Our vehicle joined a queue at 4.20pm and moved slowly towards the border, 12 _ kms away. This took four and a half hours. Once we entered the border post and parked the car, my son joined a walking queue to enter the immigration office, at 9.20pm. There were whole families in and around the line, from very tiny babies to walking toddlers, and old people. Families sat on the pavement, and slowly moved up the line with the person in the queue.
There were no refreshments, and no toilets available. The people waited patiently all night, at times through light showers of rain, when the air turned very cold. It appeared that to cope with all those people they had only one immigration officer on duty, and the line just got longer and longer. We were finally lucky enough to get through at 8.30am the next day, but others still had several hours to wait. The Zimbabwe side was quick and very efficient.
Once we left the border we travelled through beautiful countryside, as there had been steady rains for the previous weeks, and everywhere was green, the rivers were flowing, and the people waved cheerfully as we passed. Every one seemed to be out digging and planting. No tractors visible – but badzas, man or in some cases, ox- drawn old hand ploughs were in evidence. But the populace just seemed happy to be planting.
We turned off at Masvingo and went through Birchenough Bridge to Mutare and on up to Nyanga. Mutare was alive with shoppers and everywhere was very busy. The amount of 000’s after every figure on the price tickets left me aghast. Both on the roadside and in the town the lack of fruit and vegetable sellers, and crafts for sale was glaringly obvious.
The beautiful Craft Centres that always attracted tourists all lay in ruins. And it was such a sad sight to see beautiful stone sculptures and wood carvings lying head less in the dust, lacking the loving polish that had attracted so many tourists with their foreign currency. My heart ached for the craftsmen and women who had worked so hard to collect the materials and perfect their art.
We stayed in a private house, but visited The Troutbeck Inn, which appeared to be keeping its head above water, but sadly, again the crafts, crochet and tie and dye cloths, and embroidery were all missing. I had been given orders and forex to buy various items for friends – but sadly none were in evidence.
On the way to Harare we again noticed that all the main roads were in good repair, but not so the smaller towns, and especially not the suburbs of Harare. Potholes were in abundance in Avondale and Borrowdale. We saw a few nervous craft sellers, but they had very little on display and were ready to flee at any moment. We did not have fuel to travel around, and were lucky to have our own transport, and to carry enough fuel, but again I was so sad for those who were battling to get ‘home’ for Christmas, and wondered how many of them actually made it.
The trip was wonderful until on our return we were stopped at a ‘roadblock’. One policeman in uniform stopped us and asked for the driver’s licence, and once he had it, he said we had been speeding and would have to pay a fine. We were sure this was not the case as we had been very careful about conserving what fuel we had. My son agreed to pay the fine and asked how much, as we were only six kms over the limit.
We were told we must report to a man on the roadside in civilian clothes, with no identification, who claimed that the fine was Z$6 million. When told we didn’t have that much he immediately proceeded to shout and act in an intimidating manner, shaking his finger, and saying my son must appear in court and go straight to jail.
My son replied that he had spent a lot of money in the country, and met with nothing but kindness and consideration throughout until now. He would gladly go to court and tell them what treatment he had received at the roadblock. There was an immediate apology, a back down, and a request to know how much money we had. When a possible figure was mentioned, he agreed that would be fine, and took it, wished us a pleasant journey and put the money away without receipts or tickets. Did he intimidate the policeman, or did they split the profits? I would like to know.
Although a large part of me was very sad about some of the things I had seen, the courage and spirit of the people is still there, and the country itself is still one of the most beautiful I have been in.
P.W., Surrey UKPost published in: Uncategorized