Archives – February 23, 2006

birthday surprise

On my birthday, I was kicked out of my bed a little roughly; My friends told me to take off the bed sheets and the mosquito net so that everything could be washed. I took a quick shower and then I began to pull the covers from the blanket and the pillows. After a little while, Nokhutula’s maid came into the room and told me that I had to put the cover back on the blanket since there was no spare cover and the first one wouldn’t dry in time. I did as she told me and began to wonder what this whole thing was about.

When I was ready, the maid took the whole stack including the blanket and the mosquito net and disappeared. I started packing my stuff since we planned to spend the day at Nokhutula’s cousin Jackie’s to relax and hang around at her pool with some drinks. Saba told me to take my camera, but I asked her why, we would just lie around in Jackie’s garden. She shrugged her shoulders and said “Just take it.” I really didn’t see any reason to waste my films for such nonsense and left the camera behind.

When we sat in the car – the drinks were bought and everything was there for a nice barbecue at the pool – we drove in a completely wrong direction, away from Harare and deeper and deeper into nowhere on a small rural road. I asked them what this was about and I was told that we would just drive to some farm to get some maize for the barbecue. I was really wondering why we would go all the way to a farm for some lousy maize cobs when they just sold them on the roadside but I didn’t say anything. After almost two weeks in Nokhutula’s house with only short trips to downtown and Mbare, the trip into the countryside was a welcome break. I enjoyed the beauty of landscape rushing past the windows, dramatically enhanced by the clouds of an upcoming thunderstorm.

We were cheery, in party mood, fooled around and tried to make a hitchhiker whom we picked up believe that I’m a lunatic virgin priest who just came out of mental treatment and was now taken out into the green by three women for his 45th birthday – Of course the guy didn’t believe us a single word, but he joined in and bamboozled with us. Eventually we reached a gate and a young man approached the car and talked to Nokhutula in Shona. He opened the gate, we passed and he looked into the car, grinned and said in English that we should be cautious about the lions that strolled around the farm. What the hell was that supposed to mean now? I pointed towards Saba’s digital camera and asked if it was ok to take pictures. He grinned again and nodded simply. For some minutes we drove past a fence with a beautiful, natural scenery behind it. I gradually started to be suspicious now. We were on a farm and not a single field around?!? The girls in the back were grinning already and every now and then one of them would say in an exaggeratedly startled way that she saw something in the bushes. By now I was sure that we were not going to a farm.

We finally came to a halt at a parking lot, bordered by a wonderful, green garden. Somewhere in it was a house with a roof made of straw and a covered porch in front and some people were just on their way there. We got out of the car and went to the hut. On the pebbled way leading to it were several jeeps with zebra painting; in that moment I realised that it must be some kind of Safari park the girls were taking me to. I also realised, why Saba told me to take my camera and I was a little bit pissed that I didn’t listen to her. They asked me to wait outside, went to the reception, talked briefly to the guy behind the desk, received some piece of paper and came back out. “Happy birthday, Jakob” they said and handed me the paper. It was a map for a Safari Game park. I didn’t know what to say. This morning Saba said that she was so sorry that we were not in her country where she could have organised something beautiful for me. I was simply flabbergasted.

After some time a guy came and we went back to the car and got in. It was quite narrow – Nokhutula’s car has four seats only – and I wondered if that guy would stay in the car throughout the whole Safari. But soon we stopped again in front of a marvellous cottage. There was a plastered courtyard and on it a hut – open in the middle and with two rooms on each side – and a second hut right next to it with a kitchen and a bathroom. The man exited the car, started to unlock the doors and told us that this was our cottage. I didn’t quite understand. What, our cottage? What am I supposed to do in a cottage? I want to see the park! Only when Saba walked past me with our blanket and the mosquito net, I realised that this was an overnight trip. That also explained Saba’s show with the blanket this morning… I was so happy that I didn’t know what to say. I threw my arms around the three girls, thanked them vigorously and began running back and forth between the car and the cottage to unload our stuff.

Some time later we took towels and bathing suits, drove back to the parking lot and went through the garden to one of these colossal rock piles that are so typical for the Zimbabwean landscape. Stairs wound upwards and on the top, hewn into the stone, was a tremendous pool. A small wooden bridge lead over the pool to another rock screened from the sun by a wooden construction covered with straw and behind that was a third rock, surrounded by a fence, serving as sun terrace. From up here we had a wonderful view over the roof of leaves that covered the whole park. This complex was breathtakingly beautiful. We bathed for around an hour – me decadent sod of course with a bottle of beer in my hand – then dried up and went back to the reception. I was told that the best was yet to come.

We waited some minutes until one of the park’s staff came and loaded us upon a jeep. Safari… We drove off, through some gates that secluded the 1000 acres of Wildlife Park and into the savannah. After a few metres we saw the first Impala herd grazing, stopped and the guide told us something about the animals. Unfortunately they were very shy and so we couldn’t get closer than maybe a hundred metres. Not so with the Zebras. This time we left the jeep and approached the animals slowly until there were not more than five metres left between us. The Safari guide then asked me to come back because I got too close.

We saw a lot more animals other than these, but the Giraffes were the most impressing of all. A herd of them was hidden in a small forest so that I didn’t see them instantly. But then they started moving, startled by the car, and crossed the path we were standing on. Although I saw these animals on TV so frequently, it was an incredible experience to have them in front of me, just an arm length away. The Giraffes moved as smooth as elves, despite their towering size. It was one of the most fascinating experiences in my life and I wished I could once see these animals in their real environment, without some degrading fence around.

In the evening, after we came back from the Safari, we lit a fire in front of our cottage and made a barbecue. We roasted four huge T-Bone steaks, a whole chicken (we roasted it in one piece – rarely had such a delicious chicken…) and a pork steak, along with rice, Sadza, coleslaw and lots of beer and wine. After dinner we sat for hours under the African sky and partied.

Unfortunately we had to go back early the next day since the first meeting with the women’s group in Mbare was to take place. But the park is just a half-hour drive from Nokhutula’s house and we’ll surely spend the one or the other weekend there during the next three months – and then I’ll bring my camera…

3 Comments February 23, 2006

First Steps

Last Saturday we had our barbecue in Mbare. Being an hour late, all the people had already gone back home to go about their daily business. On our way to Mbare we stopped at the supermarket to buy the stuff for the barbecue, and at the police station to tell about the party. The authorities in Zimbabwe are very sensitive about any kind of gathering; whatever assemblage is not reported and permitted will be split up since it could be a political one. While we were sitting in the garden, waiting for the participants of the project to gradually come back, Si-man’gliso and Nyaradzi took care of the fire. After about half an hour, the place was virtually packed and all the people came to introduce themselves to us. I wondered how the hell I should remember all these names and soon gave up even trying it.

When Nokhutula opened the meeting, they all sat down in a circle in the grass and explained why they were here and what they expected from participating in the pro-ject. The three women didn’t tell anything about their intention to work on HIV/AIDS in advance since they didn’t want to influence the people. They should decide on their own what’s important to them and what they want to work on. But it soon became obvious that the majority of the present people tended towards the HIV/AIDS issue. In a country with meanwhile an estimated 30 percent infection rate (I heard this num-ber several times this day; however I did not yet do any research to confirm it!) it is a huge challenge for the young generation to get this plague under control. The passion-ate motivation to face this challenge was tangible in the air on this afternoon in Si-man’gliso’s garden.

The project was outlined briefly and a rough schedule set up and afterwards the peo-ple spread in the garden, with plates full of roasted chicken, sausages and salad in their hands. Andree and I stand in the shadow in front of the house together with three girls who tell us that they made a video on the life in the ghetto. They promise to bring it for the next meeting to show it to the group. Natasha, one of the three girls, brings the conversation back to HIV/AIDS and begins a passionate and convinced speech about the challenge of her generation. The girl is only twenty but the way she stands there and talks make her appear a lot more mature. While she speaks everyone around listens in spellbound silence. Later, after we all finished eating, I ask Natasha if she personally knows any families who are struck by the plague. I explain that I want to shoot a documentary on the disease and its impact on the community and that therefore I want to deal on a very close and personal basis with people who are di-rectly and indirectly affected. She answers me that this might be a difficult goal to achieve, since those who carry the virus often deny it – not only to others but most of all to themselves. Yet she promises to let me know by next week and she sounds very confident about finding families who will be willing to work with me.

Meanwhile it had become late afternoon. Some clouds had come up and took away some of the sun’s merciless intensity and the people gradually hit the road from Si-man’gliso’s garden to their homes. We left with Bianca who invited us on a walk through Mbare. She led us to a small double house where she lived with her family. A fence divided the ground it was built on in two equal parts. Two women sat gossiping on the doorstep of the neighbouring house and when they saw Bianca they greeted her friendly.

We ducked inside the hut through the small door. It was dim, and in here I realised that Mbare isn’t just a nice little neighbourhood with nice little gardens. The interior was depleted, almost nothing, and a worn out rug covered the floor. Bianca led us on into a small room where a man and a woman sat at a tiny table situated in front of a bed. On the bed there was nothing but a ragged woollen blanket. The two at the table, Bianca’s uncle and aunty, welcomed us cordially. There was a bowl with Sadza on the bed and they just took their dinner. Some light shed through a small window on the opposite wall, otherwise it was dark. With the table, the bed and the two people on their chairs, the room was so packed that we could barely move beyond the door. Back outside, we walked around the house in the backyard. Bianca’s Aunt Heather sat there on a wooden bench and wove extensions into the hair of her niece Gay. Aside, there was a toy car wrought of wire. Gay turned out to be a real joker who wouldn’t stop talking and making fun until we left. When we turned to go, she shouted after us not to forget to send them hard currency. We went to a few other houses afterwards and the circumstances some people lived in were shocking. While some living rooms were equipped with TVs, surround speakers, computers with internet access, stereo systems, glass tables and fancy sofas, others held nothing but a few, shabby seats.

On this afternoon I realised that, in spite of my first, positive impression, bitter pov-erty holds a tight grip around Mbare, although compared to the slums I saw in Bang-ladesh it still offers bearable conditions – at least everyone here has a small garden to grow the most essential such as maize and cabbage. But at the same time I felt a won-derful sense of community among the people of Mbare that fuelled my desire to work with them.

On Monday we finally managed to meet the staff of J. F. Kapnet Trust, the NGO that the three girls want to do their drama project in Zyimba with. Craig, the director of the organisation, picked us up at the reception and led us over the premise to a small building that served as conference room. We took our seats and waited for four other members of the NGO to come and join the meeting. A dense curtain of gigantic, moist leaves with shafts thick like arms screened the window and a smooth green light flooded the conference room. Two ceiling fans sucked the scent of fresh cut grass through the open door and spread it in the room.

After a few minutes, two men and two women entered, introduced themselves and sat down at the table. Marc and Trust, the two men, were rather silent during the meeting and listened while Craig, Hazel and Hazvinei briefly explained the projects and the aims of J. F. Kapnet Trust. The NGO works with HIV/AIDS infected women and children in the slums of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia. Their main purpose is to create awareness among the people and to offer the children an exit from the spiral of poverty through proper education.

Nokhutula, Andree und Saba explained to them how they plan to support the work of the NGO with their drama project, and the people from J. F. Kapnet Trust seemed fas-cinated by their approaches. Hazvinei then came straight to the point and asked us, what we expect from them. We told them that for the girls’ project as well as for mine it is essential to fall back on already existing infrastructures, especially when there is only three months time. Furthermore, that we need financial support for fuel and ac-commodation and – in my case – material. In exchange, Saba, Nokhutula and Andree would teach interested people from the NGO and leave them copies of their working diaries and I would provide them my pictures. It was a fair deal for everyone and we agreed on soon arranging a first trip to Zyimba to get an impression of the situation there.

1 Comment February 23, 2006

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