This is the sixteenth in an ongoing series of posts that capture journal entries from my incredible trip to Zimbabwe in 1997. You can read more about my motivation for the journey and why I’m revisiting it now in the original post. I was 21 at the time I wrote this.
7/12/97, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe
Just got back from a short trip to Harare to purchase clothes and the bus tickets for Monday’s trip to Bulawayo. Good quality clothing is expensive here, I spent nearly $700 Z on a nice pair of black pants and two knit tops. I charged it, I hope Mom and Dad don’t mind getting that bill. It was necessary though. I’m expected to dress nicely for the conference and all I brought was jeans. I have to hem the pants tomorrow because they are a little long and I need to shine my shoes even though they will only get dusty again. This place is very dusty and there is garbage everywhere. It is partly because of poor garbage collection but it also seems that people are messy, simply tossing trash wherever they can: orange peels, bones, wrappers, etc. I remember when I went to Europe I was also sort of appalled at how dirty it was. I’m getting used to it though, there is never a garbage can around so I have no choice but to toss my peels, cores and bottle tops. When people to get your attention here, they make a hissing sound, like sss…. Depending on the urgency it an be very sharp. I’m still getting used to it, it’s like saying ‘hey’ to someone.
7/18/97, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe
On my way home from a week long stay in Bulawayo, the largest city in Zimbabwe. I’m finding that life here is a series of workshops and meetings. This one was on ‘Public Policy Analysis and Lobbying and Advocacy’ sponsored by Ecumenical Support Services (ESS) and attended by members of different NGOs, mostly from the two largest cities. I’m finding many different NGOs in the country but few work together to solve common problems. There is a lack of power and real initiative for change at both the grass roots and government levels. Most people have never seen a copy of their own constitution. Some of the laws here pre-date independence. The government makes decisions independently of people’s opinions and needs. This workshop was to get NGOs together to try to get real change in the system by analyzing public policies (existing ones as well as creating new ones) then lobbying and advocating for change. I doubt it will change anything , it seems to me that most people fear changes and want other people to do all the work. Like CHIYSAP, we help youth but what about the government policies that have created the situation in the first place? Maybe we are afraid that we will work ourselves out of a job? In an ideal world, NGOs would be unnecessary, or maybe not, I don’t know. South Africa had it right I think. Upon the change in the Apartheid system, they threw out all the old laws and started fresh. Their constitution is progressive and liberal, the country is doing well. South Africa is the envy of most African nations. Zimbabweans need to find their own path forward I suppose.
I spent most of the week sitting around a large table in the Grey’s Inn conference room eating semi-decent meals, and taking lots of hot showers and baths afterwards. We had a free afternoon and I went to see the Natural History Museum, one of the largest in Zimbabwe. It was much like the one in Golden Gate Park, lots of dioramas full of taxidermied animals. They have the second largest stuffed elephant in the world. There was also a large room full of insects, buts, spiders, butterflies and moths, all nicely displayed. There was an extensive and interesting rock collection as well as lots of stuff on Rhodes (the country was formerly named after him, Rhodesia), Lobegula and Mzilikazi (two major chiefs in Zimbabwean history who lived close to Bulawayo). I found it all lovely and stayed there for three hours, the museum was in a beautiful park which I thought was better than the ones in Harare.