Positively promoting every country from a positive angle - because I can
I'm still looking at Mozambique on the map. There was so much to see and yet it is now behind me. On the other hand I had an important date to reach in Zimbabwe. One I wasn't going to miss.
As I mentioned last week, Mozambique is mostly peaceful, but due to a localized armed conflict I couldn't travel north to Beira and cross into Zimbabwe straight from Mozambique. I had to go back to South Africa and enter Zimbabwe from there. But I got a ride so it was quite comfortable. On top of that, going through another part of South Africa was yet another testimony to the beauty of the landscape of that country.
So how much time does it take to cross these borders? Exit Mozambique: 20 minutes. Enter South Africa: 20 minutes. Exit South Africa: 30 minutes. Enter Zimbabwe: 3 HOURS?!? What, what, WHAT?!
Yes, getting into Zimbabwe wasn't difficult. It was just enormously time consuming. And we had left Maputo in Mozambique at 04:00am so standing in line and observing the line growing in front of us(?) was frustrating. How was that even possible? But eventually we had reached the end of all the lines, received all our stamps and passed all the checkpoints...we were in!
The roads were good and the driver got me as far as Masvingo. From there we were going separate ways. I thanked the driver and found a guesthouse/hotel. It was now 02:00am and they still wanted $65 from me for a fairly simple room? But that price included breakfast. It was cold outside and I had been traveling for 22 hours straight. I took the room.
You can clearly see the fish in the background - right?
The next morning I had breakfast and made my way to the bus stop. It was a dusty dirt patch on the side of a road. I got into the queue behind everyone waiting for the bus. There was actually already a bus there, but the queue was too long and the bus left without me (and a lot of other people). Then we waited in the sun...waited...waited... Finally a new bus arrived and parked 50m behind us. The queue broke up and people started running to the bus? What was going on in this country? A woman fell and the dust around her lifted into the air as a cloud while her luggage landed next to her. Nobody helped her as she laughed and got back on her feet.
Unfortunately that bus wasn't taking passengers at all. So everyone slowly returned to the original queue. After some time a new bus arrived and parked with its entrance near the beginning of the queue. Good - right? Well...apparently the queue didn't really count as plenty of people moved out of line and in front of me and others. Some struggled to get into the bus and I clearly remember an old mans face, twisted into a grimace while he held on to the door, as someone tried to push him aside. Was I going to get onboard this bus?
I did. Suddenly it all became more civilized, someone took my bag and placed it in the compartment under the bus...I got inside and was given a seat. We then proceeded to the petrol station, filled her up and left for Harare.
Stu is a 4th generation Zimbabwean. He lives in Harare with his mother (Caroline), father (Macky), sister (Casey) and their 3 dogs: Oscar, Fergus & Ziggy. A long time ago Stu wrote me on Facebook saying that when I some day got to Zimbabwe, then he would take care of me. He has been following the Saga since November 16th 2014, so it was really cool that he wrote me.
After about 4 hours in the bus I had reached Harare. I bought a simcard and called Stu straight away. We agreed where to meet and a minibus later we were face to face for the first time. A short drive from there and we reached his home, where I got Stu's room and he took the guest room for himself. He wanted for me to be comfortable. How outstanding was that?
Over the next few days I got to know Stu and his family a lot better. Stu and I went to see a movie, we went sightseeing, he held a braai (local for bbq) and he even arranged for me to see the newest Starwars movie, projected on the living room wall, via a portable projector! Cool stuff!!
They REALLY like their meat in Zim!
It's quite interesting to see how someone who has grown up in Zimbabwe, so far from my home in Denmark, still shares so many similarities with me. Our cultures are vastly different and yet we share so much.
In fact Zims recent history has been a blow to many. Macky, Stu's father, had been putting away money for his pension for 20 years. But when Zims economy spun out of control and the government opted to adopt the USD as their official currency, Macky's (and many others) pension vanished into thin air. Macky is now 60 years old and will stay on the workforce as he sees no other way.
Zimbabwe is something else. It has a colorful history to say the least. Before independence in 1980 it was known as Rhodesia (after Cecil John Rhodes). It was a prosperous British colony which connected the entire region through a web of railways. There are vast amounts of gold underneath the ground. And much like in neighboring countries there are actual diamond fields! If you do not know what a diamond field is...then just imagine a large open area with diamonds spread out all over it as pieces of glass. Geology pushes the diamonds up to the surface over time. Sounds crazy right? Before people knew what it was locals collected these "pieces of glass" into buckets and traded them as "special stones". Today these fields are heavily guarded by armed men.
Stu brought me to Star FM's radio host Nikki the day after I shaved my beard off. Good fun. Nikki is really good at what she does and I've heard her voice on the radio several times since :)
Zimbabwe used to be known as "the breadbasket of Africa". It was a farmers paradise and export was at large. But a change swept over the nation and many farmers were forced to leave. Later on the economy collapsed and these days people struggle to get money out of the ATM's. There is a shortage of money. Sounds like a complete disaster right? Sounds like it couldn't get worse?
Well, the situation isn't great. But there is a very unique spirit among the population. They somehow always find a way. Education is valued very high among the Zims and as a result you have a very bright population. I spoke to a taxi driver who was struggling to pay for his child's school fees. But he would rather go hungry than miss out on paying it. As he said: "Why should I rob my child's future?"
AMAZING?!? Isn't it?
I wanted to travel by train - but there was a strike due to unpaid salaries.
A lot of the roads look...tired. There is currently a drought which is effecting at least 4 million of the countries 15 million people. Harare (the capital) looks like a busy place and in Harare you wouldn't necessarily notice the drought. It's a very green city with nice parks and lots of trees. Not so many cars and therefore not as much traffic as other places - but the cars you see are roadworthy in any modern country. People there do a lot of walking like in New York - and they are dressed fashionably.
Once you start to speak to people then you will quickly realize that everyone knows that there is a future. I haven't experienced the hopeless attitude of some other countries I've been to. Isn't that extraordinary? An educated population which knows that nothing comes from nothing. If you want results then you better work for it. A large part of the population is impressively creative when it comes to making ends meet. You might be an attorney...but can you also do landscaping? You might know how to weld...but can you also sell rocks? Start a restaurant? Plan weddings? Nothing comes from nothing.
Zimbabwe adopted the USD in 2009 at a time when their own currency was being printed out in 50,000,000,000 notes! For some people life has gone back to its financial origins. A chicken is worth a chicken. So you trade whatever you have to get exactly what you need. Who needs money? ;)
Have you ever heard of Robert Mugabe? Chances are you have. He is the president of Zimbabwe and he is both smart and well educated. He is also 92 years old which makes him the oldest president in the world. That leaves everyone wondering: What comes next?
New shoes! The old ones lasted over a year and were 1 size too small. It feels soooo good to have the new ones now!
The important date arrived for me: May 2nd 2016. That was the the long awaited date when my girlfriend finally arrived from Denmark. She is smarter than me; she flew. We hadn't seen each other since December 2015. With her she brought me some new shoes, some chocolate, books, magazines, clothes...and a new hat!!! The new hat is slightly different from the old one. It's bigger and made by a different manufacturer, but bought in the same hat store for men's hats in Copenhagen - just like the old one was 10 years ago. It was picked up by my sister, paid for by my father and delivered by my girlfriend. That is a good beginning for any new hat ;)
Alick Macheso is well known in certain circles. He is a musician who sings, plays the guitar and dances! And he has a heart of gold!!
The first couple of days with my girlfriend were spent with the Red Cross. Remember that drought I mentioned? The Red Cross is naturally deeply involved with that. But that's just a part of the work carried out by the highly active volunteers and employees throughout Zim. After I said farewell to Zimbabwe Red Cross - Stu, his fiancée, my girlfriend and I went out for sushi. And the day after that my girlfriend and I boarded a bus and ventured southwest to Bulawayo; the city of kings and queens.
This is Tina, a wonderful woman who keeps herself busy and took VERY good care of my girlfriend and I! :)
In Bulawayo we were met and greeted by Tina. She is an amazing woman who knows Stu's family. She took us in for a few nights. Crazy - huh? Zim has been so incredibly easy due to the kindness of strangers. It's a safe, friendly, kind and beautiful country to visit. It should be flooded with tourists but it's not? Why not? There are plenty of outstanding sights to enjoy. They are experts on meat here! There is plenty of game and game reserves so Safari is widely available...and so is fishing. You'll find cave paintings, fortifications from ancient cultures and naturally also the world famous Victoria Falls.
If all of the above doesn't interest you, then come for the people! They are polite, friendly, genuine, smart, funny and smiles come very easy!
Oh well, I'll tell you more about our adventures in Zim next week. We are far from done here ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - doing pretty well these days ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga