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Harare, November 20, 1999

Well here we are!  We have been planning this trip for so long, it doesn’t seem possible that we are really here.

It is 30C when we land in Harare, partly cloudy, very comfortable.  This is the beginning of the rainy season (summer).  It seems to rain a couple of times a day, but not for long at a time.  During the day the temperatures are around 30C and at night around 20 –- very comfortable for sleeping.   The houses have neither heating nor air conditioning, nor screens on any of the windows, so you can appreciate how nice a climate it is.   Diana says in the winter (July and August) it is horrible because it can go down as low as 16C and sometimes one has to put a sweater on! 

There are palm trees and acacias everywhere.  I see my first Jacaranda tree.  They still have some blossoms on them, but apparently they are huge magnificent clouds of blue at their peak, before the leaves come out.  The bougainvilleas are blooming as are the flamboyant trees.  These, too, are huge clouds of brilliant red blossoms.  Lots of plants which we keep as houseplants, if we can get them to grow at all, grow outdoors.   


It certainly is a different world.  Although there is very little serious crime like murder and armed robbery, petty crime is common.  Houses and cars are never left unlocked; every car has a burglar alarm and a steering wheel lock and is kept inside a locked yard at night.  The houses have bars or grating on every window.  We ask if we could walk downtown and were told that we certainly can not do that.  So we drive down and walk around. Di says they seldom go downtown anymore.  There are new shopping malls on the outskirts of the city where they feel more comfortable.

 The main staple of the black people's diet is a stiff cornmeal porridge called sadza. They serve it in a number or ways, a lot like we do with our potatoes.  Mealies (maize or corn) plays are large part in their lives. 

We see several groups roasting corn in fires on the roadside in the evenings.  Apparently, people stop and purchase the freshly roasted mealies on their way home from work. 

Domestic help is extremely cheap, so if you have any kind of money at all you have someone to do your housework.   

Rina, the lady that works for Diana, lives in a black township outside of Harare.  She gets up at 3:00 am to get to work for 6:00 am and earns a little under $1000 Zimbabwe dollars per month. In Canadian funds, that works out to about $42.00. 

If she works more than 49.5 hours a week, she gets paid overtime.  If she were to live on the premises, she would get less money because she would not have to travel to work.  

 Rina seems a happy employee, treated like one of the family and is quite well off in her own community.  In fact, her job  as a housekeeper in Harare means that she can hire hire a housekeeper in the township to look after her own house. 

It does take some getting used to, though:  breakfast and coffee appear on the table, laundry gets done, beds get made.  All as if by magic!   Di's parents, Pat and Brian, have a houseboy, Joseph who has worked for them for 34 years.  A few years ago they bought Joseph a house in appreciation for his years of service.

 We do see some who are not so well off downtown.  Children under ten begging with babies on their backs or leading a blind relative around and begging.  There are hundreds of artisans selling their products in the park and on the sidewalks of Harare.  They are very persistent but don’t seem to be threatening.  

They apparently have the same problems with alcohol that our natives experience and some of their customs seem a bit primitive to us. 

Wives are purchased and there is some negotiation involved.  It seems though that the more a wife is worth, the better she will be treated.  There is some sense of ownership: if you have paid for something, you can do what you wish with it/them.   

The president of the country, Robert Mugabe, lives in a huge walled compound just a few blocks away.  At six each evening he goes by in a big military convoy with sirens etc – just going home after a hard day’s work, I guess.  From 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM they block off the whole street in front of his house and there are armed troops all around the perimeter wall.  If you try to drive past his house they will shoot you!  After that, they will ask what you were doing there….

 Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and try to remember to stay on the left side of the road.  It should be a challenge.  On Monday we are setting out to tour the countryside.  We will be about a week on the road and will end up at Victoria Falls. 

 November 23, 1999

On Sunday, we  pick up our rental car and begin the terrifying experience of driving on the left-hand side of the road and shifting gears with the left hand.  We spend the afternoon practice-driving in the suburbs of Harare, looking at the BIG houses of the rich people.  Diana is very patient.  At one point, she says:  

 You know, it is perfectly acceptable to drive on the left in this country.  In fact, at this particular moment, I would recommend it!”

Monday morning, we set forth out of the city on our own, to tour the country.  We start by driving east from Harare towards the small town of Rusape.  The countryside is beautiful and fertile, lots of trees and many big farms, and native villages in between.  The African people mostly live in rondavels: round, adobe brick huts with thatched roofs, just like in the storybooks.  They cultivate their own small patches of ground, growing mostly mealies, which is the staple of their diet and a few other vegetables.  There are lots of cows and goats, usually wandering on the road.  Strangely, they rarely butcher their livestock for food.  Cattle and goats represent a man’s wealth, and are far too valuable to eat.  The only practical use for the cattle is to pay the lobola, or bride-price, to buy a wife (or another wife!)   Consequently, a man with several daughters can look forward to becoming cow-rich in his old age as he receives lobola from the father of each future son-in-law.

On the road to Marondera

A rondavel

At Rusape, we turn northeast and drive up into the Eastern Highlands to a village called Nyanga (pronounced: en-yanga, not ny-anga).  This area is quite high, nearly 6,000 feet, so the climate is cooler than in Harare.  We actually sleep under a blanket, although we don’t close the windows. 

Nyangombe Falls

It is a beautiful area, and is a favourite place for Zimbabweans to go for holidays.  It is quite rugged, with a lot of forestry and logging taking place.  Pine, eucalyptus and wattle trees grow in vast plantations and there are beautiful streams and waterfalls. We visit Nyangombe Falls, which could easily be in Northwestern Ontario. 

We stay in an elegant hotel, called the Village Inn, and are treated as though we really are rich, instead of just pretending to be.  The grounds of the hotel are filled with dozens of different types of flowers, which keeps Susan in a semi-orgasmic state.  In the cozy bar, there is a fire burning in the small fireplace because the evening is “cool” (defined as any temperature below 20C).  We become intimately acquainted with an excellent local Muyzunga Chenin Blanc, for Zim$120 a bottle (under C$5.00).  In the morning, we are awakened by a knock on the door: our morning coffee, delivered to our room.  When we are ready to leave we discover that the garden boy has washed our car!  We wonder how the poor people are enjoying their day!



Village Inn Grounds of the Village Inn
Geranium bush Smelling the roses

The people in this area belong to the Shona tribe.  They are hardworking, friendly people who always make us feel very welcome.  As we drive along we wave at everybody on the roadside and always get big waves, and big white smiles in return.  Although we take reasonable precautions about locking doors etc, we never at any time feel uncomfortable in the countryside.  Anytime we stop for gas, or to get something to eat, or to ask directions, the people are unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful.  We have so far learned two words in Shona:  “How are you?” and “Thank you”.  Each time we try them, everyone is just delighted.  

 We might just stay here!


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