Next month it will be a year since we left Zimbabwe to come back home to South Africa. Although living up there for almost two decades it was also home to me, and I wouldn’t exchange the memories of it, both good and bad, for anything in the world. Apart from the fires – those were terrible, and were mostly started on purpose.
For all of those years we lived in rural areas far away from any sort of town, which is why I used to go on my epic once a month shopping trips and stock up on everything needed till the next month. A couple of hours drive each way to Harare, being stopped by endless roadblocks along the way, being fined US$20 for having dirty tyres (truth).
And being nearly squished several times by ancient, overloaded, but still very zoomy buses and taxis. It was all a massive adventure though, and I remember all these things now with a smile.
After the farm invasions started and the economy collapsed there were several really lean years – years of fear too, because there was no rule of law. Large groups of youths went around beating people both black and white, and very often killing them. The currency was worth nothing, not that you could buy anything with it if it wasn’t though. Shops closed. The end. People in rural areas died of starvation and disease – hospitals had nothing. Power went off for days, sometimes weeks. No more water on tap in the capital, and sewage pipes left broken with effluent in the streets causing cholera, and more death.
I’ve never seen a people with more heart than the people of Zimbabwe though. Apart from those who had the power to harm whoever they felt like harming and did, the vast majority of Zimbabweans are a wonderful and very canny lot. Plans were made. There was a mass exodus of white people at that time, and not only farmers. Some got out in time to hang on to any cash they had, but when the economy collapsed those left behind lost everything including pensions, and any investments people had been building for their entire lives crumbled to dust before their eyes. So many were fearfully stuck there with no money to get out, but there were also quite a few of us who stayed because that’s what we decided to do. We knew that it was dangerous, especially out in the rural areas on farms, but I guess guardian angels were working overtime those days, so even though I had the daylights scared out of me quite a few times, nobody ever managed to physically harm me. Apart from all the hurting though, Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, and there was also lots of laughter and joy, even from those hurting. Regardless of whether or not you’d be munching on an old potato for lunch, or if you had “made a plan” and would be having something a bit more filling, the houses up there were always gorgeous. I do miss a couple of things. I miss my freshly picked veggies, and also seeing all the wildlife and birds that crept around the garden – although not so much the black mambas and the baboons lurking behind bushes waiting to scare the pants off innocent me. And I really miss looking out of my window and seeing shining tranquil water. Our front lawn meandered down a couple of terraces to a gorgeous dam.
If you fancied a swim, in you popped. Not that I ever ventured out too far because there was the meanest monitor lizard in the world who used to hang around on the wobbly old jetty that would hiss and leap at you without any provocation at all.
Still, it was a lovely place to watch the sun go down behind the fields of tea on the other side of the water.
I miss the palm trees loaded down with nesting weaver birds every year – especially the one right outside my office window.
Would I ever go back to live there? No – I don’t think so. There was so much hope a couple of years back. After seeing the misery and the hunger on the faces of those people who I came to love and respect so much for their strength and humility in the face of appalling abuses by their own, I actually used to grin like an idiot and shed a tear or two when I saw them happy, well fed, and hopeful again. Now things are going so badly again – I couldn’t bear to see that again.
For now I’m very happy in my sleepy little rainbow nation town. I certainly don’t miss that constant small feeling of not being safe, but I’ll always treasure my years in Zimbabwe, and strangely, the fact that the very hell that everyone went through brought us all so much closer, and I got to know and love so many people of that country in ways that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere or anywhen else.