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Mutton masquerading as lamb
January 15, 2011, 10:50 am

 

 

Dear Family and Friends,

This Christmas I had the unique opportunity of seeing my own country through the eyes of friends and relations from overseas. It was a very strange experience, often sad and embarrassing, sometimes funny but always met with the statement: ‘only in Zimbabwe.”

My visitors wanted to see everything and so we hit the roads and the shops – not to buy but to look. Is anything made in Zimbabwe anymore, was the most frequently asked question as we looked at shelves crowded with South African food: everything from staples like sugar and flour, to biscuits, spreads and tins. Even the vendors in car parks are selling boxes of South African fruit. We have become a suburb of South Africa, an invasion met without complaint, so relieved that there is food on our shelves.

Within a day of my visitors’ arrival, the water went off. One day, two, three and never a drop coming out of taps. How do you cope like this, the visitors ask, as we line up buckets, basins and baths outside to catch rainwater and runoff. Later we stagger inside carrying the bounty from heaven to wash dishes, flush toilets and have a few precious litres left to work up a quick soapy lather and pour over our heads at the end of the day.

Christmas Day was spent at a once very popular garden restaurant for a meal that had been booked three months in advance. It was a family reunion with people from across borders and continents. The menu advertised traditional Christmas fayre but there was no electricity on the day and the food that arrived on our plates was strangely peculiar to say the least: Very old mutton masquerading as lamb, served with chips and cold cauliflower florets; Fried slabs of salty ham pretending to be roast beef, served with chips and cold cauliflower florets. The meal staggered on largely uneaten until desert came. Christmas pudding and mince pies were “off”, replaced by a suspiciously old, cold chunk of apple pie with a splurge of unidentifiable melted yellow liquid poured over the top.  The coffee, if that’s what it was, was indescribable.

How they did it remains a mystery, but electricity supplier ZESA managed to stay on almost continually over Christmas but soon after New Year came pay back time. Cuts lasting six, ten, fifteen hours at a time. Cold breakfast, lunch and supper. Cooking outside, fridges dripping, freezers defrosting, having to throw food away, How do you cope like this, the visitors ask, this is ridiculous, dangerous?

And on the nights when there was electricity, we suffered a few brief, embarrassing forays into ZBC television. Endless bottom waggling women singing their praises of Zanu PF and its leaders before news reports which are more like party political broadcasts. How can you bear it the visitors ask?

The highlight of the visit was a few days in the Eastern Highlands. Everyone noticed the endless police roadblocks, an average of one every 10 kilometres. You can’t block out the view of what were once hugely productive farms along the road which are now rapidly reverting to bush; no fences or workers or signs of production. A few scrappy little squares of weed- choked, ankle- high yellow maize standing alongside a couple of primitive mud walled huts, surrounded by vast derelict fields. At the cottage in the mountains the atmosphere was tense and on edge. The “war vets” were here just two days before demanding that the owners of the few remaining cottages hand over their keys and vacate. This is THEIR land the so called war vets say. These are THEIR cottages.

The natural beauty of Zimbabwe never failed to heal a wound, relieve the hurt, revive a broken heart. Spectacular rainy season skies which change in an instant from bright clear blue, to low, heavy purple clouds bringing torrential rain storms streaked with lightning, roaring with thunder.

Early in the morning the day before my visitors left, a slender mongoose ran across the garden and feasted on the scattered corpses of shiny brown flying ants lying amid a million abandoned wings. A Hammerkop dropped down to join the feasting and later a crested Lourie arrived, repeatedly chastising my visitors from the diaspora to “Go Away.”

And so, ten years after the start of the mayhem that drove family and friends into exile, they left saying everything has changed but nothing has changed.

I end with special thoughts for people in Australia, Indonesia and Brazil inundated with floods, mud and devastation. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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