Outside Christmas Tree
Saturday 23rd December 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
This December, for the second year in a row, my Christmas Tree has remained
outside in the garden. This tree began life as a seedling amongst the fir trees
behind our house on the farm. Just a couple of inches tall I planted the
seedling in a black plastic bag when we were being evicted from our farm just
before Christmas in 2000. Every year at Christmas time I dragged the pot inside,
covered the tree with bits and pieces, starved it of water for a week and then
back outside it went. As the tree grew I transplanted it into ever bigger pots
and the Christmas tree has survived but not really thrived. Two years ago my
son and I planted the Christmas tree in the garden, agreeing that it would stay
there until there was a change in the situation in Zimbabwe. At first when I
took the tree out of it's pot it stood there in the rich earth in a state of
shock. For months it did nothing, did not seem to grow or lift up its branches
or show any sign of life. Then suddenly as if it finally realised it was free of
the restrictions on its roots, my little Christmas tree began to grow. Now it is
over six feet (two metres) tall and is alive and well and growing on the front
lawn.This week, standing on tip toes I have put a small silver star on top of
the Christmas tree in the garden and it stirs gently in the breeze of our hot
and humid December days.
Having my Christmas tree outside in the garden is symbolic of the state of
affairs in Zimbabwe. Christmas is not completely cancelled but it is not far
off. All the usual traditional Christmas trappings are just not possible
anymore. The traditional Christmas meal is off the menu, unaffordable by almost
everyone. Most families are again separated by borders, countries and even
continents as almost a quarter of our population remain in exile across the
world. Christmas gifts are this year sparser than ever before - restricted
almost entirely to just the children.
I thought how I could best describe the atmosphere of this Christmas to people
outside of the country and all week have added words to a list. This is December
Two inch long Msasa beetles armed with fierce nippers;
Great fat sausage flies everywhere telling us the rain is near;
Flame lilies - scarlet and yellow in the jungly green bush;
Paradise flycatchers trailing exquisite long orange tail feathers;
The bubbling call of the Coucal and the mocking warnings of the Go Away Birds
Big, orange, sticky mangoes
Towns seething with people and monstrous queues - not for presents or treats
but queues for money, for petrol and, longest of all, queues for sugar.
This is Christmas in Zimbabwe in December 2006. To all my family and friends
and to Zimbabweans wherever you are in the world, I send love and thanks for
everything you all to do help this wonderful country.
Until my next letter in
2007, have a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year, love cathy.
Saturday 16 th December 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
"Congratulations! You are a grandfather!" These were the words that greeted
my friend Patson when he arrived back in the rural village after another
arduous week working in the nearby town. His wife was sitting there outside
their house holding a tiny baby in her arms. This miniscule little baby was
Patson's grandson. Patson did not know his first born son had a girlfriend
or that she was pregnant. For a while Patson just stared at his wife and
the baby and the young teenage mother who sat nearby. She was still a child
herself and had not even finished school. The girl had given birth to the
baby at her own rural village but then her mother had said she had no money
and would not support them. They must go to the father of the baby - he and
his parents must take this responsibility.
Patson said that as the reality of the grandchild sunk in he got angrier
and angrier.Patson is the only member of the family who is employed and the
burden is very heavy. With his very small wage he already supports his wife
and two children, he buys all the food,toiletries, medicines, seeds and
fertilizer. He pays school fees for his two children and always has the
worry of how to buy any of the clothes, shoes and school uniforms needed.
Now, with the grandchild, the burden had increased by three. Patson said
"the load is just too heavy for me now."
For a whole day Patson would not speak to anyone. The congratulatory jokes
and calls from neighbours in the village just enraged him more. He could
not think of anything positive. He did not experience any of the emotions
of being a grandparent - pride, euphoria, amazement, delight, joy and the
desire to tell the whole world of the momentous news. Patson said all he
could think about was how on earth he was going to cope with all this now.
The baby had nothing at all and so much was needed. Nappies, clothes, a
blanket, a towel, cotton wool, vaseline - the list just went on and on.
For a while Patson tried not to think about his new grandson and the
overwhelming burden of responsibility.
Patson was just 19 when Zimbabwe became Independent and Robert Mugabe came
to power. Patson's son was born when Robert Mugabe was still in power and
now his grandson has just been born and still Mr Mugabe is in power. Patson
thought about the news of the week, President Mugabe saying that there were
"No Vacancies in the Presidency." Just as Patson could not accept a new
grandson, it seemed that the President also could not accept anyone else to
At the end of the first day Patson's wife came in but he would still not
speak to her or take food from her. Quietly she put the thin, naked baby
down on the ground behind her husband. "Your musukuru (grandson) is at your
back" she said to him. Patson said he didn't move or respond but after a
while he felt tiny feet kicking him and then he heard, for the first time,
the voice of his grandson who began to cry. He turned and looked, and
loved. This was his blood. A new Zimbabwean has been born, the child has no
name yet, his beginnings will be impossibly difficult but with life comes
Until next week, thanks for reading. love cathy.
Big Drink of Water
Saturday 9th December 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
A shameful and very distressing report has just been released in Zimbabwe. This
time it does not come from the UN or any other international body, but from
Zimbabwe's own Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare. Research was
undertaken and statistics gathered right across the country and included 58
rural districts and 27 urban areas.
The report says that living standards in Zimbabwe have dropped by 150% in the
last ten years. Malnutrition in children under 5 has increased by 35% and the
number of people without access to health care has increased by 48%.
Seeing the percentages in black and white is bad enough but when you see for
yourself the evidence of this dramatic decline, it is truly terrifying. In the
last month the basic cost of living in Zimbabwe went up by 47% percent. When you
go shopping in a supermarket, everywhere you look people are carrying almost
nothing. Finding sources of affordable protein is almost impossible. Meat is a
luxury now - out of reach for almost all Zimbabweans. Long, long gone are the
days when we would buy strips of biltong to snack on as we walked or when
butchers would break off pieces of beer sticks to quieten niggling kids. Now
people are buying scraps, bones and something called "shavings" which are the
white crumbs which accumulate under the blade of the saws and butchery knives.
Cheese is off the menu permanently; eggs and milk are very close behind. This
week one single egg is selling for 200 dollars and half a litre of milk for 600
dollars (add 3 zeroes for the real cost). A cup of milk or an egg for breakfast
is now the height of luxury and when you understand that, then you understand
why malnutrition has increased by 35% in young children.It hardly bears thinking
how bad nutrition levels must be in the vast majority of our adult population.
Adults who, when you ask them if they have had breakfast say they are not hungry
because they have had a "very big drink of water" to fill their stomachs - it
will see them through till lunch time.
Outside the supermarkets these days there are the usual swarm of street
children but if you look a bit harder, in between the hordes, you see the really
desperate ones. Old men, skin and bone, bare feet, shaking hands, sunken eyes
and it makes you just weep to see the depths we have dropped to. So very many
people need help now but so few are able to help anymore.
I end on a positive note with congratulations for our rugby team. Its always
very dangerous for me to write about sports because I know so little about it -
and understand even less, however this is a story as much about patriotism as of
sports. A friend wrote to say he had just watched the Zimbabwean rugby team do a
lap of honour in the pouring rain at the end of a tournament being played
outside the country. He said the team had lost in the end but they had done
Zimbabwe proud. They were fine, upstanding men who had given their all and were
so very obviously proud to be Zimbabweans. The Zimbabweans in the crowd were
equally proud to stand and cheer the sportsmen from the country that is in such
a mess, but that we all love so much. The rugby pitch might be a million miles
away from the "shavings" in the butchery but all tell the story of the people in
this wonderful country. As hard as it is, we all try to carry on as normal
because we know that bad times don't ever last.
Until next week, with love, cathy
Rudderless and lost
Saturday 2nd December 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
As the Minister of Finance presented what he called a "people orientated"
budget this week, two senior executives from the country's biggest bakery were
starting a four month prison sentence. The two men, the CEO and Operations
Manager were found guilty of putting the price of bread up by 50% in September
without government permission. The bread price is controlled by government here
but is set at sub economic levels which has left most bakeries cutting their
staff, blending flour with maize meal, switching off slicing machines and
reducing the number of hours that their ovens work. Bread has already become a
luxury for most Zimbabweans but none of this was mentioned as the propaganda in
the state media whipped the issue into a frenzied witch-hunt. There was talk of
"economic saboteurs" and a state prosecutor called the men "leaders in a
criminal enterprise." The sentencing of two men from the biggest bakery will
undoubtedly have only one result - shortages. At first it will be bread and then
other goods whose prices are controlled by government - sugar, margarine,
cooking oil, milk, salt, soap and so the list goes on and on.
One can only imagine what words a prosecutor would use to describe the
government officials who this week approved an increase in the cost of water in
Harare from 8 to 130 dollars a cubic metre. It doesn't take an economist,
mathematician or even primary school arithmetic to know that this is more than
50%. The double standards in Zimbabwe are so staggering that you are left in no
doubt that it is all about control, plain and simple control.
This first week of December 2006 also saw control being exercised in the
streets against the protesting voices of women. Waving placards and singing
songs, unarmed women belonging to WOZA were arrested in Bulawayo. Calling for
affordable housing, education and healthcare, the women were arrested by riot
police. Some of the women had babies on their backs. When ordered to pick their
placards up off the street WOZA said police beat the women on their backs and
buttocks with batons. Can you imagine beating a woman with a baby? Several
people were hospitalized, including a baby.
63 women, 4 men and 6 babies were arrested.
Perhaps they will meet the two bakery officials in prison.
It is hard to see sense in Zimbabwe this December. In the mayhem there is
almost no sign of the opposition MDC - both factions seem to have gone quiet.
The odd individual raises their head and their voice but the party as a whole
seems rudderless and lost having spent almost the entire year fighting
themselves rather than the oppression. Zimbabweans are cowed and need brave,
decisive and united leadership. People generally are scared to act, scared to
speak out and scared to protest. This week as people were called on to bang pots
every evening for two minutes at 8 pm, to bang for an end to hunger, the night
air was quiet, deathly quiet. My pot sounded awfully loud, alone out there every
Until next week, thank you for reading and for caring.
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