Leaving Lome, thinking of Zimbabwe

Lome Travel Blog

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From hotel room to waiting room…another airport lounge. All different but all essentially the same (save for the magnificent Kansai, of course!) though even KXI can’t quite shrug off that terrible mix of transience and tedium. Waiting, always waiting. The people change but somehow all still seems the same. There is a stagnancy and inertia that is at odds with the purpose of the building It has a dynamic reason for being, it is for moving and traveling and acting like great hearts pumping the flow of travelers perpetually around the globe, but there is such dull, drab boredom at their centre.


Accra is not so good as airport departure lounges go (lounge ��" conjures up visions of comfy places of retreat, ha, if only) but not as bad as Dakar, but then Dakar was better than…hmmm, I think I am losing some perspective here. They are all Human Throughput Units, and some are better at it than others. End of story.


I am replenishing myself with a large bottle of water and some dates after a three hour drive from Lome across the border and into Ghana. I left in a bit of a hurry, on the last minute as usual, and so forgot to bring water. The workshop over the past couple of days has been so useful but there is another day and I was sorry to leave and miss all the wrap up stuff, but they can do that without me. I actually left at lunch in order to do some shopping. I was whisked down to the local market and once I had made it clear that I wasn’t interested in buying various bits of overpriced tat, my guide took me to ‘une marche artisanal’ which had overpriced bits of traditional African ware. Much haggling needed to be done!


I am ambivalent about African markets. They are vibrant, colorful, rumbustious places and are the throbbing heart of any African town or city. Africans are such traders, businessmen and women, rogues, chancers, flyboys, sharks, chisellers and shavers ��" but I admire that and like to see how they jostle and bustle and tout their stuff with such energy and enthusiasm. It’s out of necessity of course ��" if they don’t sell, they don’t eat, but it still somehow manages to be an uplifting sight. And yet there is an aggressive air to the place, borne out of this desperation to sell and survive. The relatively wealthy westerner is a godsend and so like bees round a honeypot they gathered and I had all manner of things thrust under my nose. ‘No, thank you. The red leather coaster holder in the shape of Africa is charming, but not what I am looking for.’ It was hard work to get something close to what I was looking for and the haggling over price was hard work, fun at times, and certainly necessary. I treated myself to a bracelet that was offered to me at 60,000CFA and I eventually got it for 24k. That was my best deal and I think I got stung a bit on Togo footy shirts for the boys, but consoled myself that they are probably selling at a premium as Togo qualified for the World Cup.


I felt quite sad leaving Togo. I think I have fallen in love with Africa. I have been here several times but never felt like this before, never embraced it in this way. In fact, I have been rather stand-offish about it, and I wonder what is different this time? I recall my first ever trip to Africa  - it was to Zimbabwe on the way to a meeting in Swaziland. I stopped over in Harare for a few days and visited some work there…a government ministry, I think it was the ministry of social welfare and we met with the deputy minister before being introduced to the minister himself, but only very briefly. I had made the mistake of dressing down for my visit! African men dress very smartly and formally and no-one had explained this before I left. The minister looked at me in the way he would something stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and we ushered out fairly smartly! I remember I had a rucksack rather than a briefcase and can still see the look he gave that! I made the same faux-pas for the field visit and dressed like an extra in ‘Out of Africa’, jeans, big boots and a khaki shirt…I imagined intrepid excursions into the snake-infested Bush, whereas we mainly sat around in offices talking to smartly dressed, self-important men. There were some more meetings with adults and then a couple of great visits, one to a project working with girls that had been abused and abandoned due to them falling pregnant. The project gave them work and helped them in various ways. The other involved a long drive out to Mashonaland to view work that was being done to support the children of farm workers. These were migrant workers exploited by the white farmers, some of whom I met ��" a really objectionable lot and these were the good ones, the enlightened, liberal ones! Complete brutes! The project manager was a joy though ��" lovely, typical African mother type who was full of energy and positive attitude. At the end of the visit she took us into her home and had laid on a spread for us. I ate sudsa for the first time.


The main visit involved a flight up to Binga, couple of hundred kilometers west of Harare quite close to Vic Falls. We had a very early start and it was a crisp but sunny morning. I can still remember a breakfast of strong coffee, mangos and macadamia nuts eaten under a jacaranda tree, before leaving for a small airstrip on the outskirts of the capital. The programme had been scrabbling around to find some air transport for me and another person who I can’t remember ��" she was an HIV/AIDS Advisor. Anyhow, they had managed to drag this old guy out of retirement as a private air cabbie and he had obviously cleared the chickens out of his little, single-engined 4-seater. He seemed as rusty as his plane as he went through his checks at the end of the runway, but we were soon whizzing down the strip before I had a chance to jump out. I was surprised at how quickly we took off and found that it was actually quite a pleasurable experience compared to flying the big birds…bit like being in a nippy little sports car rather than an Espace.


We flew quite low over the flat terrain. Zimbabwe is basically a giant plateau, high veldt, a huge slab of rock lying between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers. There were a few animals to spot below, although disappointingly none of the ‘Big 5’. The pilot was an affable guy and was very helpful in reducing some of the real anxiety I used to have about flying ��" he explained about the principles of aircraft flight, was very reassuring about their capacity to stay in the air, and also explained clear air turbulence to me. I still recall his explanation when in a bumpy part of any flight now. The flight was fairly unspectacular. There was a ridge that ran along the savannah for a little while, which provided some relief from the flat scrubland and the few trees, but at the end there was a wonderful finale. Binga is on the banks of Lake Kariba, the huge dam that flooded this part of the Zambezi valley and created the lake. It is a beautiful spot but the lake destroyed the homelands of a people that have been displaced and marginalized ever since. Anyhow, as a ‘treat’ before landing, the pilot shot out over Lake Kariba and it was stunning to stare down onto the dark, deep waters below and to see a flock of flamingos scatter as we flew over. The noise of the plane alerted the office to our arrival and a pickup could be seen making the short journey to collect us, pursued by a gaggle of cheering children.


We visited a hospital to talk about their HIV/AIDS programmes and visited a Traditional Healer inn his home who claimed to cure HIV+ people and showed us the herbs he used to do that. We also sat under a tree with a group of community midwives ��" these are traditional birth attendants who help out in delivering babies and who had been given some training and some health kits to ensure the deliveries were made more safe. We sat around and introduced ourselves to these wizened old women - the pilot sat with us and said he was the person that flew the plane we came in on. The women looked astonished and one said that she had seen these things flying around but didn’t realize there was anyone in them!


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photo by: hauteboy