Friday, August 31, 2007

Is it safe?

It's a question I'm often asked.  Is it safe to travel in Zimbabwe? 
It is.  It's just terribly sad.
If you want to watch a country dying - not imploding in civil war, but slowly withering on the vine - come take a look.
I'm sitting in Harare Internaitonal Airport now and the power has just gone out - it's pre-dawn dark outside.  Imagine, an entire airport without electricity.  Fortunately it's one of the quietest airports in the world - not many aircraft come here as there is no aviation fuel here, so you have to bring your own.
I started a generator the other day, for the first time since I was a young soldier.  Generators used to terrify me when I was 18.  I was always worried about flicking the wrong switch, or letting it run out of fuel, or not being able to work the pull-start thingy.  Most of our friends in Zimbabwe have generators now.  We stayed alone on a farm the other day and when the lights went out, as they do every single day, you have to start the generator.  Africa has a way of bringing out the practical in you.
Outside, somewhere on the tarmac, I can here a jet arriving.  I hope the guy marshalling the aircraft in to its airbridge has some batteries for his torch.
The food situation - much reported around the world - is pretty dire, though in one respect it's the same as it has been for the last few years.  Supermarket shelves look barren, but if you have money you can get pretty much anything - just be prepared to pay for it.  Especially if it's been imported.
Weirdly, local products can be incredibly cheap if you have foreign currency to change on the parralel (black) market. For example, a small jar of imported South African peanut butter will cost you US$3 and a packet of SA butter US$10, but a bottle of very drinkable (trust me, I know) local wine costs about US$0.80.  The moral here, of course, is drink alcohol rather than eat.
So scarce are tourists, that local guesthouses and hotels seem to have given up even asking if guests are foreigners (if you admit this, you get hit with a ridiculously high tariff, payable in US dollars only) for fear of scaring them off.  Paying the Zimbabwean rate, Mrs Blog and I stayed in a very nice self-contained chalet overlooking a lovely waterhole on a small private game reserve for about AUD$10 the other night.  Like I said, weird.
Police and the army are very evident on Harare's streets, though as usual when a policeman finds out we're from abroad he/she is usally polite and curious about what they need to do in order to immigrate to Australia.  We were stopped by a young soldier in camouflage yesterday, though, armed with an ageing SKS rifle and fixed bayonet who asked what we were carrying under the bulky brown tarp on Tonka the Lander Rover's roof rack.
"Javelin fire-and-forget anti-tank missile and a few kilos of Semtex," I said.
Only joking.  I actually told him it was our fold-up mattress and bedding, which was the truth.
"Have a safe journey," he said.  
The electricity's just come back on at the airport.  Though for how long is anyone's guess.

1 comment :

redcap said...

I was in Zim earlier this year, though admittedly just for a day trip to see the falls. There wouldn't have been more than a couple of dozen people in the town or the park. It was sad to see, especially the number of children begging.