongside the cloud blue jacaranda and scarlet flamboyant trees, avocados and papaya still thrive wildly and provide a generous table for anyone who cares to gather them.   The cash crops, however, have withered and the dust now eddies through the brush and stubble. 

Taxi's are always full!
I’m not sure what most amazed me the first time I was collected from Harare airport. Transport took the form of Helen’s friend Presley opening the back door of his ancient Toyota truck to reveal a flock mattress, a large jerry can and his nine year old son, Dan.  He’d been allowed to take the afternoon off school to come and meet Helen’s cousin from England. My suitcases were stuffed into the truck, Pres announced that we must have a drink before our long journey, and we rattled off into Harare.  The faded glory of this city was clear to see:  smart department stores and hotels now boarded up, youthful brown uniformed police darting their eyes across pedestrians and vehicles, and most peculiar of all, the traffic lights weren’t working. Actually, they’re called robots in Zim, and the reason they’d stopped was to save electricity. In fact, on that particular afternoon, there didn’t seem to be much evidence of there being any electricity for anything, but I quickly came to accept that as normal.  I remember learning in Geography that the Kariba Dam was the biggest hydro-electric power station in the world. It still works. Sort of. But Zimbabwe gave it to neighbouring Zambia in exchange for them repairing it, and so now they have to buy back their own electricity. But the country’s parlous economic situation means they can’t afford very much of it. So, we tumbled out of the truck into the gloom of a dusty floored bar, where I enjoyed my first taste of Castle beer.  Somehow, even without Zesa (that’s electricity), the beers were always chilled to perfection. Priorities.

The balancing rocks. Copyright Anne Moyes
As the city receded, piles of great rocks, bigger than houses loomed along the roadsides.  I imagined that the children of ancient giants must have played at stacking them up.  Their precarious balancing acts seem to defy gravity. 

The A5 is the arterial route from Harare to Bulowayo, and it is very busy. Lack of maintenance means motorists swerve to avoid potholes, rendering our journey into the setting sun far from romantic. Nevertheless, we arrived in once piece at Helen’s house, unloaded the luggage and ate our supper.  Then the electricity went off.  For sixteen hours.
Anne is writing her blog post in instalments for us, as there is so much to share. Africa is such a diverse country and I'm sure you'll find it interesting.

Facebook available here!
It is still easy to keep up to date with the outside world. Facebook is available and the mobile phone/cell phone signals are good in certain areas, as these photos show :)

Phone signals are good in certain areas!

Zimbabwean literature –

Yvonne Vera. The StoneVirgins and Butterfly Burning.  A great recorder of post-independence Zimbabwe, sadly cut down in her prime by AIDS.

Tsitsi Dangarembga. NervousConditions. Like Vera, she left Zimbabwe to study, but returned. Like Vera, a chronicler of the tensions in her birthland.

Doris Lessing grew up in Rhodesia. The Grass is Singing (1951) is the first of several novels which examine racial tension.

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Rhodesia. His Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories are set in neighbouring Botswana, but he has written a charming series of children’s stories which are set in Zimbabwe – The Akimbo Adventures.

Owen Sheers. The DustDiaries is this fine contemporary poet’s account of visiting Zimbabwe to try to uncover the story of his great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, a Christian missionary who was loved and honoured by his African flock.

Peter Godwin. TheFear. Godwin experienced an idyllic childhood in South East Zimbabwe, but as a young man, found himself embroiled in the new President Robert Mugabe’s attempts to eradicate tribal opposition.  This recent publication sees his return to the country after the 2008 elections: a brief Spring of hope for a new democracy.

Ben Freeth.  Mugabe and the White African (also on kindle or DVD).  An account of a family’s attempts to retain their farmlands.  Filmed by Channel 4.
Thank you for joining us today Anne. I look forward to sharing part 2 of your life in Zimbabwe.