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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Zimbabwe Memory

When I flew to Harare from Johannesburg, one October weekend about 3 years ago, I wasn't allowed into Zimbabwe initially because I was a writer. I was told by immigration officials at the airport that Mugabe hated writers. Fullstop. The officials were extremely apologetic.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and I had hoped to explore Zimbabwe and journey onto a few more safari expeditions.
In their kind way, the officials appeared exasperated. They didn't know what to do with me. The thing was to speak to someone in the government, put a call through, present my details and with any luck, I would be let in. But it was a Sunday.
After some time spent at a careful interview, they decided I had no political inclinations after all, used their discretion and allowed me into the country. I was also advised to playact a nurse, secretary or "better still, a housewife" in future if as a visitor, I wished to avoid interrogation. One immigration officer drew me a map of St. George's Street, where I would stay at the George Hotel. I discovered later that it was exquisite, although his personal recommendation was the Holiday Inn. I told him I had a prior booking. He then explained about the taxis and of how many people would be out to cheat me and that I had to be very careful.
On the contrary, by the time I left, I was deeply moved by the warmth and hospitality of Zimbabweans and I had made good friends who took me to visit outlying villages.
Still, I had to fill a form and my month's stay was cut short to a fortnight. I also had to carry an important slip of paper everywhere, failing which I could be arrested without question. If I did not leave the country on the date and time stated, I would be thrown into jail.
People in Zimbabwe talked to me about Botswana as the promised land. I did see the lazy leopards leaning on some heavy branches. I did catch the eagles that flew all morning over Lake Chivero. In a sanctuary park nearby, the snooty flamingos did the obvious and snubbed me.
Today, I still remember the dusks in Harare as the most memorable of all twilights. It was just the way the light shaped and shadowed the trees against the vast skyline. Sheer beauty summoned the night.

Picture courtesy of Zimparks.com

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