June 2011


**If you are getting this post as an email, you’ll want to go to the website to see the photos.**

Sunday morning was my second time white water rafting. I thought I knew what to expect having gone with Uncle Billy at Glacier National Park back in 2007. But when they handed out helmets, I knew for sure this trip was going to be more intense. Then began the serious lecture on exactly what to do if we fell out of the boat, if we were taken away from the raft, if… I leaned forward, intent on having my body memorize exactly what I should do, all the while thinking most of this must be a just-in-case discussion.

Our first task on this adventurous day was to hike down the gorge. I like hiking; I figured this would be a bit steep but doable. I was the last one in our party to slowly make her way down the ragged path, stepping gingerly on each rock trying to avoid the loose gravel and dirt that could slide out from under you. I was amazed that however far ahead the others got, I had soon caught up at my steady pace because they had been forced to slow down. It took at least half an hour to go down the gorge, which seemed to be almost completely vertical at times. Maybe it is because I have short legs, but I find going downhill more difficult and much harder on my knees than climbing up mountains. By the time we reached the bottom of the gorge, my legs were like jelly. I was so grateful we’d be using upper body strength for the rest of the trip.

Sitting on the raft, I smiled at the two college girls who were sharing our boat as our guides Roger and Enoch ran us through paddling drills. As we started out I couldn’t help smiling at the incredible beauty around us. On the right side was the Zimbabwe side of the gorge and on our left, the Zambian. They were barren with clay and limestone edges, few bushes, and leafless trees. It was a similar barrenless beauty that I experience in winter before it snows. I couldn’t take any photos while on the raft, so that vision will have to be something I always remember.

Throughout the first rapid, I couldn’t stop smiling, it was so much fun! I remembered how Eric had teased me in Glacier saying, “She never stopped smiling. It wasn’t scary enough!” When we approached the first series of rapids (Washing Machine, Terminator I, Terminator II), Enoch told me I needed to sit at the front of the boat. I figured it was for weight distribution but felt trepedation at switching places with Patrick. The waves on the first two rapids were quite high, but we kept paddling forward like Enoch said. Sometimes I looked down to realize we were at the crest of a wave and I was only paddling air. As we were coming down from one wave, I saw the next one, five meters high, coming towards us. Each time before, I thought, “High, but we can do this.” When I saw this one, I thought, “I don’t think we can…”

I was under water and then relieved to realize that I wasn’t under the boat. I bobbed up for air. I looked around me and quickly found the raft. Swimming to it, I latched onto the rope with both hands even though small waves still made it difficult to keep my head firmly above the water. The instructor, having climbed on top of the upturned raft, asked me if I was ok. I yelled back yes. Then another wave came at me from behind. Suddenly the raft was going away from me. I was adrift. I realized that we must be at the end of the series of rapids. Soon things would calm down; no reason to panic. I soon found a kayak and tried to grab on. Once my hand was on the strap at the tip, I saw Kelly floating towards me. I reached out to her. Connected to the kayak, we were soon being flopped onto the other raft that had not capsized. I was too weak to pull myself fully into the boat. Soon our raft, rightsize up, was next to this second raft and we had to climb over back into it. Ready or not, here we were again.

Our team was pretty fearless though we were all a bit shaken from the capsize. None of us were experienced white water rafters. We found out that we had just been through a 4+ rapid. A few rapids later, I turned behind me to say to Kelly, “You know our boat hasn’t cheered since we cap–” Our side of the boat fell out. Patrick probably saved the boat from capsizing. I hit something on the way down and busted the inside of my lip. I was hauled back into the boat and realized there was blood in my mouth. Luckily, the damage was pretty superficial. Except for when our guide decided to convince us to stand up on the raft so his friend in the kayak could bump our raft and cause us to fall out again, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.

A funny moment was when the college students asked us if there had been Disney movies to watch when we were kids.

The best part of the day was coming to shore and realizing that the cable car would take us up the gorge. On the Zim side, you have to walk back up; I wouldn’t have had the energy for that. We got back in time to grab our stuff from the hostel and catch the plane home–totally and completely wiped.

Kelly, Patrick, and I have had one common goal throughout this trip: get to Victoria Falls. When Air Zimbabwe was down, we strongly contemplated the 16-18 hour round trip drive on a regular weekend. Then we learned that we could drive in Zambia for a total of only 12 hours in the car! So, we moved everything around accordingly. Last week, we were shocked to learn that most of the cars had been rented because of a conference in Lusaka. Comparing costs, we found that renting a car with gas at $8/gal was the same price per person as a plane ticket. We managed to squeeze onto the early morning flight for Saturday. While getting to the gate only involved paying an $11 exit fee and walking into a waiting area, the flight was late boarding. The last time I walked onto a tarmac to board was when I went to Walt Disney World with my family in 1994. Stepping onto the tarmac to reach the small plane was a sophisticated moment, according to Patrick.

 Arriving in Livingstone, we quickly arrived at the JollyBoys hostel. Everyone had recommended this place, a fun hostel with small huts for rooms and open huts for all the common areas. The lounge was the center of the main room and filled with large pillows instead of furniture for chatting or reading. We threw our stuff in our rooms and tried to determine what we could stuff into our day and a half vacation. There were too many options! We voted to do white water rafting instead of a walking safari on Sunday morning.

Saturday was centered on the falls. We hailed a taxi and went straight for one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Mosi-o-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) is the local and more accurate name for the falls. From a distance, you see smoke rising from the ground, then you hear a defining roar, and then you are confronted with the falls: 354 feet high and over a mile wide. Queen Victoria could never have been this awe-inspiring.

The falls are part of the Zambezi river, which straddles the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. In the middle of the falls is Livingstone Island. To get there, you have to cross a man-made bridge on the Zambia side. Doing so when the water level is high requires two layers of ponchos to keep your knapsack dry. The spray from the falls, which are across the gorge, is so powerful that we thought we were in a torrential downpour! Everything but our knapsack were sopping wet. In front of us, a crowd of local school girls in makeshift swimsuits sang loudly and danced as the mist and water from the falls soaked them. It was almost surreal how little we could see; the falls were invisible.

Even though the Dry Season has begun, rainwater from the Rainy Season is still flowing in the Zambezi River. During part of the year, the water level will be low enough that the Zambia side will almost completely dry up unlike the Zimbabwe side. This is the time people need to go to both countries to see the falls. Doing the math, it turns out that it is almost the same price to pay for all the visas into Zimbabwe and back with park fees as it is for the fifteen minute helicopter ride ($135) if you only have a single entry visa into Zambia. We didn’t do the ride however and simply hiked around the Zambia side of the falls.

Besides walking onto Livingstone Island and getting pleasantly drenched, we hiked down to the Boiling Pot or the whirlpool at the bottom of the falls. Across the way we could see the bridge where people bungee jump (no, I didn’t). The hike was quite nice, but we had a surprise waiting for us at the top of the gorge.

The lady at the Information Desk had told us about baboons. Here, they are not scared of humans. In fact because food is the most important thing in their culture and tourists feed the baby baboons, they have come to the natural conclusion that humans (especially women) are inferior. They will steal your food from you, and one baboon frightened a tourist last weekend who lost his balance and fatally fell off Victoria Falls. Needless to say, we were on the watch for them.

Still, we weren’t quite prepared when one ran out and made straight for Kelly. Since we were hiking up rocky steps, from below I was worried she’d loose her balance. I had placed my hands out as if I could stop her from falling. He reached into her side pocket, grabbed her juice bottle, and was gone. He didn’t touch her. It was rather impressive actually.
That evening we took a sunset cruise on the Zambezi and saw hippos. The sunset was simply splendid.

You arrive in Zimbabwe. You are amazed at the solid infrastructure compared to many other African capitals. You enjoy the lack of painful traffic, the smiling faces, the posh shopping centers. You wonder exactly why someone declared this country a failed state. What can that possibly mean with crowded fast food chains that aren’t American and solid roads?

You stay. You realize that the country imports all its power. At the end of a week, one of the local blacks tells how she had a good night the evening before since it was the first time her family had had power in a week before midnight. All your taxi drivers tell you how no one will ever drive along the road that has Mugabe’s State House if their car is misbehaving. A flat tire along there will result in much more trouble than one might expect… You hear how when the currency switched from the Zimbabwe dollar to the US dollar in 2008, everyone with local money lost everything. You’re told that your hotel room will likely be bugged; that night you hear noise on the phone lines…You remember a friend who worked for IRI, an NGO focused on democratic processes, who can’t come into the country because of the type of work she does.

Where We Have Hope by Andrew Meldrum is an amazing story of a journalist who came to Zimbabwe in 1980 to cover a new multi-racial democratic country as it emerged from a 14 year civil war. I’ve been reading it to get a better sense of what is going on here. The author goes from being a hopeful journalist witnessing the end of a long British colonial rule to being physically forced out of the country for writing about the atrocities performed by Mugabe’s regime.

White Zimbabweans make up about 1% of the population here. Colonial rule is still strongly felt; there’s no local cuisine. What everyone eats is sadza, stiff British porridge made from the maize that the colonials got everyone to grow. The minority white population was extremely racist prior to the revolution, and I’m not clear how much better it’s gotten. The controversial land reform here certainly didn’t help matters. Begun in 1979 as a way to more equally distribute land between the whites and blacks, it started as a winning buyer, winning seller model until 2000. With this model white farmers were paid as their large plantations were converted to communal farming. Almost half a million people were able to settle onto new plots of land with this program. The fast track resettlement program that began in 2000 was not a bright spot. White farmers were violently forced from their land without compensation; the Zimbabwean Parliament has now passed laws so those white farmers cannot challenge the right to the land they once owned.  The group forcing the farmers out were supposedly “war veterans” from the war for independence though many were just youth who often became violent.

Our team members who are working in Malawi heard a lot of accounts from these expelled white farmers. In a newspaper article the other day, white Zimbabwean farmers were granted the right to keep the national Zimbabwean assets they had seized in Cape Town, South Africa, as payment for lost land. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, much of the land that has been acquired has not been farmed properly. Driving through the countryside, it’s clear that former farms are no longer producing crops. Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa, now it imports almost everything.

On our weekend in Imire, we heard the story of Di, a local white Zimbabwean who lost her farm to a city bidder who wanted it to be his weekend house. She had worked to build up a successful farm. “My workers had a good wage. We had a primary school, an adult literacy program, a nursery. We taught them how to have a nutritional vegetable garden. We had such a wonderful place. Now most of them have had to leave because there is no one running the farm. That man doesn’t plant anything. He just lives in my house a few days a year.” I was impressed with how she had started her life over again, but part of me can’t help but feel there is a sense of superiority in this set-up that while improving people’s lives still does not give them control over their own property.

You may have vaguely heard of the economic crash that happened here in 2008. Notes were printed with a hundred trillion Zim dollars (and you thought the lira had been bad). Eventually locals refused to take the national currency. When the currency was completely forced out of circulation, everyone with a Zimbabwean bank account in local currency lost everything. This was just in 2008. People could not find anything to buy in the grocery stores. Now in 2011, the shelves are full, but most people still cannot afford the imported goods. Petrol is prohibitively expensive, almost $6/gallon.

So there’s the land issue, the economic issues, how all of this ties in together. And there is Mugabe, the “president.” In the 1980s, he launches a secret campaign that slaughtered 10,000-20,000 Ndebeles in Matabeleland, most of them young males who would have been a threat to Mugabe’s Shono party. Ndebeles were the ethnic minority of black Zimbabweans who on the whole did not belong to Mugabe’s party. This happened at roughly the same time that Mugabe was talking loudly to the world about how badly apartheid needed to end in South Africa, how something had to be done. It was a time when Zimbabwe was seen as the shining beckon in Africa, a democracy that could lead the way for others.

The country is Dorian Grey, at first glance beautiful, vibrate, but with a dark secret. One day in class on this trip, I had been talking to an American about how beautiful I thought Zimbabwe was: the kind and generous people, the impressive balancing rocks, the wildlife. She pulled out a folder and said, “This place is deceptively beautiful. Look at this. This is what is happening in Zimbabwe.” She opened up a booklet of graphic photos depicting violence including behinds of people that had been hacked off. “Most of our [work] partners are in jail.”

Having seen those photos of abuse, I had a vivid imagination when reading about the beatings of farmers by the “war veterans” around 2000, onwards. Also punished were people who supported the MDC, a new political party that was trying to stand up to Mugabe. This is the party that won the election in 2008, which Mugabe won’t recognize and likely the election in 2002, probably 2000 as well. Our tour guide at Great Zimbabwe, Phillip, mentioned to us how such violence affected his family. His father, a school supervisor, and his mother, a nurse, were rumored to be in favor of the opposition (MDC). While Phillip was at work as a tour guide, some of the “war veterans” came to his family’s hut. They locked the family inside and burned the house down. He lost his whole family and hid in South Africa for six months.

These stories make it hard to reconcile the friendly and beautiful Zimbabwe we have experienced with the facts of the atrocities that occurred in that same beautiful land.

 

 

 

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Great Zimbabwe is the first monument to give its name to a country. Great Zimbabwe was built by the local Africans, ancestors of the Shono tribe it’s believed, around 1200 CE. The site’s famous soapstone birds were added to the independent country’s new flag in 1980.

The site is divided into three main areas: the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex, and the Great Enclosure. Our guide Phillip did a wonderful job making the ancient site come alive. Zimbabwe means Big House of Stones though house is too modest a term for this fortress and building complex. The stones are not held together with any wet substance such as mortar, yet they have been standing for over 800 years.

We started out climbing up an impressive hill to get to the palace of the king. The local word for king means mountain. The stony path narrowed at a final point between two natural boulders. Before one could enter the palace, he had to answer questions from a guard who stood above him with a boulder. If he didn’t answer correctly, the guard let the boulder loose. Hey, someone’s got to make TSA look good!

The view from the hill was magnificent, especially of Lake Mutirikwi (or Lake Kyle) below. Most of the hill was naturally fortified by steep granite rock, but the side that could be climbed was where the warriors lived and camped. Artifacts show that these Africans had trading routes that resulted in goods from Persia  and China.

Cecil Rhodes, of Rhodes scholarship fame, turns out to be as prejudiced as his contemporaries. When visiting Great Zimbabwe in the 1890s, he assured everyone that no blacks could ever have made anything so splendid, instead claiming whites had built the site centuries before–despite no archeological evidence to support the theory. When archaeologist David MacIver declared the “unquestionably African,” Rhodes wouldn’t allow independent research of the site for 25 years. In 1928, Gertrude Caton-Thompson confirmed MacIver’s findings.

Before we entered the king’s rooms, we passed by the “bank”, a cave where the king’s treasures were kept. From the cave, you can yell and be heard clearly from the village and the Great Enclosure. Phillip said it was the easiest way to call any of your wives. (I had to laugh when–in an attempt to give cultural relativism–he explained that women were important in this ancient culture because the more you had, the more clout you had as a man because each woman was so expensive. I guess most cultures saw women that way in 1300–sadness.)

The village that has been recreated to look like the town’s village in 1200-1500 looked awfully familiar to me as I thought of the mud huts we’d passed along the roads to Masvingo, the town closest to Great Zimbabwe. These huts took me back to the Great Plains of the States when I amazed the first time I walked into a real teepee and realized how warm the small space could be. What struck me about these mud huts was how they were still used today. Their small size would not be ideal for a family of five by today’s standards.

The last stop was the Great Enclosure, where the first wife lived. Though I joked that I’d like to be the first wife when Phillip asked what role in the ancient society, I’d really rather not be any number among 201 wives. Phillip explained that young women were taken to the Great Enclosure for pre-marital classes that involved objects of variable size. I leaned towards Kelly and whispered, “Do you think they taught how not to get caught having an affair? Because that’s what I’d want to know.” It doesn’t seem to matter how many societies I study and visit, how women consistently get such a raw deal amazes me. At least in Islam, women were allowed to keep their bride price and were able to get a divorce.

Ancient prejudice not withstanding, Great Zimbabwe might have been the best thing we’ve done this whole trip! We really loved the amazing architecture and our very learned guide.

We stopped for a late lunch at Norma Jeane’s Lake View Resort. It was achingly beautiful and equally painful to realize there were no guests. Kelly, Patrick and I have talked about how much we would have liked our two weeks here in Zimbabwe to be purely for tourism. With friendly people and five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you would think Zimbabwe would be the perfect destination. There are also game reserves and beautiful lakes and canoeing trips. So much! It’s really too bad the political climate here has damaged the chance for people to think of coming here. I strongly feel that if you come here purely on holiday and not during election time, you’ll be perfectly safe. None of these sentences should be discounted by my next post.

Kelly, Patrick, and I left the States with two major goals for this trip: go on a safari and see Victoria Falls. The latter may happen in Zambia but with the Air Zimbabwe issues here, it isn’t an option while we’re based in Harare. For the safari, we decided on Imire Safari Park, about 110 km from Harare. See website for more info: http://www.imiresafariranch.com/

We met in the lobby at 6 AM Saturday morning with the plan to arrive at the Park around 9, in time for the morning safari. Piling in the car, we barely registered the mist over the wild wheat as we lost the fight to see the scenery to our tired eyes. Despite three different time estimates, we arrived quite early, but the Imire staff were more than welcoming. Ushering us to a table and chairs on the lawn, we were brought toast and tea. Mrs. Judy Travers stopped by to say hello. She and her husband own Imire and Sable Lodge. She reminded me of Katherine Hepburn—the same angular face, confident style, accent and of course the khaki slacks.

Kelly and I shared a room in one of the larger huts. Its loft held two twin beds while the main floor had a double bed in addition to the bathroom, which had utilities made to look like rocks. The narrow pine staircase up to the loft immediately put us in mind of the Little House series. The rooms were quite comfortable.

By ten o’clock we were seated in the trolley with the other guests. Pulled by a big tractor, we made our way slowly through the acres of bush (term for wilderness in Africa). One of the reasons we were excited about Imire was their Black Rhino Preservation Program. Due to high levels of poaching the signature black rhinos of Zambezi Valley are practically extinct. This park has successfully bred fourteen rhinos. But as the smoke from the tractor blended with the dust I inhaled as we puttered along, I wondered if there weren’t a more environmentally friendly method of sightseeing.

Soon we came upon the famous black rhinos (Discovery Channel’s There’s a Rhino in My House). Came upon might be too generous. Some of the staff were herding the tamer black rhinos and elephants towards us throughout the day and other times they would litter the ground with feed so that we could get some good shots—with our cameras, not with guns. Part of me felt a bit cheated; I had wanted to see animals in the wild. However, the rational part of me argued that for a one day safari, most tourists would leave disappointed at seeing no wildlife if such measures weren’t taken. Also, since we are in the dry season, the animals are more likely to come for food. The park was not the size of a national park, but it was large enough that the animals had plenty of space to roam.

Another interesting aspect of Imire was that the cattle herds were interspersed with the zebras, buffalo, giraffes, elephants, sable, warthogs, and impala. (All of which we saw.) The driveways we rode along was a perfect replica of the one at the farm in Pink Hill: sandy soil with a thin line of grass down the median in places. Somehow throughout the trip, I realized I had sorta always envisioned my little brother running a safari park or cattle ranch, which makes perfect sense until you realize that those places require early morning hours and Andrew likes to sleep till noon.

A few highlights: When male giraffes hit puberty, they begin to emit an odor that I originally thought was a skunk. I am amazed they have endured as a species. Hippos are nocturnal, so we only saw the top of one’s head during the Sundowns Tour. White rhinos were originally called wide rhinos for their wider lips; white is misnomer. Both black and white rhinos are grey.

The park also has an elephant matriarch of a buffalo herd. Apparently, she was the only elephant when she was two and Nzou decided she was in charge of the buffalo. She has killed over fourteen males who have tried to lead the herd. Despite the fact that elephants send out signals that range over long distances, she does not recognize the other elephants now in the park. I guess an elephant CAN forget.

For lunch in the park, we were honestly expecting sandwiches. How pleasantly surprised were we when the luncheon turned out to be hot beef stew with sadza (stiff grits), a nice salad, and a local wet cake with custard. We met two other people, Travis and Jane, who work at Imire.

We had a bit of time to rest in the afternoon before the evening ride. We talked with some of the other guests: a lovely couple celebrating their 40th anniversary, two men from Geneva in Zimbabwe for business, and a white Zimbabwean named Di who was there with her neighbor’s two children.

Watching the sun set over the pond was spectacular, but seeing the impala and giraffes come near our raised structure was awesome, as Di would say. We were served veggie slices and nice white wine as dusk settled. Back at Sable Lodge, we sat around the firepit until supper. Our group was especially pleased that Patrick was able to get his vegetarian food at all the meals. Supper included butternut squash soup and killer mashed potatoes. Exhausted we were in bed by ten.

This morning was by far the most amazing experience. We rode the elephants just after sunrise. Toto had an abscess on his leg, so Kelly rode Mundevu while Patrick and I climbed aboard Makavusi, or Mak. We were definitely on the larger animal! And wider too, it was like a required forty-five minute inner thigh stretching. I would like to say that I did not hold on for dear life the whole time, and in fact several times held out my arms saying, “Look! No hands!”  It was amazing to watch Mak tear off a limb of the masasa tree and eat it while we were on his back. The baby elephant scampered around the adults, and we all nicknamed him Dumbo although his ears weren’t any bigger than the other African elephants. As we rode through the bush, we saw herds of zebra, cattle, and impala around us. Knowing they were all just naturally there made the whole experience more meaningful for me. I just couldn’t believe that I was riding around on an elephant in Africa on a safari park and not the least bit afraid.

One of the most surreal things I think I may have ever experienced was going up to the pool deck today to hear the theme of Gone With the Wind blaring through the speakers. Somehow in Zimbabwe, I just never would have expected it; this is the country that evicted its white farmers at gunpoint. Though, being a British colony, I suppose they might not have actually known the movie’s story line… (The other instrumental songs were equally old like “Blue Moon” and “Once I Had a Secret Love” from Calamity Jane, so who knows.) Unlike in Ghana, the hotel only seems to play American standards, not local music. That makes me a little sad, as if the only way to be a five star hotel is to be very American and European. For example, on the first floor, the wooden walls are covered with European tapestries. There is an exact replica of the hunting scene tapestry Mom bought in Pays Basque France. Only white people are on the walls; it’s very odd.

The snarky part of me might argue that if your goal is to be very Western, you should have a generator for power loss, plenty of ironing boards for patrons, a good gym, and an electric tea kettle for the room. It’s really odd how several perks are thrown by the wayside when something considered a “basic” is missing. I need to say how much I love the fresh flowers I get every other day; few hotels do so. Of course, we were upgraded to the Exec level, but it’s still really wonderful. I haven’t been given beautiful bouquets in years. But I have to adjust what you think basic and extravagant mean, which is an interesting exercise.

Communicating with locals can be a little complicated. I ask them something, and they respond, “No, yes. Thank you.” Or something equally unclear. I am left waiting till their next comment to discover which course of action they meant. It reminds me of how Arabs sometimes have trouble understanding Americans when they speak in Arabic politely. “La shookran” they might say, trying to translate “No, thank you.” Locals don’t know what the American means because “shookran” inherently means “yes, thank you” to them. So the person is literally saying, “No, yes, thank you.” (This isn’t an issue with Arabs that have more exposure to Americans.)

Sunday morning Kelly and I went to the local flea market at the Sam Levy shopping center. This center is expanding and very posh and popular. Walking among the rows of brick stores, you could be in Charlottesville or Birmingham, England. The flea market is like a small sidewalk sale of relatively nice goods. It is apparently where all the white Zimbabweans hang out on the weekends. Used books prices were painful; I’m glad I brought enough reading material. It was a market for locals, so there were few souvenirs.

There was a Zarfest concert last Saturday night at the race track in Harare. A lot of the hip hop celebrities were staying at our hotel. So, Sunday on our way back in from an afternoon out, we saw Lil Kim, Fat Joe, and Ciara as they were leaving to catch their plane to South Africa. Kelly tried to get some surreptitious pictures. Hey, we know who we saw.

Tuesday and Wednesday have been big days at work with getting everything set up. I think the rest of this week will be a little easier. Tuesday night, we went to the swanky restaurant in the hotel. The beef was amazing; it’s been one of the surprises here in Harare. On our table was real silver for the creamer, the silverware, and the wine holder. My chocolate dessert was lovely. Wednesday we came home to the hotel to find the power was out again. Immediately, I was glad that we were going out to hear Irish music later that evening. Still, once the power came back on, the internet only worked for about 3 minutes.

Not surprisingly, my favorite part of the day (besides looking at my lovely bouquets) is breakfast with my hot tea. I go to a small room that is called the Meikles Room. I love seeing Collins smiling face as he assures me my brown toast is on its way as is my tea. Often I get a poached egg and fruit as I look around the bright perfectly intimate breakfast room. Sadly, Patrick didn’t get upgraded, so I shouldn’t have breakfast at the Club everyday.

Last night was a quiet night. I’m getting a little exercise in but not enough to be impressive. I do really like my large room and marble bathroom. Luckily, I never get used to the luxury; by the time I have to leave, I’m very excited to be back in my apartment. I did go back to La Foutaine, the fancy hotel restaurant whose prices are actually the same as the other restaurants. The candlelight ambiance and the live piano music make this choice a no brainer. Not to mention the lovely but cheap South African wines…($4/glass!?)

Today after work, Patrick, Kelly and I went to Donn Estate, a collection of small shops with local goods. The shops were located in small buildings that opened into a shaded yard. Patrick was thrilled that monkeys were roaming freely around the estate, but they were a little too interested in Kelly. We agreed we needed to return next week because we didn’t bring enough money to buy the cool souvenirs. My favorite place was the chocolate and tea shop (are you surprised?). I had the most amazing small cup of chili hot chocolate that was more chocolate than milk. Sitting in the cool “winter” weather of about 70 degrees with good conversation seemed like the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Monday was a great adventure for someone interested in international development. We met Patrick in the lobby at 7 AM despite the fact he had arrived only the night before. Lee who works for Lead Trust picked us up at the Meikles to take us to some medical gardens outside of Harare. These hospitals won small grants from ADF (US African Development Foundation) to plant gardens that would produce vegetables for their patients, thereby saving them precious petrol ($1.45/liter) as well as the money on vegetables. Both of these hospitals also had primary and secondary schools. The medical centers and their schools were truly the educational heart of the local communities.

The first location (about two and a half hours from Harare) was a Carmelite Catholic Mission called Triashill near Rusape. The hospital only has a total of nine staff. We met Sister Marisa, the hospital administrator. She was eager to tell us of her plans for the garden, which should grow enough for the patients, the staff, and extra to sell. Once the garden is self-sustaining and paying for the gardener’s salary, she wants to use the profits to buy chickens to lay eggs for the patients and to buy rabbits for additional protein. It was really exciting to see such dreams coming true. We heard how patients were exposed to new foods and asked how to grow them. Crops included carrots, spinach, corn, rape, tomatoes, onions, and peas. Apparently drip irrigation is a really novel concept here. Seeing it work at the mission has made other farmers think of it. Triashill is located in a rather dry part of the country. The garden has a water tank that waters through drip irrigation. The only problem is that electricity goes out quite frequently making constant watering difficult. Sometimes the power is out for over a day. I’ve heard that Zimbabwe actually imports all its power supply.

The second vegetable garden was at Bonda, an Anglican mission. Much larger, this property boasted a nursing school in addition to the K-12 with a general staff of 132 with a maximum of 80 patients at once. The hospital, which has covered walkways between the different wings, had children’s, male, female, expecting mothers, and psychiatric wards. We met Mr. Kudai, the administrator, and Mr. Nyambi, the Nutrition Specialist. While larger, the garden was similar to the one at Triashill expect that Bonda is located in an even drier climate. Perhaps most touching was when the two gardeners were showing us around. One opened his notebook and began to softly read a written description of the garden and what it did. Because he was so hesitant with his English when we later asked questions, I feel certain that he took the time to write out what to say to us before our arrival. I was happy to see the beet plants as well as many other familiar vegetables. I thought how proud Monny and Grandpa would be that I didn’t need anyone to tell me most of the plants.

These projects were exactly what was recommended by Dead Aid. The small grants were only good for three years and require the recipients to keep close documentation of the project. Furthermore, they are expected to open a separate account for the garden so the profits are clear and transparent. The recipients have to be entirely locally run, no international organizations. LEAD is helping these two hospitals learn how to manage their projects in a way that will attract international investors to future projects for them. Just a really good day.