Ј35 bought a single entry visa, obtained on arrival with the absolute minimum of hassle, and without the need for the endless pile of forms which other countries require. I was greeted by an immigration official who seemed genuinely pleased to welcome me ‘home’. This was the starting point of an absolutely fabulous time in the country, which despite all its challenges (and there are quite a few facing Zim!), is and always will be my home.
Ok, so the airport wasn’t buzzing and there weren’t dozens of planes landing and leaving every 90 seconds. And so what if our plane was the only one on the apron? The people were smiling, the sun was shining, it was hot and the new airport terminal building was spick and span. Hey, all the lights were even on!
The drive to the suburb of Chisipite took 45 minutes, passing the army base One Commando Barracks as we headed down the Enterprise Road past the landmark Nazareth House and swerving to miss the pot holes (which are everywhere!). It seemed frantic, but this is Harare 2009-style where seatbelts are ignored, cell phones are glued to ears, music blares, robots don’t work (the four-way-stop or give-way-to-the-right principle has never been adopted in the country since the first motor vehicle arrived there in 1907) and streetlights died a long time ago.
And then we arrived at my daughter’s home – this oasis of calm, freshly cut green grass, the almost forest-like feel of the Msasa trees and that distinctive smell that only central and southern Africans know – the rain was coming! And boy did it come down!
Some things do change
There are really only two noticeable changes to Harare: (i) those satanic parking metres have disappeared and (ii) the banks. The banks are open, the tellers and staff are at work, smart in their uniforms and the ATMs are still in the walls – but there’s no money in them.
The entire economy has been cash ‘dollarised and randised’, as the only two acceptable currencies are the US dollar and SA rand. All those trillions of Zim dollars, like the parking metres, have disappeared Р and there are no facilities available for using plastic. At 10:1 (Rand:US), Zim is expensive! Although a pack of 20 Madison cigarettes only costs US$0.50, a choc-ice from the Dairyboard vendor (that distinctive sound of his cowbell has returned to the suburbs) is US$1.00.
Six of us went for a meal one evening… just a few drinks, five starters and six mains and it came to US$320.00 (R3,200) Now that’s a shock to the system if ever there was!,
Some things never change
A trip to Zim without visiting the Zambezi just cannot happen and fortunately my daughter had arranged a four night trip on Lake Kariba staying on their house boat. While the fishing wasn’t good, the lake was as stunning as ever. Those indescribably beautiful sunsets and amazingly calm dawns breaking through the tree stumps were broken only by the haunting cry of the fish eagle.
Our first night, as became the norm every night, was a cacophony of sound Р elephants shouting at each other, hyena calling, lion reminding us who’s the boss, hippos warning all and sundry to stay out of their territory, and the splash of crocs in the water. We awoke to fresh elephant dung close to our mooring and a few hours later, a young bull elephant materialised out of the bush to spend at least three hours within 6-8 metres of the house boat eating the fresh grass. He ignored us completely and as silently as he arrived, he left to join (as we later discovered) his small family who were eating a mere 50 metres away.
Some things still need to change
Sadly, our holiday came too rapidly to an end and we found ourselves at the check-in desk for our flight back to Heathrow via Nairobi. On this occasion not everything was working at the airport as the baggage conveyor was broken so our bags, after check-in, were loaded onto a trolley and manually humped into the plane by laughing and joking staff.
And other things work just the way they are
And yes, there had been power cuts most days and just about every home has its own generator in Zimbabwe, but the streets are clean, there’s no litter, the shops are full, petrol and diesel are readily available, polite children go to school in their clean uniforms wearing polished shoes, people go to the gym then onto work, come home and go out for dinner, and of course, braai most weekends Р and people smile. Hell, I miss it so much.