Saturday, October 07, 2006

God help Zimbabwe!

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful country called Zimbabwe. There were wide roads, a blissful treat to encounter on driving across the border with Zambia. Suddenly potholes laced together with thin strands of tarmac gave way to highways on which driving became a pleasure.Suddenly, there was time to drive and to keep a lookout for the occasional elephant or warthog. Baboons were spotted regularly. There were peasant farmers working fields with their donkey-drawn plough. On these roads, at strategically regular intervals, picnic areas gave a welcome opportunity to sit and enjoy an attractive stretch of bush or the occasional massive baobab tree, to wonder at its upside-down appearance.

Once upon a time, coming down from a remote village in Zambia, I went into the town in Bulawayo, wanting to buy a ballpoint pen. I found that I had a choice of eight and, what surprised me was that I panicked and couldn’t make a selection. I had to walk around the department store and calm down before I could buy that pen. It sounds silly, but it’s true. It was just that the contrast between nothing and abundance, within the space of a few hours, had been too sudden and my brain hadn’t adjusted.

Once upon a time, I wandered around Centenary Park (was that its name?) in Bulawayo and thought that I was seeing the most beautiful park it had ever been my fortune to visit. There was the fascinating animal orphanage in Chipingali and the breathtaking magnificence of the Matopas, a vast expanse of rocks, panoramic glory and the ancient rock art of the Bushmen.

Once upon a time, coming over the border from Zambia into Zimbabwe, I could give myself a treat and buy an ice cream. I could wander along the Zambezi and sit on the rocks at the top of Victoria Falls, watching the mighty torrent cascade into the abyss, its roar drowning out any sounds of traffic, but somehow allowing birdsong to rise into the air with the soaking spray.

Once upon a time, I drove around the town of Victoria Falls and felt my heart contract in pain as I saw the contrast between the tourist areas and the part of the town where the ordinary people lived in hovels made from pieces of wood and sheets of black plastic that I associate with binbags. If I remember correctly, it was nicknamed ‘Plastic City’.

Once upon a time, I thought of Zimbabwe and thought of so many beautiful places and smiling faces. There was hope…and that was only four years ago.

… and now? I’ve just watched a video showing a Bulawayo, a Beitbridge, Harare, barely recognisable for what they were. They show the new reality of deprivation and hunger, of destitution and despair. There are many ‘Plastic Cities’…and I feel helpless.

God help Zimbabwe.

God bless,
Sr. Janet