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A smudge of caramel
Saturday 31st January 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
Early in the morning on the last day of January 2009 I witnessed the start of a new day over Zimbabwe and wondered if this was The Day, the one that would be remembered as our new beginning. A heavy bank of purple clouds lay on the horizon broken by a few wisps of startling white. A slight breeze stirred in the trees and the air was busy with early birds: fork-tailed drongoes, bulbuls and shrikes. A ruckus in the Mulberry tree in my garden meant the weaver birds were awake. Four pairs of birds are breeding in the tree, they stripped the leaves from many branches before they were satisfied with their nests but now their little colony is well established.
I couldn't resist walking barefoot in the dew laden grass and getting a close up view of two mushrooms that had shot up overnight. Thin stems, delicate creamy caps topped with a smudge of caramel, they had come from nowhere, grown two inches in a single night and then, as the sun got hotter they shrivelled up and were gone.
In amongst the snapshots of beauty like this, Zimbabwe is surrounded by sickness, hunger and extreme poverty. Thousands have died of cholera in the last few months and the epidemic continues to rage. It's often hard to believe that such horror can be happening in such a beautiful place and hard to see how we can ever get back to being a normal, productive, healthy, free people.
The decision by the MDC to take part in a unity government has blown a breath of clean air into our sick and stagnant country. It has given us hope again, a chance to test the trust that we put into the men and women we chose to lead our country when we elected them nearly a year ago. Despite all the negatives involved in this unity government, this is a chance for change for Zimbabwe. We are sceptical, suspicious and even doubtful that unity can be forged between perpetrators and victims, doubtful that this can work. It is not the clean sweep that we hoped for but it is at least somewhere to start.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Saturday 24th January 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
The ticking of Zimbabwe's time bomb is getting louder and faster by the day. Power sharing talks have again
collapsed; cholera is spreading and the death toll rising; teachers, nurses and doctors are demanding payment in US dollars in order to report for duty and the poverty of most families is growing worse by the day.
There is now nothing you can buy in Zimbabwe dollars as even roadside vegetable vendors have resorted to selling their wares in US dollars or South African Rand. A handful of tomatoes, a bunch of onions, half a dozen bananas or even a single, sweet, sticky mango - all are priced in American dollars. If you don't have foreign currency you go hungry, it's as simple as that. You also go sick, can't get a bed in a private hospital, can't have a baby, can't get on a bus, can't get a passport, can't even buy a packet of headache pills.
The only thing you can do with Zimbabwe dollars, if you can get them out of the bank, is pay your telephone, water, and electricity bills. The authorities running Zimbabwe continue to refuse to allow the utilities companies to charge in US dollars and so the services they provide have deteriorated to the point of almost complete collapse. Stick thin employees at parastatals wearing threadbare suits continue to report for work while everything around them falls apart. They have no stationery to invoice customers, no receipt books, no ink for computers. They have no answers to the increasingly angry queries from their customers such as why have dustbins not been collected for eight months; when are blocked sewer pipes going to be cleared, when are cavernous pot holes on the roads going to be filled. These civil servants have little reason to go to work anymore and it seems only a matter of time before they just don't bother anymore.
For people without foreign currency life has become a living hell. A government teacher I met showed me her December pay slip. Her monthly salary was 10 trillion dollars. The exchange rate on the day meant that in a month she had earned just one US dollar. I asked her if she would be returning to the classroom when schools re-open and she said no. She said the bus fare to get to her school on the first day alone would cost her one US dollar, and then how would she get home, what would she have to eat, how would she get to school the next day.
Zimbabweans are looking to SADC and the African Union in the days ahead. Surely soon they will have to say: enough suffering, enough death, enough? Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Schools will not open
Sunday 11th January 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
The simple every day routine of children going to school has kept most families sane in this last traumatic decade in Zimbabwe. When war veterans and mobs were swarming onto farms and evicting everyone, as long as the children were able to keep going to school, parents found a way to cope.
I remember one occasion during that terrible time when one of my son's junior school teachers told me what a difficult time they were having in the classroom. The child of a farmer who had been violently evicted from his home was in the same classroom as the child of the war veteran who had done the evicting. Both children were traumatized, bullying and insults were being traded in the playground and both children needed counselling. On another occasion when the school was forcibly closed and taken over by security personnel, children were traumatized when they returned and found a bullet on the cloakroom floor.
Zimbabwe's teachers, despite having to work under unbearable conditions and often under attack themselves, have quietly steered our children through these most traumatic years.
Chased away from their jobs by militant government youths, the teachers waited until things calmed down and then came back to work. Accused of being opposition supporters they were intimidated and harassed and yet still they came back to the classrooms. The head of the teachers union has been arrested repeatedly, been beaten in custody and yet still he speaks out. School administrators and head teachers have been arrested and held in police cells for raising school fees but when they were released they just went back to work and carried on.
When we parents were crying, bleeding and homeless we would arrive at the school gates and hand our children over to compassionate, gentle, caring, professional staff who somehow managed to make everything alright.
There are hundreds of stories about what's been happening in Zimbabwe's schools these last nine years - to describe it is an education system under attack is a gross understatement. Teachers earning enough in a whole month to buy just one banana. Six children sharing one text book. Parents having to provide food for both their own children and the teachers. Schools which have no stationery, no chalk, no equipment, no water, no food.
According to the UN Children's Fund, school attendance in Zimbabwe dropped from 85% in 2007 to just 20% by the end of 2008. Now, at the worst possible time and with the country at its lowest ebb, the government have announced that schools will not open on the 12th of January as they should, but two weeks later - culling yet more precious days from our children's education. All these apparently little things are having a dramatic impact on our lives in Zimbabwe. Our children and our country will pay a heavy price in the years to come.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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