Filed under: Zimbabwe


I’m not yet really in the mood for writing but I’ll just try to begin now and to summarize the first seven days. The journey to Zimbabwe was quite easy, we didn’t have any problems. The only thing worth noticing was the one hour delay in Heathrow that we spent half in the bus and half in the terminal; after boarding in Heathrow you don’t enter the aircraft directly but instead they’ll drive you to the plane in a bus. Once we’ve made ourselves more or less comfortable with our entire luggage and stood our ground in the jammed bus, we were driving quite some while over the huge airport compound and came to a stop in front of the machine, while the passengers of the preceding shuttle passed the gangway into the plane. Since I’ve offered my seat to a mother with baby, I had to stand in a quite crappy position, perched between our luggage and the people around me, and my legs gradually started to hurt now. And, of course, nothing went on. The bus in front of us already seemed empty to me for quite some while, at least I couldn’t make out any more people in it, but it still stood there, blocking the gangway. After we’ve passed several minutes there, with my legs getting numb now and the people uneasy, a woman in safety vest entered the bus and made an announcement that we had to be patient, there seemed to be some irregularity in the aircraft, they were very sorry. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Meanwhile I’ve cleared myself some space on the ground to sit down and relax my legs. Fifteen minutes must have passed when again somebody came and explained that the aircraft crew missed to perform the security check and that we would now be driven back to the terminal so that we could stretch out our legs a little bit. Oh, thank you lord…! During the ride I couldn’t think of any more positions to relief my legs. Thank god we reached the terminal quickly and when I stood up, pins and needles seemed to pierce my thighs. My blood obviously started circulating again. After another thirty minutes in the terminal the bus collected us again, delivered us at the plane and we could take off for Africa. During the flight, the captain explained that they found some suspicious package in the cabin and that the procedure in this case requires a bomb squad to clear the aircraft. The package turned out to be a left-behind cabin bag.

At the airport in Zimbabwe we didn’t face any major problems although Saba and I were a bit nervous about the equipment. If they had found our cameras, films, and god knows what else, they might have thought we were journalists and we wouldn’t have gotten away so easily. The only situation I started sweating over was at the customs. We took the „nothing to declare“ path and an elderly man with his trolley (the same one who pissed all over the aircraft toilet just before I went in there…) stood a bit dimly in the way and created a jam that made us stop with all our luggage right next to two customs officers. Apparently I didn’t look past them innocently enough although I honestly tried it; it was a man and a woman and she came straight toward us, pointed at my bags and asked: “What do you carry with you?” For a moment I thought about lying to her but according to Murphy’s Law she would have definitely had me opening the bags and I would have been screwed. So I mumbled something about three cameras and films and she just told me that I had to declare those and asked me to proceed to the customs. Crap. So there we were, at the airport in Harare, three cameras, 340 rolls of film, developer, fixer, developer tank and a voice recorder in my baggage and a video camera, a tripod, a gun microphone and a digital camera in Saba’s, and should explain to a customs officer that we were no journalists. Thank god Saba came to my assistance and began talking so fast that the poor woman couldn’t get a word in advance. Noticing that, her colleague approached and wanted to know what’s going on. We told him something about tourists, Safari and god knows what else and eventually he asked: “Are you visitors?” and we said sure, just tourists. “Then it’s ok”, he answered and waved us through. Behind me, Saba kick started her trolley, crashed into my heels and pushed me through the people to the outside. We were through… In the hallway, Nokhutula already waited with her daughter Mina, her son Nyasha and Mudiwa, her nephew. She welcomed us in her usual, funny-cordial manner and together we walked to the parking lot.

We’re sitting in Nokhutula’s van, the windows open to catch a cool breeze in the car. Although I already knew the feeling from Bangladesh, the temperature difference between the hibernating Germany and the tropical late summer punched me hard when I stepped from the air conditioned plane into the gangway. The wind in my face is just what I need now. The ride is short, maybe fifteen minutes, on an all-straight road through a vivid, green landscape. I imagined something different on the way here, something more savannah-like. There are trees and bushes blossoming everywhere and the saturated hues of green almost painfully pierce my eyes. Pedestrians walk on both sides of the road and I wonder where they are going. Apart from the airport there is no other building around. Some turn from the road into the green and disappear between the bushes.

After a few kilometres we turn left into a smaller road, pass a brick wall and come to a halt in front of a red iron gate. Nokhutula honks the horn twice and shortly after, the iron gate is pushed aside and opens the view on a one-storied house, covered with brown slates and surrounded by a wide, wonderful garden. Unfortunately I lack the botanical knowledge to go into details, but even I recognize the giant eucalyptus tree and the pomegranate tree bending under his burden of bursting full fruits. The rest blossoms mysteriously in all colours of the rainbow. We bring the baggage to our room, take a shower and then Nokhutula guides us around the house. There are three chairs and a table standing on a terrace; we sit down and Emilia, one of the maids, brings us tea while Nyasha and Mudiwa play vividly on their bobby cars.

The next four days we wait for Andree, Nokhutula’s and Saba’s class mate who they are going to do their major project with. We kill the time with sleeping, reading and watching TV, and in between we go downtown to exchange some money and buy a mosquito net. Zimbabwe currently struggles with a catastrophic inflation and I begin to realise how it must have been back then, during the economy crisis in Europe. I get 10 million Zimbabwe $ for my 100 US$; a bundle of notes that I can hardly hold in two hands, the smallest denomination being 20.000 ZW$. I am finally a millionaire. The mosquito net is 1.7 million and we begin to count the money on the table. Five minutes later, the cashier finished her counting and we can leave the shop. Outside I notice that the people carry all kind of bags, most of them probably filled with some millions for the daily needs. On our way home, Nokhutula tries to get some fuel which is difficult to find in Zimbabwe these days. We have no luck, but the tank is still half full and that gives us time to try it again during the next days.

The second day, Nokhutula takes Mina and us to Mbare, the neighbourhood she grew up in. Her brother Siman’gliso still lives there; he inherited the house from their parents. Mbare counts as one of the densest and poorest parts of Harare. It’s one of those quarters that are depicted by the Medias as highly dangerous, one of those you better shouldn’t go to when you’re white. The houses we see there are small but they don’t look ghetto-like. They are made of brick, well preserved and with lovely, neat gardens. The people here say that when you haven’t been to Mbare, you haven’t been to Zimbabwe. I don’t see any of those waste piles that are so typical for Ghettos, everything looks clean and orderly. We stop in front of the gate that separates the ground from the street und walk through the small, lovingly preserved garden to the house. Siman’gliso isn’t there yet, but his brother Tendai welcomes us and invites us inside. It’s a small living room we enter through the main door, with two sofas, a chair, a table and a TV. One of the sofas parts the room, with the kitchen being behind it. To our right is the sleeping room, where Siman’gliso sleeps with his wife Kudzanai and their 14 months old son Mudiwa. We sit in the living room, wait for Siman’gliso and gossip. Tendai tells us, that his girlfriend broke up with him today. He pretends to take it easy but it’s clearly visible that it’s giving him a hard time. As his brother arrives we go out in the garden, since he brought along some friends and it’s getting too narrow inside. We sit on small wall in the garden and Babi, Siman’gliso’s small dog, weasels around our legs.

After some time, Siman’gliso invites me to come with him and get some beer. Nokhutula hands him a bundle of money and we walk off. The bar we are heading for isn’t far, maybe five hundred metres, across a main road that separates Mbare from Beatrice Cottages. The people seem to take that very seriously: when I mistakenly talk of the neighbouring quarter as Mbare, I’m instantly told that we’re in Beatrice Cottages right now, which has nothing to do with Mbare. We walk past a fenced ground in which there are some sculptures; beautiful sculptures made of metal, a couple embracing each other passionately, and another one, sitting on a wall, their arms around each other. At first I thought they were real humans since they stand in the shadow of some trees and are partially screened by leaves and it takes me some moments until I realise that these are artworks. At the entrance to the ground there is an old, bleached out sign saying “BAT Studios”. The studios were founded in 1980, sponsored by British American Tobacco, and had a great influence on the Zimbabwean art scene. Just a few metres ahead from here is the bar we’re heading for. Fragments of Reggae music wave through the air and they grow louder the closer we come to the bar. We step through a low door in a concrete wall onto a tarred court. Spread on the left side there are some tables with parasols, most of them empty. Right next to the door, on the wall, some boys are doing a barbecue; it smells of burnt grease and soot. The right side of the courtyards ends into a roofed terrace, a part of it secluded with bars like a cage. In that cage is a DJ set, and a guy with dreadlocks and Bob Marley t-shirt is mixing. We go across the terrace and enter the room behind it. Inside, it’s a little shabby but quite spacious, with sofas, table football and a pool billiard table. We order six bottles of beer, place the bundle of money we got from Nokhutula on the bar, wait until the bar keeper counted it and go back outside. We stop at one of the tables where some of Siman’gliso’s friends sit and smoke and drink beer. He introduces them to me as football players. After they gossiped for a few minutes, we walk back to the house. Saba and Nokhutula aren’t there, and Mina tells us that they drove somewhere to buy some food for dinner. We open a beer, drink and talk and at some point Siman’gliso and Tendai ask me if I’d like to go on a walk.

On the roads of Mbare I hear music everywhere, mostly reggae, but also Hip Hop and traditional music, and the people sit in groups in their gardens in the shadow of Mango trees and gossip. The people here seem to value a beautiful, clean and well preserved surrounding. I don’t see real signs of poverty, but I’m sure the first impression is misleading. HIV and bad food and water supply are not dancing in the street.

While we stroll along, I speak of Siman’gliso’s garden. I ask him if he spends a lot time in it since it looks intensively and passionately taken care of. His eyes start beaming and he tells me proudly that the garden is his one and all. He wants to buy a piece of land eventually and become a farmer. I wonder what the prices for land are like over here and how he is going to afford it, but I don’t ask him now. I’ve just met him a few hours ago.

We reach the shopping area of Mbare, a concrete courtyard with a market in the middle and some shops around it. Tendai and Siman’gliso take me to a butcher shop that his run by their relatives and introduce me to their uncle and cousin. We shake hands quickly, and then they focus their attention back to their customers. The coolers for the meat are almost empty, with just a few pieces wrapped in plastic at their bottom, and the display cabinet doesn’t show much more, either. However it’s late afternoon and the major amount most probably sold already.

We go on, past a stadium with a tarred basket ball court in front and some youths playing on it, through a restaurant where they sell Sadza – the local basic food made of maize flour – for 150.000 ZW$ a plate, and in a bar that serves Chibuku. That’s a traditional kind of beer, brewed from water, maize and milk and with 80.000 ZW$ a litre quite cheap. The bar is jammed with people and an old man, obviously with several Chibuku cursing through his veins, dances enthusiastically around me. Tendai and Siman’gliso ask me if I want to try the drink but there is no more left and so we leave the bar through the back door into the yard outside. Two men sit on a wall with a small, turquoise plastic bucket between them. Nokhutula’s brothers approach them and talk to them for a little while, then they point toward the bucket and tell me that it’s Chibuku in it. The muggy, whitish liquid, with some indefinable sort of slabs in it, looks as if already drunk once and I’m glad that there was no more left at the bar. The two men invite me to take a sip. I don’t want to be impolite but also, I don’t want to swallow this stuff for anything in this world. I wonder what I should answer and then the empty bottle of Lion Lager beer that I’ve been carrying around all the time comes to my mind; I show it and explain them, that I just had a beer. I thank them for the invitation and, before anyone of them gets to say anymore, I turn towards Tendai and Siman’gliso who both look quite amused and we start walking back home.

Two days later we came back to Mbare, Siman’gliso had bought a bunch of chicken for Nokhutula. After they were put away in the trunk of the car, we sat together in the living room, drank a beer and talked about the drama project dealing on HIV/AIDS which we came to Zimbabwe for. Nokhutula suggested doing it in Mbare and everyone was enthusiastic about that idea. Siman’gliso stood up, left the house and, a few minutes later, came back with Laina, a friend who plays in a theatre group. The women vigorously talked about how the project could look like and within short we were all consumed by a vital discussion, not least fuelled by several bottles of Black Label beer. We agreed to do a barbecue in Mbare the following Saturday and Laina promised to summon interested people until then to get a first overview and to talk over the first steps. On our way home, with the full moon hovering closely above the horizon before us, I somehow had a good feeling with the prospect that we would soon be working in Mbare. I liked that place and its people from the very first day.

Meanwhile Andree arrived and she is still struggling with the Jet Lag she brought from Australia. Today we went to purchase our food for the next two weeks. The amounts of money you need to pay here are still something to get used to; all in all, we paid almost thirty million bucks. Nokhutula’s aunt Teresa, who is living in the same house with the Masiwas, carried the money in a big plastic bag and the cashier sent her to a special counter for large amounts since the money wouldn’t fit into his own…

Right now I’m sitting in my favourite chair on the terrace, with the view over the garden and its majestic trees. It looks like it will rain soon. I’m drinking a cool beer, listen to Lady Blacksmith Mambazo and wonder what else I could write. But I think I’ll rather let it be for now and enjoy the moment…

4 Comments February 17, 2006


On February 11 I will go to Zimbabwe for four months together with my friend Saba to shoot my diploma project. It will be a reportage on a theatre project by Saba and two of her class mates dealing with HIV/AIDS.

January 27, 2006

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