ZIMBABWE – Cathy Buckle returns home to Zimbabwe after a few weeks in the ‘first world’. It’s a downhill slide as soon as the journey starts given that basic rules are thrown out the window. She quickly shifts her focus to the state of the country and says nothing has changed, electricity is a rarity, water scarce while growth, jobs and prosperity are all but a distant dream. Not even the first rains can change the mood. Yet another call for help from a Zimbabwean that’s waiting for change. – Stuart Lowman
By Cathy Buckle*
Going from a first world to a third world country is always a trip of mixed emotions, culture shock and confusing adjustments. On the last leg of the journey from anywhere to Zimbabwe you know you’re almost home because rules suddenly go out the window. One piece of cabin baggage on the plane is ignored as people heft two, three or more bulging bags on board; weight restrictions are disregarded and as for queues – not a chance! Suddenly it becomes a free for all as people push and shove determined to get in before you, get out before you, get in front of you. Witnessing this behaviour can’t help but make you feel ashamed to be a Zimbabwean.
The moment your feet hit the tarmac you have to immediately re-learn the rules of being in a distrustful society. Instead of there being two or three speedy queues for returning residents at Harare airport, there is only one line which snakes its way across the arrivals hall and soon a hundred or more exhausted travelers wait, and wait and wait to get to the front. You find yourself looking at your feet to avoid catching the eyes of frustrated foreigners who shake their heads and sigh loudly at the bureaucracy and equally slow queue for visitors.
More absurdity awaits. After taking your luggage off the carousel, instead of being able to choose green or red entry routes, everyone must queue all over again. This line is even longer because now residents and tourists are all in the same queue. When you finally get to the front you must lift your luggage onto a conveyor where the contents are scanned: scrutinized by tax collectors searching for anything that may yield a dollar or two in revenue. Once through with the formalities you head for the toilet where you find a door with no lock, only one of three hand basins has water, the soap dispenser doesn’t work and neither does the hand dryer.
Hello Zimbabwe! What a way to be welcomed into our beautiful country where the first rain in seven months has fallen, cooling the baked ground, dampening the choking dust. From nowhere the rain brings sausage flies and giant moths. In the mornings the ground is littered with shimmering, discarded flying ant wings. Mousebirds, louries, barbets and spectacled weavers gorge themselves on ripe figs while high up in a Musasa tree a pair of Scops Owls look down, wide eyed and accusing.
After weeks away nothing has changed: electricity is unlikely, water is rare but the politicians are too busy to care as they continue to scramble for positions in the silent succession war. We remain a country in waiting: waiting for everything from water and electricity to growth, jobs and prosperity, but most of all waiting for truly free and fair elections and political change.
I end with a message of condolence and support to people in France after a week of horror in which so many innocent people were murdered. Like you we know how it feels to know the perpetrators of horror are walking amongst us, living in our neighbourhoods and we share your pain.
* Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare.