Both Cathy Buckle and my mother-in-law have recently returned to Zimbabwe after a month away. Mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her time here in the UK. Her previous visit was at Christmas time so it was a great surprise to her to discover that it could be nice and warm in the UK! She marvelled at many things including seeing our trees in leaf for the first time and was surprised by how many different types there are. Here’s Cathy Buckle’s thoughts on her return home which echo my mother-in-law’s.
Dear Family and Friends,
Coming back to Zimbabwe after a month away is a huge shock to the system. Conditions in our third world country can probably best be described as surreal, and that’s being polite! The strangeness of the experience starts before you even set foot in the country. Sitting in an international airport looking down the list of departures for destinations all over Africa, your eyes are drawn to the word ‘cancelled’ and your heart goes into your mouth. You look back across the line and are not surprised to see that it’s Air Zimbabwe flights that are cancelled. Our national airline is still on its knees, a litany of excuses continuing to humiliate us with the word ‘cancelled’ on airport departure boards around the world. It could be any number of reasons today: unpaid fuel bills, unpaid staff, striking air crew.
Arriving at Harare International Airport, the contrast with the service you’ve just left behind in the first world is dramatic. Bored surly and unwelcoming Immigration Officials do not greet you or smile at you; they scowl as they thumb through your passport leaving you feeling as if you should turn round and go away again. In the ladies toilets only one of the door latches on the row of stalls closes; there is no soap in the dispenser and a huge plastic barrel of water stands in the corner, uncovered and exposed to a myriad of germs.
Encountering two police roadblocks in the first ten kilometres from the airport is the surest sign that you are back in Zimbabwe. What do they want? What are they looking for at their incessant roadblocks? It takes just a few minutes to be reminded that these officials have perfected the art of making everyone feel as if they are a criminal. With pity you look at the crowd of commuter omnibuses that are inevitably pulled over at every roadblock. Their passengers tired, thirsty and frustrated as time and again the vehicles are stopped by the police and the drivers have to hand over money.
Out of the long grass on the roadside four school children wearing bright purple uniforms and white shirts emerge. They look to be eight or nine year olds and on their backs they wear little school satchels but this is not their only load to bear. Each child carries a large bundle of sticks and branches balanced on their heads: firewood for their Mum’s to cook supper with. Wood for the fire which will be their buffer against the freezing winter nights and provide the flickering light by which they will do their homework.
After iPods and iPads, trains, buses and aeroplanes, computers, laptops and broadband – this contrast is so dramatic that it leaves you wide- eyed and deeply shocked at just how far behind the world Zimbabwe has fallen.
Arriving home the potholes and gullies on the suburban roads are deeper than ever and there is no water and no electricity in the house. An African Hoopoe stabs the browning grass for the last insects of the day, calling its mate again and again: “Whoop–whoop, whoop-whoop.” The sun turns blood red as it sinks into the dust smothered horizon and for a moment the absurdity and abnormality is banished, because this is home. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.