Long-awaited trip to Zimbabwe

After waiting patiently for five years I have finally seen Zimbabwe, home for David and Laurie and various other mamparas.

We had three packed weeks of seeing places and meeting people, so I will only tell you of a few observations I made on this trip of a lifetime. To sum it up in one word is nearly impossible, but if I was to try it would be something like extraordinary.

PEOPLE

Zimbabweans are a friendly bunch. They are forever smiling and trying to find out who you are, which is nice and welcoming. One of David’s school friend’s husband met us at the airport with a bag of biltong and as soon as we arrived at their house there was a braai on and a pot of sadza bubbling away on the hob, talk about a good welcome!

We travelled around Zimbabwe a lot and so met and stayed with a lot of different people. Each and every one of them made us feel like home. I was delighted to meet David’s neighbours – the family that taught little David and Laurie (Gonjet) to speak Shona.

We also met the Winters’ gardener Peter, who nostalgically spoke of times they all used to play football under the mango trees.  From the stories I heard and people I met, David had a pretty enviable childhood.

I found that David and Laurie are a bit of an exception to the average white Zimbabwean in how they immersed themselves into the Shona culture and had so many black friends. I think this is very good and if people tried to find out more about each other’s culture their lives would be enriched so much. At the moment, there are two worlds in Zimbabwe. Black and white people live very different lives and don’t interact with each other a lot. This was strange for me and I was quite saddened by it.

Zimbabweans are always smiling, no matter if they are black, white, rich or poor. They know how to have a good time and enjoy life.

PLACES

Zimbabwe is huge. Luckily, the country is also full of beautiful sights, so driving for hours doesn’t feel like a bore. The drive from Harare to Mutare is the one I remember most. Mutare is the land of mountains (and mountain goats a.k.a Mutarians) and the change in landscape was very obvious as we approached Mutare.

Harare-Mutare road.

Harare-Mutare road.

There are beautiful Vumba mountains just minutes from Mutare town centre. The views from there are breathtaking. We ventured up the Vumba on three occasions – twice to play golf at Leopard Rock Hotel (I did not play, I was in charge of the golf cart, which I managed to crash), and once to enjoy tea and cake and Tony’s coffee shop.

On the other side of town there are Nyanga mountains – again with amazing views. We visited the Troutbeck Inn Hotel, where the climate was nice and cool. The place somehow felt more like Switzerland rather than Zimbabwe. We also visited Mutarazi falls, the tallest in Zimbabwe, in the Nyanga mountains. The road to the falls was pretty bumpy and long, but once we got there we forgot all about the bumps. There were no other visitors besides us, so we spent quite a while admiring the falls. One can get so close to those things, it’s quite amazing.

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Talking about falls, we did visit Victoria falls. What could I possibly say to tell you about them? Please go and see them yourself. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world for a good reason. The place is magical, huge and absolutely amazing. I wonder what Dr. Livingstone thought when he first stumbled upon Victoria falls, must have been quite a shock.

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We spent Christmas in Bulawayo with yet another friendly family. As soon as we got to Bulawayo we noticed the working street and traffic lights. The whole town seemed more organised and in a better condition than Mutare or Harare. Bulawayo gets very very hot. People were wishing for rain while we were there, but all we got was some thunder and lightning. It was 37 degrees on Christmas day. Needless to say, I spent the day in an ice box. I can now understand how people in Zimbabwe can make a living from selling ice.

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While in Mutare we also visited Save conservancy and saw the following animals: impala, zebra, giraffe, elephant, warthog, baboons, eland, kudu…..and a lot more, including numerous colourful birds. It was pretty amazing to see wild animals in wild rather than in zoo.

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Harare was a fun place also. It’s a big place and a lot happens there all the time. It seemed a bit chaotic at times, however most jobs and lots of entertainment seem to be there, so the population keeps increasing. However, having said that, Harare didn’t seem like a city, but rather like a collection of villages. Driving from one part of town to the next you see people cultivating fields, how weird is that?

MOZAMBIQUE

We also ventured into Mozambique while we were in Zimbabwe. The border is only 15 minutes from Mutare. The border crossing was one of the funniest of my life. There were no computers, all there was was a border official with his log book. He made a note of us and off we went. We then caught a commuter omnibus, one of these:

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To Chimoio, where David lived for 6 months before he came to the UK. We stayed with another friend – a Zimbabwean girl, who now lives in Chimoio. Chimoio is a nice little town, again full of friendly smiling people.

We then took another little bus to Beira, which quite a big town by the Indian Ocean. You can’t see the picture perfect turquoise water beaches in Beira – those are a bit further south and we just didn’t have time to go there this time. However, I did not mind one bit. I saw the Indian Ocean and had a nice warm swim (which was more like a jump in the waves).

Mozambique is right next to Zimbabwe, yet they are so different. Mozambique is a lot more run down, still suffering from the destruction that was created during the civil war. However, there is a lot of construction going on, the coal mining is booming and foreign investors are flocking into the country. Mozambique is definitely one to watch.

LANGUAGE

As I already mentioned, David speaks nearly fluent Shona, which is the main language spoken in Zimbabwe after English. I think it is extremely important to learn the language of the country you live in. I know Zimbabwe is a bit different as English is the official language, but most people’s first language is Shona. I think it is not only a matter of respect to the majority, but it also makes lives easier. Every time we were stopped by the police, David spoke some Shona and we were fine. Whenever or wherever you speak Shona you make friends. Knowing a language also helps you understand the culture you are in. I found it surprising how few white people actually spoke the language. You can certainly draw parallels here with some Russians living in Estonia for generations and not learning Estonian. If there is no need, people just don’t bother. It’s sad.

MONEY

There is no change in Zimbabwe!!!! And this was very annoying. The officical currency is US$. Only the paper money is in use, yet the prices are still with cents. So when you buy something for 3.45 and pay with a $5 note, you will either get 2 grubby dollars and 55 Rand cents or 2 grubby dollars and a credit note or most likely you will be asked for change, which you will not have.

There is no new money coming into the country as there is nearly no exporting goods, so the money circling around is extremely dirty and broken.

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Change is like gold. This was very strange for me, but I got used to it in the end and it didn’t bother me so much. We did leave lots of tips as a result of having no change.

AND NOW WHAT?

I loved Zimbabwe. I can certainly see us living there one day. What a place for kids to grow up in (by the way, according to a local fortune teller we are having twin boys in the future).

There are a lot of things I will have to get used to, but the beauty of the place, the friendliness of the people and the opportunities weigh up any inconveniences that may occur. After all, it is the people that make a place.

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