Some thoughts and observations from Lori. The contrast between the airport in Dubai and the one in Harare was jarring. From the ultra-busy, aggressive name-brand consumerism, glitzty hub with slightly terrifying customs and immigration agent to the single-digit number of gates, random line-ups, and baggage handler/customs assistant who was eager to show us photos of his children on his cell phone.
I didn’t really know how I would react to Zimbabwe but I didn’t expect to experience the first-world guilt as a physical sensation; I find that my chest feels compressed and heavy. Yet people don’t want to be pitied. How can I transfer my sadness into a useful emotion? I feel helpless. Person after person standing at the side of the highway, some trying to sell produce or other goods while others are hitchhiking to somewhere. Regardless of economic status, people are dressed with care – no pajama pants worn in public here. I think the saddest part of extreme poverty is the waste of human potential. On the flight to Harare I watched the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan who died in his 30s from TB but whose formulae are still in use today. It highlighted how genius is not dependent on culture or economic status (but life expectancy is).
I feel so naïve I don’t even know when I’m making a faux pas. When we asked our driver Tafadzwa about his family, he just said it was complicated. It was so awkward when one of the nurses we were introduced to suggested we could take her to Canada. Ditto our second driver. Everyone seems to be hoping that things will get better but then they will express pessimism at the likelihood of this happening. The ongoing emphasis on security is somewhat unnerving. Our first night in Harare we were on our own in a luxurious house and had locked up as instructed. The small dogs’ barking and howling woke us from a deep sleep and it was very difficult to go back to sleep afterwards. I’m glad I didn’t notice the baseball bats in each room until morning. At the cottage in Juliasdale near Nyanga we had the bizarre experience of wanting to go for a walk but being locked in our fenced yard and having to wait until the caretaker came by the house again. We haven’t felt unsafe, however.
We have seen a couple of lovely hotels but they have no visitors.
Our first driver graciously took us to the Lion Park near Harare our second day in the country. While it could be criticized for having animals in captivity, we were pleasantly surprised at the size of the lions’ enclosures and how healthy they looked. Too healthy for how close our car got to them during feeding time! The zebras, giraffes, and wild pigs also had a lot of room to roam. The attendants were knowledgeable. We have seen baboons and wildebeest in the wild.
The hospital at Nyanga is less busy than we expected. Basically there is not enough money for it to function or enough money for people to attend it. The pharmacy is heart-breaking – insulin has not been available for 6 months let alone any more mundane medication like hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure. HIV, TB, and anti-malarial medications are readily available as these meds are funded from organizations outside Zimbabwe. I am learning about first-line medication for all three conditions – never encountered in community pharmacy in BC because of central dispensing for the first two conditions and the rarity of the third.
But humour is ever present. People are consistently polite, kind, welcoming, smiling and often laughing (esp. when we try to speak Shona). We had a very funny moment today when Paul asked our driver what music he listens to and he started blasting Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69!