July 24, 1998

Zimbabwe: Scoops, Avondale Plaza

What a long strange eleven days it's been.

Zimbabwe is a different world from West Africa: orderly, organized, wide clean streets, buses not tro-tros, shopping malls not markets, teeming with backpackers and Europeans.

Spent my last couple days in Douala just wandering about, blowing the rest of my CFA on food & drink, warning (via email) of my impending Zimbabweness, writing/sending postcards, etc. Met a nice Nigerian guy with an EE degree and talked shop while the Cameroonian web cafe operator blustered outrageous demands for money. Saw CONGO and half of ADDICTED TO LOVE, in French. Stayed at a "missionaries-only" hostel run by a nice but sadly Parkinson's-ridden priest. Ate brochettes and drank real coffee.

Thurs. the 16th, taxied to low-hassle airport and waited 'til we were called, when the chaos ensued. First there was no one to exit-stamp our passports, then the guy who arrived went a little stamp-crazy. The security guards were having a keg party in the departure lounge, the X-ray machine and metal detector were broken, and the lone on-duty guard waved me through without opening my bag. Boarded plane - 737 - mentally kicking myself for having checked luggage, but it came through OK. Took off, ate crustless sandwiches, and got the surprise news that we were stopping over in DRC. Flew over the wreckage of Brazzaville, landed in Kinshasa for an hour, and proceeded to Harare. Taxied to Possum Lodge - where I now reside again, good place - and crashed.

Got up v. early and wandered around Harare, dazed by culture shock, gaping at store windows and office buildings, dining on cheap-n-good meat pies and real bacon, checking email, etc. Returned and slept for 12 hours: felt jet-lagged, badly, though I'd only crossed one time zone. (whoops: also saw MAD CITY n' CITY OF INDUSTRY. Am in the midst of attempt to catch up on my pop-culture gap, which consists of seeing as many movies as possible.)

Saturday, roved 'round downtown again and finally made contact with George & Amalia. Met, went to their new-place-in-2-weeks (nice big ranch) and their current-place (flat), went out for dinner - pizza! - talked for awhile, returned to Possum.

Sunday: a drive to Sue & David Ford (Sue nee Bullman) and pere's farm, or what was left of it.

David is working on an irrigation/farming-techniques project on a communal land/reserve/tribal trust land (same thing, but apparently names with three very different connotations) which has been renewed because it all went to pieces when the European money/skills pulled out, which is apparently usual, and the dam burst, which is a bit extreme.

David's a nice guy, taciturn, with a walrus moustache and a tough job: the locals keep damaging or destroying machinery through carelessness, theft has become rampant - very un-Shonalike - and his successes may well not outlive his departure. Sue's terrific too. Sat and had tea and listened to colonial talk; like stepping back through decades. Favourite phrase: MMBA - Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa.

Then up to Msonedi with the farm pere grew up on: not much left but field now on that side of the road. Nice country, though: rolling hills, stands of gum trees, winding rivers, granite kopjes.

Sunday night went to hear George speak at a Jehovah's Witness meeting, which is much more like a university lecture than a church service. Actually mildly interesting. Everyone contributes, if only by rote. Wider cross-section of society than expected.

Monday morning George & Amalia & I set off for Mana Pools National Park, a trailer full of camping gear hitched behind the Renault.

Long drive through hectares of commercial farms. Past the idea of a fence into National Parks. A vast black burn scar beneath the singed but surviving trees on one side of the road. Overturned trucks littering the winding road down the Zambezi Escarpment. A kudu antelope patrolling the dirt road to Mana Pools. Dead grass and dry riverbeds where baboons dig through the sand for water that still flows beneath.

Mana Pools: a huge bull elephant grazing scant metres from the campsite when we arrive. Made camp, went for a bit of a walk, ate dinner, crashed. It's a cacophony at night - rumbles of hippos, yowls of hyenas, baboons and honey badgers rushing about, a chorus of birds, and far away the low growl of a lion.

Woke, ate, went on a long game drive. Hordes of impala & baboons, lots of waterbuck & zebras & warthogs ("hippocrocopigs"), plenty of hippos & crocs in/by the water, occasional kudu & eland. Stopped to watch six elephants dine on an acacia tree.

Returned and George, a bit unwell, crashed. Walked for a couple hours, squelching across the Zambezi flood plain, blundering through forest startling antelope, examining buffalo from the safety of a sheer cliff.

Next day, got up super-early, went for a drive-then-walk. A clear blue view beneath the endless canopy of trees; Mana Pools seems to go on forever. And you can walk unescorted.

Saw a pack of wild dogs take an antelope; an unnerving experience.

Afternoon, long (4-hour) walk to an overlooking point on the Zambezi, picking my way around rivulets and over rocks, avoiding tall grass where lion might sleep, stopping to watch an elephant take a bath in a stream, exchange glares with an eland, examine a buffalo skull.

Returned and went on another drive. Came on a big buffalo herd, well over a hundred, slowly making their way through the forest. Big dangerous beasts.

Next morning, a drive-and-walk before we left; on the way back to the car we found that the buffalo herd had cut us off, and we had to end-run around them.

Afternoon's drive back to Harare and the Possum. Kicked back, saw DEEP IMPACT, chilled.

Today - now 25th - going on semi-organized tour of Harare area. Tomorrow, I think Bulawayo by overnight train; Matopos & Great Zimbabwe. We'll see.



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