Monthly Archives: November 2008

Cathy Buckle’s letter from Zimbabwe

This is Cathy Buckle’s letter of last weekend. In it she writes “From all over the country there are first hand reports of people barely surviving by eating roots, wild berries, beetles and insects”. Sadly, I can confirm this. Essy’s Mum has had to resort to pounding her planting seeds in a pestle and mortar to try and make whatever porridge she could of it. I wrote on Monday about the problems of trying to get US$ to her. Well, I managed it by paying someone in Harare to deliver them to her directly. It was expensive but at least she’ll eat.

Dear Family and Friends,
Within half a kilometre of a main army barracks and in view of a steady stream of traffic and hundreds of people, a man lay next to a main road leading to the Harare airport this week. Barefoot, painfully thin and with thick, unkempt hair the man lay unmoving on the verge, his feet protruding into the busy road. Standing on the opposite side of the road four men in army camouflage stood hitch- hiking, choosing not to see the man lying a few steps away from them. Is this what Zimbabwean authorities did not want the former UN Secretary General and former US President to see on a planned 2 day humanitarian assessment visit? Is this why these two respected Elders were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?

Outside banks, building societies and post offices the crowds of people trying to withdraw their own money have grown to multiple thousands. Many people have resorted to sleeping outside the banks in order to be near the front of the queues where they can only withdraw five hundred thousand dollars a day – enough to buy one mouthful of a single cornish pasty being sold at a local bakery this week. Two and a half million dollars was the price tag for this simple take away snack – five days of queuing at the bank to buy one meal for one person. Is this what the authorities in Zimbabwe did not want Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter to see? Is this why they were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?

On a seventy kilometre stretch of road through what used to be prime agricultural land on the way to the capital city, there is silence and desolation as roadside farms lie unploughed and unplanted while the country remains barren of seed and fertilizer. Even as the rains fall on the land and the ground turns springy underfoot, the weeds are sprouting but not the food. The lushest crop I saw in 70 kilometres was grass being carefully manicured on a golf course. Is this what the authorities did not want Mr Annan and Mr Carter to see and why they were denied visas?

In supermarkets, the majority of which are not allowed to trade in US dollars, the shelves are empty. There are no staple goods, no dairy products, no confectionary, no fast foods, no tinned or bottled products, nothing to eat at all. From all over the country there are first hand reports of people barely surviving by eating roots, wild berries, beetles and insects. Is this what the world’s respected Elders were not supposed to see and why they were denied visas to come into Zimbabwe?

Hospitals without disposable gloves, medicines, drips, bandages or disinfectant. Nurses who cannot afford to come to work. Toilets and taps without water. A growing cholera outbreak in all areas of the country with 300 people already dead. Raw sewage flowing in the streets of high density areas. Dustbins which have not been collected in urban residential suburbs since July in my home town. Men, women and children collecting water in bowls and buckets from swampy streams and murky pools. No soap to buy in the shops so no chance of preventing the spread of cholera by washing your hands with soap and water. Is this what Mr Annan, Mr Carter and Mrs Machel might have seen had they been granted visas to see for themselves the humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing Zimbabwe?

We hope that the Elders will not give up on Zimbabwe, even though there is no welcome mat at our doorstep.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

Filming is now over

The BBC has departed and peace has descended upon our road. On the penultimate day of filming I was on a rest day and my car was still clamped, I needed to pay a cheque in at the bank and to do some supermarket shopping. Nothing for it but to take a bike, which I did and slipped off without them noticing because I’m sick and tired of having a camera in my face. No problem until I came out of the supermarket and the realisation dawned that I’d bought more than I could reasonably fit on the bike. After serveral rearrangements the carrier at the back was piled high and there was nothing for it but to hang two loaves of bread from the handlebars and wobble home.

In the afternoon I needed to get a 25kg bag of layers pellets for my chickens so I asked for the car to be unclamped. What did they do? They gave me a bike with a trailer! My legs are coping fine but my arse is very painful!

These pictures from the final day of filming.



Having written about how much fiilming they’ve done it will be interesting to see how much actually makes it into the programme. I talked to Dom Littlewood about this and he said 1 hours filming usually yielded 1 or 2 minutes of programme content! Maybe you wont even see me.

Zim dollars

About the only thing Zim dollar notes are good for has been banned.


At least sandpaper still appears to be an option!

Today’s filming

The cameraman (Dan) arrived at my house at 04:30 and filmed me leaving the house and cycling up the road. He had a car so kept leap froging me and then filming my progress unitl we reached Southampton Central Station. He postioned himself near the entrance and was filming my approach when a cabbie jumped out of his taxi and demanded to know why he was being filmed! It was expalined that he wasn’t being filmed – just the cyclist. So I had to go back and make the approach to the station again. This time the cabbie kept flashing his headlights as I passed his cab :-( He was spoken to again and asked please not to mess things up again. Back I went again. Take 3 ……. all went well.

We chatted during the train journey and some of it was filmed. When we got to Winchester Dan had booked a taxi so again did leap frogging to film my journey. The worst bit was when he decided to hang out of the taxi window as the taxi drove slowly in front of, it was on a hill! I wonder if my panting breath will be heard if they show that bit?

At the Stagecoach Winchester Depot it was agreed that Dan could film me parking the fold up bike, finding my bus in the yard and driving off in it. I thought that was the end of filiming me but once I was home this afternoon I was pounced to record my thoughts on how things had gone. I was quite frank and said that when I arrived at work I did feel wide awake and ready to go, I was surprised that with all the riding (I also did a return trip) that my legs were OK but said on camera that that my backside hurt like hell. As I walk round the house my Missus (Essy) keeps asking “Why are you walking like that?” :-)

Stupid bus stops

Here’s stupid bus stop number 1, the first of what may become an occasional series.


The problem here is that the bus stop, as marked out on the road, is exactly the same length as bus give or take 10mm! But this is only a problem because there is ‘no run’ in or ‘run out’ area. The car parked at the rear of the bus is legally parked, as is the car parked at the front of the bus. Whoever made the decision to lay the stop out like this was obvioulsy very familar with large ships and totally unfamiliar with buses. They need to be told that buses don’t have side thrusters to allow docking without either forward or backward movement.

The stop shown here is at a point where two routes join together and if the bus is running on time it is scheduled to wait at the stop for up to 7 minutes. In fact it waits in the road as shown in the photo and causes a bit of chaos. The stop on the other side of the road (you can just about see another bus there) is exactly the same and that bus is also parked in the road.

And to make matters even worse there is a pedstrian crossing in between the two stops on either side of the road!

Things are very bad

We are begining to despair about how best to help Essy’s Mum and sister in Zimbabwe. Absolutely NOTHING is available in the shops and they are literally starving to death eating only a few vegetables a day. Previously we have been able to transfer money to them via Western Union with the specification that the proceeds are paid out in US$, until now this has worked and they have been able to exchange the US$ on the blackmarket or to buy goods in the single shop in their provincial town which has goods for sales in US$ only. Today we sent money and the local Western Union says they now can’t payout in US$ – “you must go to Westertn Union in Harare for US$”. Although Harare is 50 miles away that doesn’t sound insurmoutable until you realise that the bus fare (for a lethally overcrowded minibus) costs Zim$ 2 million and that the banks wont pay out more cash than Zim$ 500,000 per day. In other words it means four days queing at the bank in order to accumulate enough for a 50 mile bus trip, and of course during this time there is no money available for even a grain of rice!