Thursday, May 24, 2012

H-town and the bush

I spent the last little while between Harare, the buzzing capital of Zimbabwe, and the bush way South near the Botswana border. How did that happen?

Last week I hopped on what they call a "chicken bus", 13 hours from Victoria Falls to Harare. Overnight, with stops in tiny towns, lots of standing passengers and police controls who just smiled knowingly when the driver assured them in Shona that everyone standing up or sitting on the floor was actually employed on the bus. The land here is much more arable, women at our stops began selling bananas and oranges dirt-cheap from baskets on their heads. 
Check out the women balancing boiled eggs on their heads!
The only problem: the strong US-dollar, and the unavailability of coins - you always have to buy a dollar's worth (read: a huge heap) of everything. I was with Norman's cousin Willy, and him and I demolished _a lot_ of oranges on the way.

In Harare I realized I couldn't actually get in touch with my couchsurfer, and for some reason the internet informed me that the only backpackers' hostel in town was all booked... Which is when I met Danei, a 25-year old Harare girl who was sitting next to me in the internet cafe and offered spontaneously to let me stay at her place. She shares a big house in one of the poorer suburbs with only her brother, Bismarck, and took me there on an overfull taxi bus. Here I got to take a sponge bath and clean myself up - there are complete bathrooms with showers and everything, but the water pressure isn't sufficient to actually use them.  
Danei and her house

Bismarck, myself and my kind host in the kitchen
Then they took me grocery shopping, cooked me a full Zimbabwean dinner with chicken, okra, sadza and everything - on the fire, because Harare is haunted with power cuts and the electricity went out just as Danei was about to prepare dinner!

The next morning I went out to meet with Willy and see his much poorer and more rural suburb, Epworth. 
Epworth - almost a township
I was surprised to find his home a proper little family farm, with maize, avocado trees (avocados are everywhere here - I think I've eaten at least one per day since I got here!)and even a few cows. He proudly showed me his rabbits, and all the kids we walked by stared wide-eyed at the white girl in their neighborhood, and started to giggle excitedly when I waved at them.

Willy and the rabbits

Then, after another evening at Danei's house and an impromptu african dance party in their kitchen, I met up with my couchsurfer Chris in the morning and went through a wild goose chase picking up and dropping off stuff for his borehole drilling business all over H., and buying veg at the huge outdoor market, Mbare Musika. 
Pea sellers at Mbare
The evening was spent at Chris's friend Andy's million-dollar mansion on the outskirts of the city, where we invited Danei along for a Braai. Gold-mining magnates and the Shona girl from next door - what a cultural encounter!

American and Zimbabwean miners discussing
The next morning I got to visit one of the guys' gold mines, and then we headed out for a 4-day hunting adventure in the bush. While the guys were hunting, I enjoyed living in a butternut field, eating fresh Impala, coming along for tracking and picking watermelons right off the ground. 
The water delivery

Tracking a wounded animal - much like a sinister treasure hunt!
The place we were staying was "redistributed" by the Mugabe government to a Zimbabwean civil war vet who is running it subsistence-style, with a few butternuts, maize and tomatoes, and a barely working vehicle. 
The farmer and his broken motor
No fences, no management of the game (including leopard and hyena, high-value prey), no profit. Struggling to get enough water for the tomatoes, and to get the squash to market. The white Zimbabweans I was with - who were incidentally travelling with their own domestic, Elliott, who rode in the back of the pickup and took care of making fire, chopping vegetables and cleaning up the camp, in the middle of the bush - kept talking about how in their childhood, the farms were beautiful and actually well-run. Everything has two sides I suppose.

Yesterday we returned to civilization, and after another night at the mansion/lodge and some good soaking in the hot tub I moved over to my new friend Chris the couchsurfer's house. 
Chris at the gate of the president's backyard banana plantation
Actually, it's a little hut in a banana plantation, in one of the most high-rent areas of Harare - who knows how that happened, but it's a pretty interesting place to be staying! He just hit water on his property the other day, and electricity gets cut only rarely, because the president lives three doors down - but there is no running water so far. I'll keep you posted if he gets his internet connection up and running any time soon!

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