an survive or that anything can be maintained at all. Amazingly though, a fortnight has passed since my last letter and everything in Zimbabwe seems to be the same as ever.
Coming back into the country by road and at night took me back in time 40 years. On the main highway I travelled, for mile after mile the roadside vegetation has not been cut and golden grass, 6 foot high, waves and sways, dipping into the road as you pass. On either side of the road and in the valleys there are no lights from farms anymore and in the distance – as far as you can see in any direction – there is only darkness, not even an orange glow on the horizon from a big town or city.
The sight of the bending grass and the intense darkness took me back to journeys in
remote country areas during my childhood. Journeys sitting in the back of the family station wagon, elbowing siblings and squabbling, looking out into the darkness watching for eyes. 40 years on though, and the roadside darkness is not from a sparsely populated countryside but from mile after mile of empty or subsistence level farms. Farms once overflowing with production, powered by generators when necessary, which ensured the lights stayed on over vast fields of export flowers and vegetables and kept cold rooms humming day and night. The farms now are just silent and dark.
The lack of urban lights in Zimbabwe these nights is from major and widespread power cuts. On the night of my journey the electricity had apparently been off in an area covering three main towns and over 100 kilometres for 12 hours. The long roadside grass is from municipal negligence – there are no excuses for it – we have abundant manpower due to massive unemployment and pay exorbitant rates every month in all rural and urban areas. The lack of road signs and reflective lenses to give some light in the night are the result of people desperate for money removing anything and everything they come across – even tin road signs and little squares of shiny material buried in the tar.
The only thing about travelling at night that is not reminiscent of four decades ago is that now there are no eyes in the dark. As a child I remember watching the road ahead and being filled with excitement, anticipation and even a little fear as the night-time world came into view and raced passed in fleeting glimpses.
The eyes of wild animals used to be caught, just for a split second in the car headlights – hares, antelope, civet and genet cats, mongoose and other creatures you couldn’t identify but whose eyes glowed orange, even red as you passed. Now you see nothing, just nothing; the animals seem poached almost out of existence but still you watch, ever hopeful, mesmerised by the long grass bending and swaying along the roadsides.
Zimbabwe is staggering back in time and still there seems nothing happening to halt the regression. It is, however, very good to be home and, like looking for eyes in the night, I remain ever hopeful. Until next week, Ndini shamwari yenyu.
BY LITANY BIRD
Dear Family and Friends, I don't know why, but after a short stay outside Zimbabwe, and with things as tense as they are, you come back into the country and expect something to have happened. It's hard to believe that with inflation at 913% the country can carry on, the people c