ZIMBABWE – On New Year’s Eve 2015 I left the supermarket carrying my groceries: sausages, tomatoes, mangoes and bread rolls. Hardly the stuff of New Year’s celebrations but as 2016 arrives tight budgets are the national past time. As I got to my car a man came across to me. I could see straight away that he was in trouble. His trousers were loose, his eyes sunken and face gaunt; he looked exhausted.
“Can you help me Mama,” he asked, “I am desperate.”
“What’s your problem?” I said.
“I need to get to my kumusha (rural home) but I can’t manage without help.”
“Where is your kumusha?” I asked.
He told me and I knew what sort of a journey was going to be involved: at least two buses and one minibus and probably a good few kilometers of walking as well. It was what he said next that really got to me.
“I was released from prison a few days ago: I’ve tried everything but I just can’t manage to get home. They had no bus warrants for discharge prisoners, the offices were locked and social welfare say they can’t help me.” The man said he’d been sleeping under bushes and all he wanted was help to get home.
What a way to start 2016 I thought as I handed him the last note I had; it would get him home, just. His eyes shone with tears and he clapped his hands in thanks, put his hand on his heart : “God bless you Mama,” he repeated twice. We shook hands, I wished him good luck on his journey and for 2016 and we went our separate ways.
All he wanted was a chance; a stepping stone into the next stage of his life. It’s a sentiment that is everywhere in Zimbabwe as we move into a new year: in the people from the Diaspora who came home for Christmas; in the massive queues outside banks as hundreds and hundreds of civil servants waited desperately to get their December salaries (many till after Christmas); in the newspaper headlines warning of teachers and nurses strikes. It’s a sentiment you see at tourist resorts where government employees apologize profusely for bad roads, for no maps, no resources. It’s a sentiment you hear from strangers you meet when looking out on spectacular waterfalls ; when you’re stuck in mud and gullies on collapsing roads; when you picnic and swim at cold mountain pools. It’s a sentiment you feel, overwhelmingly, when you travel in Zimbabwe: everywhere people are struggling but still they try; they smile, wave and always make you welcome. There’s no racism or ugly, greedy politics here; after fifteen years of upheaval everyone just wants the same thing: an end to the struggling and a stepping stone to a new start for our spectacular Zimbabwe. Let’s hope it comes in 2016.