Apart from getting totally soaked on the way over the Victoria falls bridge where this photo was taken, my entry into Zimbabwe has been far easier than any other border crossing I’ve ever done. Stamp out of Zambia, cross the bridge, pay some money and fill in the form, and a brief walk later I’m now in a nice coffee shop in Victoria Falls awaiting the next step of the journey. Now I’m here I feel scared and excited in equal measure, and really not sure what will happen to me over the next few days. What I do know is that I have arrived, I’m in good spirits, a little hungover, but altogether ready to deal with the next phase of my life. Next stop Bulawayo, and a bit more of the Africa my father knew before he left for the UK.
Everything is in US dollars here, which is a little strange after having pockets full of shillings and kwacha to now have the US president in my pocket, but the Zimbabwean currency died a few years ago, after reaching the highest levels of inflation of any country in the world and they were printing 100 trillion notes… It seemed a good idea to stop and use something else. In that time, the economy has stabilised a little, and things are getting back to normal for most people. So far, I have only spoken to a few people on the street and the guy who just served me my coffee, but all around, and as to be expected for a border town, there are a range of different people doing all kinds of things, both tourists and otherwise, and I plan to blend into that mix as quickly as I can and get myself down to Bulawayo this afternoon. When I reach there I have a few things I need to see, and a few people that I need to contact, but most importantly for me is just to live there for the time I have and see as much as possible. Following there I will be heading up to Harare for a couple of nights before I finally make my way back to Zambia and Lusaka for the return journey back to Tanzania.
Day 2… Wake up in a funny hotel, not the one I booked myself into, hungover and confused, and there’s no water to remedy the situation. I say goodbye to Amanda, who put me up for the night, and take the walk of shame out onto the main street and back to the backpackers place where all my stuff was. Luckily, it was still there. Breakfast was good, still on the instant coffee, but after last night I don’t really care. After booking into the hotel, I went to the bar next door, a sports club I think that has a tennis court and golf course, and began to drink. Immediately met some good people and shared a smoke outside before watching the Real Madrid match and then heading into a club with my new friends. Despite beginning the evening as close to the hotel as possible, once it got to 2am, I had no idea where I was, so kipped in Amanda’s room. She is a South African who now lives in Bulawayo, and most of her friends are Zimbabweans all from this area. What has struck me since leaving Tanzania is how powerful English is as a medium for pretty much everything else. Its easy to say that learning English is the way to fix things, but when you see two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe both of which have this better grasp of English throughout the cities and rural areas, its easy to see how that has helped, even if it is just through trade and understanding. Bulawayo itself, much like most of Zambia that I saw is quite different to Tanzania. For a start people here are motivated and well dressed, they seem to move around with a purpose and not just wander aimlessly about like in Moshi or Marangu. Also like in Zambia, there is infrastructure here that looks like it has been there a long time. The difference here is that to my untrained eye, I would say that this place matured before Lusaka did, but nothing has improved since then. What a lot of people talk about here is the feeling that things here were much better before; that the struggles of recent times, economic problems leading to 50 trillion dollar notes and then the breakdown of the currency altogether and political instability insofar as unfair elections and violence against those who oppose the state, all have played their part in bringing down the ability of most people to get about their daily business in peace. I met a taxi driver when I first got off the bus who told me his normal job is a teacher, but that hasn’t paid in over five months, so he drives his taxi in the evenings to make money so he can continue to teach. Another person who helped me a lot in Victoria falls to find a cheap bus and not the tourist shuttle told me that in his old job, he worked without pay in the hope that one day his boss could afford to pay him. Eventually his boss sold the business and ran away to South Africa leaving him and several others that worked there with nothing to show for five months work. Back in the UK nobody would go that long without walking away or demanding an answer, and in Tanzania nobody would do 5 minutes work without being paid, let alone 5 months!
Out and about in town, Bulawayo is not that dissimilar to Moshi in its layout, but in terms of the way the people are, it couldn’t be more different. Everyone walks around with a purpose, and despite the economic problems of late most people have money and jobs and things are moving along in a positive way. This afternoon I got a call from Thabani who I met last night and so even though I’m hungover as hell, I made it to the bar, and had a few with those guys sat on top of the stadium grandstands outside – all very civilised of course! Music here is pretty similar to Tanzania but without the local Bongo Flava influence, but after I remarked on this to Simba and Seba I’m now invited with them to their Friday night out tomorrow outside of town for a big party – where there is promise of better music, and decent djs. Meeting these guys clearly was the best thing I’ve done so far in Zimbabwe. Getting an early night so I can get out to the golf club and see more of the surrounding area in daylight tomorrow, get some food out in town somewhere then its out for the night and off early Saturday morning to Harare.
The hostel I’m staying in is very basic, but has the feeling of nearly everything here, kinda old and dilapidated, but clearly once was something very special. All the furniture is British 60s and 70s, and all the people are living that way dealing with what comes their way without complaint. My views of Zimbabwe change every minute, and the more I see the more I am intrigued as to how this place will continue and what it holds for normal Zimbabweans as time passes on. Comparing to Tanzania or even Zambia seems unfair, given the history and the overwhelming British influence here which is more apparent than anywhere else I’ve seen, but as with those other countries, the people are still African, even the whites, yet people here are struggling on in an entirely different way than anything else I’ve seen. My friends here are all black Zimbabweans who have been brought up and raised in Bulawayo, and are exactly the kind of people I would have known if I had grown up here instead of the UK. They live normal lives, taking opportunities that come their way, and thriving despite the troubles of the state and that of the politics of Africa as a whole. Perhaps this could have been the breadbasket of Africa as was once said about Zimbabwe, but not anymore, what is left is a crumbling architecture and a whole load of people who have tasted life above and beyond the poverty that came, and who are now building that back up for themselves on their own. There is no mzungu volunteer influence here, it exists, but it is not so apparent like in Moshi or anywhere else in Northern Tanzania. Like the southern towns we passed on our way down to Zambia, life without that western input seems to be continuing regardless, and it gives me hope that not only is there a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone here, but that for some people, there isn’t really a tunnel, they are free, feel free and are going about their lives with aplomb and gusto that makes those places a joy to visit after the tourist hell that is the towns and centres of East Africa. Back on point with education and support, the real value of people’ lives here, that is really the only thing that needs fixing in Tanzania, and I do sincerely hope that one day people will realise this and the emerging middle class there take this as a kick to do something about the other problems and make their country their own with their own culture preserved and intact. It is possible, I have seen it with my own eyes, and when I return to Marangu, it will have given me a better insight as to what troubles need to be addressed, and which are of no concern to me, that is to say, those things that I cannot fix, and should not fix, but allow to be developed over time in the normal way that most modern countries were allowed to do.
I still have not made any contact with family members other than what was achieved in Lusaka before I arrived here, but I don’t take this as a bad thing at all, neither am I disappointed to have come this far without finding what I was looking for. My agenda for all this was sketchy at best, and despite being so close, I am happy that I have seen this place, and have a connection here that is difficult to explain in words and pictures, it is one of belonging, of feeling welcome, of coming home. I am British, 100%, but I feel that there is a place for me here, like I should have always lived here, and one day I will come back here and bring the Collier name back to Zimbabwe. From what I have gathered, all of my family on my father’s side have now left Zimbabwe and are living in South Africa, and those that remain here are connected by marriage, and did not know my father when he was young, only my grandfather after he had split with my grandmother and she had moved back to the UK. To that end, it has perhaps been a bit of a failure, but I don’t see it as that rather a journey of discovery for me, and my mind and a settling of a long thought worry that I would never come here and never see what my father saw when he lived here. I can now say that I have achieved that goal, and have ambitious plans to come back here and work with my new friends rather than seeing the UK as my only bastion of hope and sanctuary. I could survive here, and will survive here, and perhaps in my own little way, I can contribute towards the rebuilding of this beautiful place with my knowledge and skills put to good work in a constructive way. For one thing, Bulawayo needs a good internet café that sells good coffee and offers the kind of service you’d expect in Europe. What exists now is working, but already I have seen how I could improve this, build up my own business from the ground up, and possibly even get the cost of living and travelling covered from within Africa, not just relying on going home to get money. I need to find a new home, and here in Bulawayo alongside my house in Marangu I have found a good candidate.