Ha Ha Ha Harare!
Shop Till You Drop
year of not shopping, I visit Harare More...
from Harare to Blantyre More...
More Little Differences
Blantyre to Harare More...
R O B B E D! (Again)
second experience of being robbed! More...
To Malawians, Harare is like the promised
land: sky-scrapers with neon Coca-Cola signs; wide city streets,
filled with shiny new cars; restaurants, cinemas, bars (and
not bottle stores)... After a year of living in Blantyre,
it was my promised land too.
Ha Ha Ha Harare!!!
WE'D SPENT some part
of every day in Harare, shopping. We mostly wandered around the
streets, somewhat wide-eyed, occasionally buying a batik or some
Zimbabwean music, or rechargeable batteries, or expensive deodorant,
or a £10 PC Magazine (I kid you not - it's not all cheap-cheap!).
You know, the usual things! But Saturday - our last day in Harare
- was our serious shopping day. It was the day that we would buy
all those things we hadn't quite got round to buying yet.
We had until 1.0pm, when
the shops shut! It was going to be like one of those mad trolley-dashes
you often hear about, where some lucky customer gets to rush around
the store for 3 minutes filling for all she's worth. It wasn't quite
like that - we had a few hours, and we did have a limit on what
we could spend our money on - but we still whizzed round the isles
- down one, up the other, down the next - making all-important consumer
decisions, as we went!
So, I bought biscuits,
mayonnaise (a quarter of the Blantyre price), Heinz beans, candles
and of course some pasta! (But no cuddly toy!) I grabbed 3 tins
of tuna, some strawberry jam (Strawberry!) and bread (bloody delicious
in Harare, it was!). And how could I visit Zimbabwe without buying
wine, or Cadbury's chocolate, or Granny Smiths.
I had 4 bags, full, and
Rachel had 3. Satisfied, and shopper-gratified, we paid our money
and took our choice.
(And didn't I larf when
I realised, later, that I hadn't bought those 2 delicious red wines,
just the 2 cheap white ones!)
TO GET to Harare from
Blantyre - the cheap way - you have to make two border crossings!
You have to spend between 5 minutes and 5 hours stranded in no-mans
land, waiting for your stamp of approval. No toilets. No explanation
of where you must go, or what you must sign. Nothing. Just a long,
So I laughed foolishly
to myself, as the passengers on our coach prepared to alight, still
in the middle of nowhere. And as we arrived at customs (shortly
after), they almost ran off the coach, desperate to meet that solemn
faced man. You know that ever so important man who takes your passport,
and scribbles something or other onto his grand chart. That man
who deigns to keep your passport, against all the rules of travelling.
That ever so sensitive man who might not like the curl of your moustache,
and could (quite easily) add half a day's delay to your journey.
And whilst you're smiling
ever so jovially to this man, inside your coach another golden rule
of travelling is being broken: Never leave your luggage unattended!
So whilst you smile, and smile, and smile (bloody hurry up!), money-changers
- a shady bunch - walk up and down your coach hustling for business
with all those sensible passengers who seemingly sprinted off the
coach, about an hour ago! Of course they're laughing to themselves
now, as they see my sorry form still waiting for that bloody man
to fill in his bloody chart. Still waiting for him to pass me some
slip of paper, that must then be signed by another important (and
equally solemn-looking) man - oh! standing right next to the first
man, actually! (And after all that, when you're not looking, the
man chucks it in the bin!)
So many coaches make
this journey every day, and of course they all arrive at the same
cheap-cheap time. (If ever Scotty could have beamed me up, now was
the time!) All these coaches - these one-man shows - and none of
them particularly road-worthy; and none of them providing information
(or customs forms) 'to make your stay a little more pleasant' (read
shorter). You can even find yourself on one coach, and unceremoniously
swapped to another coach at the border. Of course this only happens
at night time when the driver of the second coach is nowhere to
be found - FOR HOURS! And of course this second coach is always
full with potential smugglers who all take an age convincing those
ever so nice customs chappies that they really will be consuming
10 boxes of Granny Smiths' apples in the next week or so. Scotty
- please beam me up!
No one else complains
though. It's always like this, and it always will be like this.
(Especially if no one ever complains!) There is a purpose in this
process, I'm convinced. But it's been lost in this quagmire of signatures
and counter-signatures, forms and supplementary forms. You're left
with this feeling that no one really knows what's going on. Maybe
it's a deliberate ploy to deter tax-dodgers by boredom and frustration.
It's not working though, because people seem to have a never-ending
capacity to 'take it' when money can be earned. And the shops in
Harare or Johannesburg sell goods so much cheaper than in Malawi
that money can always be made. No! This ploy has only succeeded
in making sure that I never travel on the cheap-cheap again.
My one solitary moment
of pleasure during this strange time at customs, was the verbal-bashing
I was saving for my next newsletter (this one). Ah! that does feels
More Little Differences
CAN YOU imagine walking
along a street, and can you imagine not seeing a man pissing by
the road-side? Can you imagine walking in town, and can you imagine
that nobody's staring at you or calling you names? And can you imagine
that not everyone's trying to beg from you or work an angle! Can
Well, you probably can!
R O B B E D ! (Again)
THE TAXI dropped us at
Mbare Msika bus station, at about 5.30am; still dark. As we unloaded
our luggage some men drew near us; and one took Rachel's small ruck-sack!
Just took it! "Hey!" she shouted, and rushed over to retrieve
it. I turned towards this man appalled at his brazen act. And his
friends circled over us! The driver had already returned our bags
to the car; but even as we drove off, one of them had swooped again
- the car boot was open, vulnerable. Angry, I almost fell out of
the right-side door in an effort to chase him away! He just smiled
at me: "Ha, Ha, Ha!" And I just swore at him! "Grr!
Only when we'd found
and boarded another Blantyre coach did we realise... Rachel's large
ruck-sack was missing! A simple subterfuge, distraction - and all
her clothes, her camera - gone! You should have seen Rachel's whitened
face, as she struggled to fight off tears! The tears of bereavement,
of loss! I felt her loss too... and her anger, and her foolishness!
And I can still hear them laughing!
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