Cathy Buckle – This is Africa

Dear Family and Friends,

Travelling over the Odzi River a few minutes after dawn when the landscape is just emerging from silhouette, a trail of warm, white mist lifts off the water. The vapour hangs almost unmoving in the cold morning air and as you look further, it’s easy to identify the path of the river: the straight stretches and the bends, all are clearly marked by the route of the hovering mist cloud. When the sun breaks the horizon it reveals open plains, golden grass and mountains spotlighted in the dawn sunrise. You can’t help but be inspired by what you see and as you allow the sight to burn into your memory, you add it to the folder: This is Zimbabwe.

Contrast is just around the corner. Kilometre after endless kilometre of seized but now deserted, derelict farms. Once thriving fields now empty, tractors and people working in the lands just a fading memory from the past. Farm buildings stripped of roofs, door and window frames look as if they’ve been hit by bombs but in fact you know they just been destroyed by another kind of war: a rabble of political pawns who came and grabbed, in the name of land reform, and then left.

This picture too you have to keep because it has become the reality of Zimbabwe now.

Along the road you pass growth points where the buildings are shabby and badly in need of repair and paint, where donkeys and oxen stand in the dust hitched to carts and wagons, and everywhere the chores of the women bombard your view. Girls and women walking, always walking, carrying huge burdens on their heads: firewood, water, bags of food.

Often they are also carrying a baby or toddler strapped to their backs and this vision too is added to your memory folder; an ancient image but unbelievably, still so much the picture of Zimbabwe today.

Across the border in a foreign land your perspective widens and everything screams at you: bizarre, outrageous, larger than life.
Pink, purple and orange houses, some even decorated with leopard spot patterns. People living in houses made of mud and sticks and bamboo strips. Giant flea markets that line the main highways for many kilometres. Here there are roadside money changers whose bank- note folding, flicking and repeated counting techniques leave you dizzy, confused and totally ripped off if you fall prey to their tricks.

Ancient diesel trains billow plumes of thick, choking black smoke and at every water source children are stripped to their underpants or less and they swim, fish, and splash in every roadside puddle. This is the land of bicycles; even danger warning triangles on the highways carry pictures of bicycles. Four on a bicycle is not unusual: one on the cross bar, one on the seat, one on the carrier and a child strapped to the last person’s back. It’s hard to take it all in so you just shake your head and add the image to the memory because this too is Africa.

Returning to Zimbabwe the last memory is unfortunately the ugly face of Africa’s corruption epidemic. Give me one of those packets of cashew nuts, the customs official aggressively demands and you stare each other down, waiting to see who will give in first. Will she refuse to open the boom and let you pass through the border or will you mutter and give in. Tragically you get this same bad taste at so many other border posts in and out of all our neighbouring countries – everyone wants their cut to do the job their government pays them to do and you are the helpless victim. Heading back to the never ending political turmoil and power struggle of Zimbabwe you wonder if our situation has also just become another case of This is Africa or if we really can turn it round and prosper again.. Until next time, thanks for reading,

love cathy

12th May 2012.
Copyright Cathy Buckle.

For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and Imire Game Park, or my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact [email protected]

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