Thursday, July 23, 2009 - Mutare - added by Roxy

I was particularly interested in seeing Zimbabwe for myself, because sadly, for years now I haven't heard of anything positive going on in there. Stories of Robert Mugabe's white-owned farm seizures, the resulting collapse of Zimbabwe's economy and the associated hyperinflation and extremely heavy-handed tactics when dealing with opposition seem to be the 'plat du jour'. Getting to see things for ourselves would certainly prove interesting... would Zimbabwe be a ruin, or as is so often the case, would the news stories be painting a far worse picture than the reality? Arriving at the border I became slightly uncomfortable when I saw the 'Welcome to Zimbabwe' sign; it was bent, rusted and crumbling to pieces, representing everything I have heard about the country. What would be my first impressions when we finally cleared the border? When we got through the border post though, I was blown away by how beautiful the place is; we drove though lush hills into Mutare, a gorgeous city which is surrounded by mountains and filled with colourful flowers. Although there were signs of more prosperous times gone by, with the odd pothole waiting around the corner and only one traffic light working, things were nothing like the negative image I had conjured up in my mind. There was a buzz about the place, shops were doing business, vehicles were coming and going and people were happy and friendly.

While in Mutare we stayed with Steve's aunt and uncle, Chrissie and Ralph. We were spoilt rotten by them, enjoying super home cooked meals, hot baths (which we definitely needed) and comfortable beds! What bliss! We spent a couple days gallivanting around Mutare, in between fixing bits and pieces on the truck. We were then very lucky to get to go with with Chrissie and Ralph to their country cottage in Nyanga. Their cottage was homely, quiet and right next to a lake. It is beautiful, but my word, it was freezing. We fed the fire place at the cottage for 3 days, and only on the 3rd day did the place warm up. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Zimbabwe can be so cold. Ouch! It was great fun nevertheless, and to get the blood pumping we went on a couple of brisk walks in the countryside. Nyanga is high up in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, and has some incredible views, including one place aptly named World's View. Although perhaps you can't see the whole world, it sure does feel like it's something close to that!

One of the things that we'd had heard about Zimbabwe was that there was absolutely no food in the shops, supermarkets nowadays looking more like shelving companies than anything else! We know of a number of people who would have to take monthly trips into the neighbouring countries to get groceries, and they were the lucky few, the people who could afford it. To our surprise though, there was ample food available; it was looking like the days of these bad stories were well and truly gone. This change has occurred because the Zimbabwean dollar is no longer being used, and has been replaced by the US dollar and the South African rand. This change is great for businesses, as previously, with the rate of inflation of the Zimbabwean dollar being so astronomical prices of goods were changing literally during the day, making it almost impossible to run a business. The inflation was so out of control that ridiculous notes such as this were being printed!!

This change in currency has resulted in some interesting practice. Since only dollar and rand notes are used (no coins), when you go into a shop to buy something, there is often no change available, so instead of receiving monetary change, you can take an item up to the value of the change, or if it's too little, you're given sweets instead... great if you have a sweet tooth I suppose!

It is said that the death of the crazy hyperinflation is the result of Morgan Tsvangirai's (Leader of the MDC, Movement for Democratic Change) new role as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. Sadly though, the 'unity government' is still completely controlled by Bob and his genocidal war-vets. Mugabe still maintains complete control of the armed forces, police, intelligence services and media. It should come as no surprise therefore that I read in a local newspaper that the top MDC officials are slowly but surely being arrested on a wonderfully creative array of charges. I even heard that someone was arrested for singing a song that was allegedly offensive to Mugabe. True to form, Mugabe is trying to ensure that all of the MDC officials will be in stuck jail rather than parliament where they can be heard.

Sadly, when we were in Zim it was difficult to get fuel. Many fuel stations were simply dry, and the ones that did have fuel had extremely high prices and enormous queues. We were informed that this is the first time in ages where fuel shortages have been a problem. Word on the street is this: Since Zimbabwe has lost almost all credibility on the national stage, fuel imports have to be paid for in forex and in cash. Bob and his cronies saw the national fuel company's enticing bank balance and couldn't resist the temptation to dip into its coffers. When the suppliers weren't paid on time all fuel imports were suspended, and there is suddenly a national shortage again.

The supply of electricity is intermittent at best, load-shedding the norm and power cuts striking often. The locals are used to that now and have adapted to it. On one evening we were due to do a presentation about our trip to the Mutare locals, but as luck would have it, about an hour before we were due to start the electricity went out. Steve and I were just starting to wonder what would happen when we couldn't see anything nor run the laptop or projector for the presentation, but shouldn't have wasted the effort. Almost immediately paraffin lamps and candles lit the room, a generator was fetched and fired up, and the show went on! It was a fun experience for us, but for the locals, life by candlelight is often the norm.

Another great experience that we had in Mutare was to go to the local market to do some clothes shopping. The clothes are of a good quality and are dirt cheap, I am sure that they are what the Africans call dead men's clothing', i.e. the clothing that gets given to charity by wealthier countries. The market was utter chaos, but very exciting. Some of the vendors hang their items up and make a nice display of their stock while others just lie on top of their crumpled up stock, some eating, others sleeping, and some wrestling around with their kids. What a crazy sight!!

Sadly we saw only a tiny part of Zimbabwe, but what I saw I loved. The country is beautiful and the people are very warm and super resilient. My heart really goes out to those who are living through the systematic destruction of a such a magical place. Having seen Zimbabwe for myself, now I can see why the people are staying and are holding out. It is still wonderful, and I truly hope that one day it will be great again.


1 .
Well done for this update! I challenge anyone to not like Zim and its people - it is the Best! Hoping to go up next month to the Zambezi - now that is something you SHOULD have done! You haven't lived till you've done that! Keep on trekking safely. love fossils x
germaine lorimer - 14 Aug 2009, 10:03
2 .
Hiloo Steve and Roxy Great that you are still trucking (scuze the pun) along happily. Hope it all continues in a similar vein! Cheers Doug & Elin
Doug and Elin - 14 Aug 2009, 10:47
3 .
Dear Rox and Steve we are off to the Balkans today so will be thinking of you God bless take care (will be away for a month)Grandad Jen
Jenny/Grandad - 30 Aug 2009, 5:27

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