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Zimbabwe Colonialism & Gangsters

Harare, Zimbabwe –

Rich and I had planned to get up early and go to the Embassy election party, but we needed to get our passports over to the Zairian embassy so we could get our visa issued; we had a few to get before we could take off traveling before the safari. We took a cab out to the Zairian embassy – way out of Harare in the suburbs, only to be told by the maid of the large house flying the Zaire flag that this was the Ambassador’s residence; we’d have to go back to Harare to get our visas. We asked them to ring us a cab back to town, but they said they wouldn’t – they even went as far as to tell us to go out to the road and hitch a ride back to town. We wandered out to the road, and after walking for five minutes with out thumbs out a nice car driven by a well dressed white Zimbabwean picked us up.

Now Harare, unlike Nairobi is full of white families living in the nice suburbs in the big houses. Plus, you see them walking down the street and shopping like regular people. Nairobi might also have the same amount of white people but you never see them shopping or walking around. The man who had picked us up was a third generation Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) and in talking to him during the ride back into town he really gave us some insight to the way the whites are living in Zimbabwe. In talking to him I got the feeling that he really enjoyed being here in Southern Africa, and I quote, “I think we’re living better now than the colonials did.” [Ten years ago]. He told us about his family, how they were all Zimbabwean and how they go on holidays to Malawi. He was a really personable man, but I could definitely pick up the colonialist attitude there. He also told us that since the Zimbabwean dollar doesn’t convert into Western currency everyone works abroad and brings their own hard currency down to Zimbabwe with them. Voila! Instant millionaires. Many people have overseas bank accounts in which to keep their dollars and pounds.

He dropped us off in the city center where we skipped the Zairian embassy and headed over to the Election Day party instead. It was in the American library and it was full of yanks. They’d set up about six to seven televisions, all bringing in CNN from . . . somewhere – for election day. The returns were in by the time we’d arrived, but we did get to see Bill Clinton give his acceptance speech, which was pretty cool. They served us doughnuts and coffee and we watched a bit of CNN and chatted to the others there.

I met a couple who are Sacramento natives (Ted Morris/Moss) who have since moved to Zimbabwe because of the husband’s work. He’s with the foreign service and is in charge of disbursement of US funds for the whole of East Africa. The funds are earmarked for food distribution and construction. It was pretty wild finding Sacramentens right in the middle of east Africa, but the guy said it happens all the time – they always bump into someone. But why Sacramentens?

I’m pretty impressed with Zimbabwe so far . . . need to but some real estate.

Throughout our travels in East Africa so far Rich and I have come in contact with a lot of travelers, and the one thing that virtually everyone we’ve met has said was, “Malawi is totally amazing.” Malawi? What’s a Malawi? The country! There’s a country called Malawi? Is it in East Africa? I felt I was pretty prepared for this trip; I knew the countries I was going to, and I knew where they all were, but this Malawi place evaded my cartographic studies. We looked at a map and discovered this narrow little country squashed between Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. [MAP IF POSSIBLE TO SHOW MOCAMB Zambia, upper W side, Tanzania on upper E half & Mozambique all around the S half of country]

I first heard of this small country in Africa when one of the British girls at Ma Roche’s told us she’d just returned from there and had the most amazing time. Dean, the hippie there (with long hair) said he’d tried three times to go to Malawi, but couldn’t get through immigration because of his hair. They gave him the option of cutting it or not entering; he voted not to enter. Virtually all the people at the Sable Lodge had been there and all spoke so highly of the life sitting on the shores of Lake Malawi that we were now considering heading there for a couple of weeks before starting our safari. The final straw was talking to the Zimbabwean colonial man who gave us a ride. He said his family went there for vacations, and he couldn’t say enough good things about it. He did recommend not to take the bus because it would be one long uncomfortable bus ride.

We were pretty much decided – we had to go see this place, since we wouldn’t be visiting it on our safari, but how to get there. Mozambique surrounds the bottom half of Malawi, and due to the fact that they were in the throes of a full blown civil war at the time, it wasn’t advised for travelers to take the short cut to Malawi via a highway cutting right through this warring country. The Tete corridor was out, so our next option was to ride buses through Zambia around Mozambique to Malawi. We’d heard that the ride alone could take two days in each direction, and not wanting to waste that many days traveling we opted for the Air Zimbabwe flight from Harare to Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital.

Back at the Sable we started talking to the other travelers to find out where to go in Malawi when I heard about the other trĂ©s populaire place to go (it seems) is Mozambique. Now isn’t there, like, a major civil war going on there right now? Yes, I think there is. These girls who were planning to go there paid a shady dude here in our country club some cash for him to go get his friend to forge a Mozambique visa, since they weren’t being issued for tourists. What there girls were thinking I’ll never know. Why would someone travel to a city where the National Army is pulling out because the fighting was so bad? You tell me.

A British girl we met at the Sable had three options of transport to Mozambique:

1) in a car with gun smugglers, 2) in a truck smuggling water into the country, or 3) the 24hr-hot water people (the same guys who can arrange the forged visas). All options sound relatively stupid, but if all these people were headed to Mozambique, there must be something there they’re not telling us about. Even if I knew what were so cool, I wouldn’t go until the army could at least contain the rioting and fighting to one city.

I’ve also noticed that Rich and I seem to have a little bit more available funds than those around us. When we told people in Nairobi we were going to Harare they just assumed we were going overland, not flying. They were a bit surprised when we told them we were flying. We got the same reaction here at the Sable when we told people we were flying to Lilongwe, Malawi. Oh well, such is life – I’ll enjoy it while I can. I probable won’t have any money by the time we get to South East Asia, but until then . . .

A few notes about those staying at the Sable Lodge. There was a very diverse crowd staying there, a few characters as well. I distinctly remember a couple of men hanging out there who were particularly dodgey. One was a tall thin dark complexioned French guy with long dingy brown hair – his name was Pierre. Both his wrists held about ten different silver bracelets each – all Bedouin silver according to him. His buddy was their leader – the guy with the serape type top, the stockier build and always possessing a cotton woven backpack. That was the Spaniard, Javier These two guys would sleep outside in the porch then take a swim in the pool in the morning to rinse off before the day began. I asked Pierre a few questions and found out he used to live on the Sinai peninsula, learned Arabic and hung out with the Bedouin tribes there. That was where he picked up all the silver on his wrists, along with the stash he and Javier were smuggling into Mozambique in a couple of days. Javier did something even dodgier, but I never found out what it was; there were comments from people closer to Javier than I that said his backpack was full of U.S. cash (somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4000) and that was the reason you never saw him let go of that backpack. I’d heard other rumours that these two had bought one of the proprietors a new watch, and another a bike – that was how they could hang out for as long as they like without getting kicked out. These were the two guys Fran was thinking about driving into Mozambique with? If I were her I’d reconsider my judgement.

At the time we were in Zimbabwe a traveller had to go around the jutting peninsula of Mozambique (right into the heart of Zim) to reach Malawi. There was a direct road to Malawi through the city of Tete in Mozambique, but one would have to drive on that highway where convoys have been shot at by the rebels fighting in that country. I met people who had gone through the so called ‘Tete Corridor’ without any instances of anything, and I also met people who had been shot at during their journey. It sounded like a gamble to me, but that is only my opinion at this time of our journey. I don’t know what I’d do today.

Fran met a guy who asked her about it and because she’d talked first hand to a traveller who’d had his friend shot in the chest travelling through the Tete she had very strong feelings about the journey. She basically went off on this guy telling him what a risk it would be. (This coming form a girl who was consciously travelling to Mozambique).

I can remember at one point going out to a proper dinner while staying in Harare. Fran and her friend (Christine?) asked if we wanted to join them for dinner, so we jumped in a cab and hit this Mongolian all you can eat restaurant in downtown Harare. it was a pretty nice place and the food was awesome. It was one of those where you choose the meats and the chef cooks it right there in front of you on a huge grill. It was an amazing dinner and cost us each about US$7 – an outrageous amount of money for a dinner but it was worth it.

There’s a secret code in the Lonely Planet. Look for the term 24 hour hotwater. Rich cracked the code in his short explanation here. Essential reading for all travellers.

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