Thursday, October 8, 2009

my first taste of zimbabwe

We've crossed the border (without any visa hassles actually) and made it to Zimbabwe. The first day of driving was a bit longer than anticipated and we didn't get to the border till after 4pm. Hassles on the South African side and then the lines of trucks and cars crossing to the Zimbabwe side combined to create a 3 hour border experience. The only borders I had crossed so far were Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho and those were painless and easy. I expected this would take time and it did but everyone was so friendly and happy, it wasn't a harassing experience at all. We decided that since I had a valid drivers license (long story short - my mom was able to get me a temporary written license and scan it to me but Jason wasn't so lucky) I got to drive across and that was fun for me as well.

On the other side, we realized it was almost 7, we were hungry and really didn't have much of an idea of where we were going. It was already dark and the roads are not as well kept as the South African side so the thought of driving a few more hours in the dark, in unfamiliar territory didn't sound too appealing. All of a sudden we saw a sign for a Holiday Inn Express. I think the very last thing we expected to see at that moment - we thought we would have to drive at least a few more hours before finding something. It was worth it to stop and get a good night's sleep (we had been up a bit later than anticipated the night before due to a party, karaoke machine and lots of wine) and start driving again the next day during the sunlight hours.

Now we're in Harare, the capital, and I already feel the weight that South Africa was bearing down on my shoulders has lifted. Its' a new place, with new people and new opportunities and I'm ready for it all. They got rid of the Zim dollar awhile ago so now they are using the USD and the Rand. Here in Harare most places prefer to use the USD - it's strange using our currency again and adjusting to the prices. There are no coins that we've seen so far - the dollar bill seems to be the smallest amount of change to give. The shops will give you a credit slip if they owe you anything less than a dollar. We've seen a ton of $2 bills floating around and already used a few on occasions. You can actually get pretty much anything from the shops now - only long life milk is available but tons of canned goods, wine, beer, toiletries, etc. The prices so far seem to be close to what we were paying in South Africa but just slightly more expensive so we're happy that we stocked up on canned goods and wine before coming over.

The city has streets lined with lavender colored Jacarandas and they are in bloom right now along with the Bougainvillea so the setting is beautiful. Streets signs are old and in many places there aren't any, which can be a little challenging but it all just seems like a fun adventure, getting to know the layout. It sounds like we'll spend most of our time in Harare and we're both happy about that. We're staying at a friends house for the time being - it's an old home with lots of old hard back books and trinkets around but it's cozy and fine for now. The couple who own it evidently left and now live in South Africa (as it happened for a lot of white Rhodesians) but they still have people that live at the house and look after it. There is no running water, it comes and goes sporadically so it's back to bucket bathing but at least I have a bathroom this time and can actually sit in a bathtub!

Last night at dinner we talked about the fact that many people in Zimbabwe actually have a better education than those in South Africa and it is already noticeable, just by talking with people in the shops. Although it sounds like since Mugabe has been in power the rural education system is falling apart so it may not continue to be the case. And people are very friendly here! After spending 8 months in KwaZulu Natal, it became very apparent why people generalize and say the Zulu people aren't know to be very friendly*. Once we crossed into Limpopo Province and started meeting the Tswana and Sepedi people who are known to be friendly, it was apparent that there was some truth to the generalizations, as much as it's hard to say that. And evidently it's the same for Zimbabweans, who are said to have a submissive and pleasant nature. Jason already feels like he doesn't have to be on his guard on high alert like in South Africa but I'm not quite there yet. I can feel that it's different but until I understand a bit more about the country and the people, I won't let my guard down too much. I've already found some books that I'd like to read that will help me to get acquainted with my new (temporary) home.

*Just to clarify - I loved my time in KZN and met many wonderful Zulus but they do not have an outward friendly nature when you first meet them. It's hard to say this because I don't like generalizations but I'm letting myself slip this one time to help you understand the difference between the different places...

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