Surprises abound in Zimbabwe
by Donal Anand-Shaw
Before leaving Mozambique, I spent a night camping on a swamp where a spider decided to make a meal out of me, twice, which was a particularly harrowing experience. Although it was probably worse for the one poor girl who offered to pop the second bite. Frankly, the less recalled of that experience, the better.
After a four-hour drive from the Mozambique/Zimbabwe border we ended up in the capital city of Harare and did a bit of shopping in the most Western place I had seen since Heathrow Terminal 5. It was incredible to my eyes to see a fully stocked supermarket in a country where so much has been said about the state of the economy and lack of public service. Many of my fellow travellers had a binge at the supermarket but, curiously, all I could manage was a Cornish pasty and a two-litre bottle of water.
We ended up finding a hostel 45 kilometres outside Harare as the place we were planning to stay phoned to say they didn’t want us anymore. Charming. Wandering around the city centre the next morning I realized again how much of an influence the Western world has had on Zimbabwe, as every other shop was either a fast food restaurant or a generic clothes store packed with ghastly denim numbers or clothing of similar ilk.
Having found a more central hostel we were soon off to sleep in another dormitory. In the middle of the night, however, we heard a dripping start. The roof was leaking: the floor was soaked and a Japanese man two beds away from me was trying to sleep in a sodden bed. A few of the guys tried to tell him he could move to a free bed but he refused.
Not being sure he’d fully understood, and with the dripping intensifying, I decided to use an online translator. To this day, I’m not sure how well it worked, because this angered him; he started shouting, then apologising, shouting and then apologising. This reached a crescendo when we tried to move his wringing wet duvet onto the floor to stop the sound of the water falling into a rusty tin bucket. He ripped it out of one girl’s hand and carried on with the shouting and apologising. Then he sat down on his bed, crouching in a Gollum-like manner and stared at us. Blankly. Struggling to sleep with one eye open, the night drifted away…
After a few days in Harare we started thinking about the best way to move on. Upon missing the last few buses of the day we opted for a minibus to take the six of us down South. “Between one and two hours”, the driver said and lo and behold six or seven hours later we arrived in the dead of night at Antelope Park, a safari park about fifteen kilometres east of Gweru city.
The week at Antelope park involved canoeing and all the perks that come with living in a safari lodge, including regular visits from four elephants and some lion cubs. The Zimbabweans I met working there were great fun, my favourite being the 70 year old cook who worked tirelessly in the kitchen from 6am til 11pm everyday. She was one of the happiest and funniest people I’ve ever met, and her steak sandwiches were out of this world.
It was not all fun and games though. One morning as I brushed my teeth, a green snake with a lizard in its mouth slithered towards me. Instantly I decided I didn’t want it any closer so I took a broom from outside and pinned it to the ground before killing it – only later I found out later how dangerous it was. Ignorance is bliss I suppose. As, bizarrely, was the one time I found myself of an afternoon being chased round the pool by a woman shouting, “it’s medicine time”. What that was about I never got to the bottom of, and sadly, will never know.
Before leaving this exciting country I decided to smarten up a bit. I took the plunge in getting my hair cut in a rather interesting looking hair salon behind some very closed doors and down a dodgy looking alley. I probably should have taken the hint. The only place I’ve had my hair cut where scissors seemed to be at a chronic shortage, I had my hair razored to within a centimetre of my scalp… but only in certain places. I looked in the mirror and laughed. At the end of the onslaught the ‘barber’ (or general handyman) asked if I wanted to see it from the back. I decided that it wouldn’t change the state of play and he chuckled. Handing over $6 for the hair massacre I proceeded to be likened to “something from Dennis the Menace”. Fantastic. And a fitting and delightful end to my time in Zimbabwe.