I’m staying at the Small World Backpackers lodge. It’s a bit out of town, but the reason for choosing this place was simple. It’s the only residence I could book through Travelhog.net. True, there’s one more, but that’s located 18km outside of Harare, quite a bit further.
After checking in, I was given a map of Harare, dating from August, 1996.
It’s located, close to the Avondale shopping center, which has a number of restaurants, a good cafe a cinema and two super markets. So if worst comes to worst, I can at least spend my evenings there. The city center is about 45 minutes away on foot.
Later in the week, I searched for other accommodation options around town, but it appears all the other reasonable lodges are out of business. Most of the hotels still exist, but they charge extortionist rates and aren’t much better, if at all, than the lodge I’m staying at.
The total absence of tourism has resulted in many of the lodges to close for business. Nevertheless, the Boeing 777 from London to Harare was almost fully booked. I was hoping to get three or four seats for myself, but I had to settle for one. A snoring Italian kept me awake for most of the night.
My arrival in Harare went smoothly. My bags weren’t checked and obtaining the visa was easy. The boy who processed my application didn’t even look at the paper I had filled in and even forgot it until I pointed out it was still waiting on his desk for him to be filed.
Tawanda, ICCO’s main contact at the SRC, was waiting at the airport, together with Deen, another Dutch guy who had been on the same flight as me. Deen is going to do a train the trainers in Mutare, a city on the border with Mozambique with which the Dutch city of Haarlem has a ‘citylink’.
Deen tried to fly in 66kgs of luggage, mostly stuff that was needed for his workshop and was going to stay in Mutare, but he had to pay if he wanted to bring in the excess weight. They wanted him to pay no less than 1200 euros. He ended up shipping the stuff with MartinAir cargo, paying about 250 euros for the transport.
Not that that was a good choice. The cargo plain showed up with a three day delay and duty had to be paid on the goods on entering Zimbabwe. The amount of duty that needed to be paid was 7.000.000Z$, about 1500USD.
And, what’s even worse, Deen needed the stuff, which in the end arrived a week late in Mutare, for his two week training.
Tawanda is an interesting character. He speaks like a maniacal talk show host: ‘And heeeere is BABAAAAK. He has COME to HARAAARE. AAAAh!’
In my experience, when an expert is brought into a situation such as this one, the receiving organization will try to maximize their ‘returns’, asking much more from the expert than what he’s supposed to deliver. Here, it already happened on the first day: I’m brought in to create a sports information system. Tawanda already suggested this system should also become a management information system and an accounting information system.
Later on my first day, I walked around town for a couple of hours and was pleasantly surprised. Sitting at African Unity Square, I realized what it was that I had actually expected to find. Based on the stories of lawlessness and terror, I figured Harare would look like a darker version of Accra (in Ghana).
Central Harare is rather modern, with a number of significant skyscrapers, reasonably clean, tarred roads and busy traffic.
The supermarkets are fairly well stocked and there appear to be enough good restaurants to keep you busy for a while, if you have your own transport.
The only people that stared at me while I was sitting at the square for an hour or so where the 8 non-blacks that passed me by.
Before heading off into town, Rachel, the American owner of the Small World, urged me not to bring my backpack, that being an open invitation to get robbed. So I was stuck taking pictures with my cell phone.
Walking back from town, many of the trees alongside Leopold Takawira had signs attached to them and a lot were religious references: Jesus is power, Trust in God, Rev 10:15. But the better ones tried convincing people not to abort their unborn babies: Abortion kills people, No abortion, Abortion is against families and the best one Abortion causes breast cancer.
In the evening, Tawanda, Dean and I were supposed to have dinner together, but they never showed up. I ended up having beers at the lodge with Rachel, Rachel’s husband Peter and Nathalie, a dirty backpacker. Rachel, Peter and Nathalie, who had been in southern Africa for six months, started swapping African horror stories and they weren’t very uplifting.
Nathalie had almost been raped in Jo’burg and had witnessed a gang related shooting where she was told by a five year old how to react. Rachel had been pulled over by fake police in Uganda but only escaped being killed when a public transport but showed up and stopped right next to the crime scene.
And then there were the stories on Zimbabwe. Just the day before, two American girls who were also staying at the lodge had almost been mugged in broad daylight. People, supposedly, are getting mugged when walking from their taxis to their hotels at night.
I asked Rachel if she would walk to the Avondale shopping center at night but even with her husband, she said, she wouldn’t do that. Later, I asked Peter the same question and he said she would. What to make of that?
What everyone seems to agree on is that without your own transport, you can’t do much in Harare. Taxis are expensive (a ride from town to the lodge is about Z$25000, 6$) and are also not always to be trusted. Great.