First Steps

February 23, 2006

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.

Filed under: Zimbabwe


1 Comment

  • 1. Mutti  |  February 26, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Jakob! Jetzt wirds endlich ernst. Ich hoffe, daß Ihr gute Kontakte bekommt. Bin gespannt, wie es weiter geht. Hattet Ihr am Samstag schon Erfolg? Wie gehts den Mädchen nach ihrem Besuch im Krankenhaus? hoffentlich bekommst Du Erlaubnis, alles fotographisch zu dokumentieren. Ist ja ein schwieriges und großes Vorhaben. Ich wünsch Euch so sehr, daß Ihr mit Eurem Anliegen Erfolg habt. Bin gespannt und neugierig wieder von Dir zu hören.

    Bis bald. Gr. u. K. M

    Hi Jakob! Things are finally getting serious. I hope you are making good contacts. I can’t wait to see how things will develop. Was Saturday already a success? How are the girls doing after their visit to the hospital? I hope you’ll get permission to document everything. After all it’s a difficult and big issue. I wish you all so much that you are successful with your work. I’m eager and curious to hear from you again. So long. Gr. a. K. M

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