It’s a long way to South Africa, and I try to limit myself to one trip a year. So the goal is to accomplish as much as possible on a single trip, visiting friends and colleagues around the region. I’d thought I might have some meetings in Cape Town and booked my ticket to South Africa with enought time to accomodate those meetings. They fell through, and I found myself with a decision: pay to change the ticket and go home, entertain myself in South Africa, or find somewhere else in the region to visit.
That one was easy. Harare it is.
I enjoy being wrong when I travel. There’s something doubly satisfying about having travel adjust or correct your perceptions – not only do you know something new, you “unknow” something wrong. As an American who reads and writes a great deal about Africa, I’ve read a lot about Zimbabwe. And there were lots of preconceptions to correct in travelling to Zimbabwe… and others that turned out to be more or less accurate.
I spent less than three days in Zimbabwe, never left Harare and spent almost all my time in the company of different flavors of civil society activists. So I got a very brief and one-sided picture of the country. Still, I learned a lot – most centrally, I learned a little about why people who have the option to leave continue to live in Zimbabwe: it’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to, and the Zimbabwean people I interacted with are some of the smartest, bravest and friendliest folks I’ve ever met.
Which doesn’t mean that I’ll be hurrying back. The ways in which Zimbabwe is broken are deep, profound and would be intolerable to most people around the world. The fact that Zimbabwe continues to exist – that people go to work, to the market, to the bars and cafes – is a tribute to the resilience and flexibility of the Zimbabwean people. I’d snap, within days or weeks.
Over the next couple of days – as I make my way from Harare to Jo’burg to London to New York to the blissful calm of Lanesboro, MA, I’ll try to share some thoughts, impressions and photos from a very dense three days. Thanks to everyone who was willing to talk with me in Harare, and especially to my wonderful and gracious hosts who packed my days with a wealth of fascinating people to meet.
This post is part of the Holiday in Harare series.