I’ve been too overwhelmed by Zimbabwe to write much, although I planned to write a travelogue of it. I’ve actually been very bad in writing travelogues, as I find them essentialist, pretentious observations of a visitor about a place with which they have little familiarity. Most travelogues, particularly those about the places one visits for the first time, in fact become an exercise in reflecting one’s cultural biases on the new circumstances, or actively – and painstakingly – avoiding doing so. I am averse to comparison & value assignment & frequently find travelogues, particularly those written by the First Worlders on the “global south,” quite frustrating and cringy.
Having said all this, here is a quick recap and some observations, as non-judgemental as possible. We arrived here after a few days in South Africa. We spent those few days at a Safari lodge & didn’t spend much time in cities (we had been made afraid of Jo’burg enough!). So we used SA (ZA?) mostly as a stopover. The objective was to visit our friends who’ve recently moved for work reasons to Zimbabwe.
So from the beginning, our exposure to Zim (popular nickname, more prevalent among the White Zimbabweans) was from within a sort of bubble. Our friends are worldly, culturally sensitive, & environmentally conscious (naturally!), but still, we have been in a bubble. A USD spending, best-restaurant-in-Harare dining, pool-side wine sipping “global elite” who can afford to ignore the inconveniences of 4-hours a day electric by using generators & solar batteries. We are living the high-life. Not the highest-life though, as gigantic estates, expensive cars, luxurious golf clubs, and “it don’ matter if you’re Black or White” local elite, wearing Gucci & sucking on Dubai-inspired shisha, make it obvious.
What we’ve seen has been a mixture of the global diaspora (businessmen, Aid workers, diplos, lost souls), local elite, White Africans (some of whom fought other Whites to bring freedom & are local heroes), and odd foreigners from all around finding this a last frontier. There is a feeling that everything is possible, and it truly seems to be the case, for those who have the guts – & the stomach – for it.
But we have also “seen” – passed by, chatted, bought wooden animal carvings from – the locals. Poor, anxious, round-eyed, but extremely decent & honourable locals. The integrity of the people is humbling, and their sharp minds, and almost unbelievably quick wit too. No one begs in the bazaar (two begging boys were odd & gave up after one “no”) & the man with torn up pants & no shoes offering hand carved statues treats his work like an artist does, and expects you to do the same.
Talking & joking is quite easy. We visited the city centre (the “CBD”) once, and it looks very American. It could be a city centre of any American city in a poorer state (it reminded me of Louisville, KN), except the pothole-ful roads (which makes it more like NJ!). Driving is a bit of a challenge, although everyone is very courteous & no one speeds or gets mad. In general, the Shona people (the Bantu speaking population of the northern Zim) seem averse to getting angry: haven’t seen anyone shouting & everyone is smiling wide. Everyone speaks English, sometimes too perfectly, so no communication, comment, joke, or snark is lost. People seem remarkably content, despite all sorts of basic infrastructural problems and obvious poverty. The local money is nonexistent and dollar reigns supreme. The roadside fruits and car parts market (!) had people trading in Zimbabwean dollars (only one of the three or four real and virtual currencies), but I had to ask at the international chic supermarket to be given the return change for USD 1$ in local money (176 Z$ for which I was casually given 180…).
Enough of people perhaps, because nature is the wonder here. Harare is like a big botanical garden, from the odd South American jacaranda lined trees to Acacias and palms and banana trees (oh the bananas!) to roses and waterlilies. Come to think of it, writing about the nature requires another blog. So I will do that later. For now, wow!