If the ordinary man was allowed to govern Zimbabwe everything would be tip-top.
21/03/2009 - 27/03/2009 32 °C
Zimbabwe, we all know whats going on there eh? Wrong!!!
I arrived a couple of weeks after Morgan Tsvangirai had been involved in a car crash in which his wife was killed and thought that I was going to a country which could erupt into violence at any point... How wrong I was.
What we actually found in Victoria Falls was a bustling town where tourists had once flocked to view the spectacular falls. I can't possibly comment on what happened in the dark days from which Zimbabwe is beginning to emerge. In Victoria Falls town we (or more to the point I) were often surrounded by some locals who would have wood carvings or disused Zimbabwe dollars to sell or exchange for food or clothing. Most of my group were afraid to chat to these people but I would chat to them as we walked to where-ever we were headed and I bought and exchanged clothes with the less pushy of the locals and found out a bit about what life is like in Zimbabwe.
Only after this I found out that most of this would be stolen from local shops or the local market where the honest hard workers perhaps made less than the thieves? I'm not sure they can be blamed for their actions though as there are very few jobs to go round and most employers over-staff their premises so that they can support as many people as possible.
As I often seen in many shops in Africa, the imported products are sold (or not) for inflated prices, which are way out of reach of the locals, and this is more frustrating in Zimbabwe. Due to the collapse of the previously illustrious farming industry there is now very little cheap local produce to go round to feed its population.
We often saw children and adults begging for food in Victoria Falls and we generally obliged. One of the days we had told some of the kids to meet us outside the campsite and we'd give them what food we had leftover from breakfast. Two of the original four turned up and I imagine they ate the lot.
Later that day we saw the other two boys, who then asked us for their quota. I explained they weren't their to collect it and so would have to speak to their friends about this. At this point they'd asked for money to buy food and I refused as I don't believe in giving money when food is what is needed. At this point the teen told me he was going to shoot me, but I recognized this as a desperate threat and so told him not to talk sh*t and gave him a firm nudge with my shoulder... after which he apologized very much frustrated that his friends where eating whilst he was trying his luck elsewhere.
After a few days in Victoria Falls I had always planned to make my own way to Johannesburg via Bulawayo for my onward flight to Singapore.
Two of the girls from the trip had a few days to kill and decided to tag along on the slow overnight train.
As we got on the train it seemed we only had a two person compartment as apposed to the three bunks we had booked. As we left and the guard came round to collect tickets we questioned this and he assured us this was correct as he motioned 1, 2 , floor with a rye smile. As we could see this had at one point been a very grand cabin, but as with most of Zimbabwe it had many frayed edges. I decided to take to the floor mainly to lean against the door after it was locked, I'm sure being robbed might have crossed the girls minds too???
We arrived in Bulawayo to realize that we didn't have a map of the town and had no idea where to head, luckily we spotted an English guy who was walking around with a guide book, so we tagged along to tourist information center. As we reached to tourist info center we were greeted by an over-enthusiastic elderly Zimbabwean women. (Easy to see why, she told us we were the first tourists she'd seen in six months) We then went to the guest-house as recommended, which was also looking a little run-down.
The pictures above are the images which we saw on the way to the museum, although we did see another horrific scene. A school child had been hit by a car and was assumed dead, no sign of a damaged car? On the way back we walked on the other side of the road, body still lying in the road with a crowd standing around making no attempt to cover the corpse.
At one time Bulawayo had been a hub for tourists traveling around Zimbabwe's many national parks and its ancient ruins. Tourism was the second largest contributor to Zimbabwe's once thriving economy, but as it stood when we were there it was impossible to get any money whilst in the country, (although we were offered a Black-Market deal from a local restaurant owner for a 2% fee. Online transfer in exchange for cash), so most people continue through to South Africa or to neighboring Botswana to get their hand on their cash and enjoy the tourist attractions of Zimbabwe's neighbors.
Although the Us dollar and SA Rand are now being used as currency to combat Hyper-inflation, the fact that the countries financial institutions have not yet updated their system to accept or dispense payment via these currencies is not helping. Most Zimbabweans are relying on relatives who have moved abroad to support them via the Western Union network, of course at a further cost. Although we were told that Visa was expected to be accepted again within 2months or so.
Its a very difficult country to visit as the majority want the tourists back and bend over backwards to ensure you enjoy your stay and some others see an opportunity to make a dishonest buck. As we had checked out prices for the museum with tourist info we were told $2-$5 dollars. When we arrived we were asked for our passports and the attendant decided it would be $20 each as we would obviously have lots of cash.... Not so, as we couldn't get our hands on our money, so we turned around and left.
As we walked the streets of Bulawayo we felt perfectly safe and welcomed by the locals. After the high-pressure sales tactics of Victoria Falls, (and almost every other town we visited in the various countries we visited) Bulawayo was more laid back, but we were still trying not to engage too much as we though we'd get roped into bargaining for something we didn't want, but as we would realize Bulawayans had been used to tourists and realized they need them back. As one proprietor stood outside his should he said, "I hope you enjoy every minute of you stay here..." tiredly looking at his shop thinking he was trying to sell his wares, he wasn't... not even in the tourist game... he had a hardware store. Exactly what you find everywhere in Zimbabwe: Some of the friendliest people in Africa.
One night we went to an over-staffed steak-house owned by a white Zimbabwean and his English wife, the service could not have been better, the attentive staff refilling glasses at every opportunity and we eventually got talking to the owners, who spoke openly about how things used to be and how the future looked brighter under the coalition government. Understandably there was a level of bitterness in their stories, their children had moved on to other countries but they were of an age where it was difficult to get citizenship in other countries. I hope things change for them soon from the:
Back to the thriving country Zimbabwe once was.
The following day I was off to Johannesburg and had to leave the girls to get the train back, (I thought about making the return trip with them, but the prospect of 50hour or so round trip meant I would miss my flight ). The bus trip was one of the best trips ever and I came to a stark realization: I was carrying on with this 2 year old Zim kid called Sean, peek-a-boo and the likes, and as we were walking the border crossing at Beit Bridge his Dad started laughing and then he told me what his son had said to him, but I didn't understand... He then told me in English, "Dad, I think I have seen Jesus!!!" All because I was the first white guy he'd ever seen and I made him laugh by being silly he assumed I must've been the only white guy he knew of... Jesus. If only children ruled the world....
P.s. For a different perspective on our time in Zimbabwe take a look at this article:http://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/travel/65085/a-holiday-with-mugabe?page=0%2C0