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Lost in smoke and haze
September 10, 2011, 12:07 pm

 

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s that time of year when fires are burning on every horizon, leaving us shrouded in a blanket of smoke almost every day. Bright blue summer skies are permanently smudged with grey, white and yellow smoke and the wind is heavy with dust and ash. Fires are out of control again this year, mostly because there are no longer clear boundaries between all the seized commercial farms and nothing to stop the fires once they start. There are almost no visible fire breaks and even fewer genuine farmers with the will or the inclination to put the fires out once they start. As a result the smallest fire is picked up by the wind and travels scores of kilometres through the dry bush, destroying everything in their path.

On a brief visit to the east of the country this week, the view from the road provided a graphic picture of life in Zimbabwe, leaving you feeling as if you had gone back decades in time. A man and woman waited outside a bottle store in a dusty clearing, holding a length of rope made from tree bark at the end of which was tied a very large pig. Two young men were walking along the edge of the tar road, leading a goat on a length of frayed black raffia string.

Across a newly burnt field a barefoot old woman, wearing a long black dress, was walking through the smoke. A little puff of ash and dust rose at every footstep, her voice carried on the wind as she shouted in conversation with a young woman she passed. This young woman, also barefoot, carried a baby on her back, wrapped in a pink towel, had a toddler at her feet and a basket filled with pots and enamel bowls on her head. Women in blue and white dresses and head scarves walked in pairs on the roadside, heading to a church meeting, their eyes streaming from the inescapable smoke and dust. A little further on a young teenage boy struggled to control the wheelbarrow he was pushing, running to keep up with it as it took on a life of its own down a very steep hill. All around him the tops of the surrounding mountains were invisible, bathed in smoke. The Msasa trees covered in new spring foliage, were also suffocating, their splendour and colour lost in smoke and haze.

A green bus roared past at tremendous speed, rattling and shaking, part of its back fender hanging off, with the words: ‘God Answers,’ written in big letters above the front windscreen. From the other direction came two minibuses, both clearly overloaded and travelling way over the speed limit. One had the words: “Smooth Operator” painted on its front, the other bore the legend: “Check Yo Time.”

Fires were burning on both sides of the road providing a feasting frenzy for black fork-tailed Drongoes which swooped and dived into the flames to catch fleeing grasshoppers. Locusts and beetles flew blindly from the fire, straight into the mouths of birds or pinging and cracking as they hit car windscreens. A slender mongoose ran across the road, from one smoky side to the other, its black tipped tail held high above its sleek burgundy body.

Along a stretch of road passing through communal farms, as opposed to seized commercial farms, the scene was much more orderly. Piles of dry and combed thatching grass was stacked high off the ground on racks. Dry maize leaves and stalks, called mashanga, had been gathered from the fields and was also stacked safely on racks well off the ground. This was the precious food for their cattle and goats, the means to support the animals until the rains bring new green grass in two months time. So far the villagers have managed to save the grazing around them from fires and their cattle and goats have still got full bellies. These rural villagers with their seven acre plots continue to put the fat cats and political land grabbers on the seized commercial farmers to shame. How different things could have been for the country if farm land had been given to farmers and people who knew what to do with it.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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