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ARRIVAL IN ZIMBABWE

October 5, 2015

We flew from Amsterdam via some other countries to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. We were fully packed, using every bit of the hundred kilos allowed. We were welcomed at the airport by my new boss, the organisation’s Zimbabwe country director. We shoved all the suitcases and bags into the back of his 4×4 and drove through Harare to his home. After a couple of minutes driving through Harare, we saw a huge group of angry young men crossing the street. Apparently it was some kind of protest. I did not like the sight and first thing that came to my mind was: “not on the bloody first day I am in Africa!” But nothing happened. We arrived at the director’s house. He was married to an Ethiopian lady, and had two daughters, a bit older than mine. The house was huge, especially by Dutch standards, the garden even bigger and green. This was the life! We had a nice lunch and were informed about the situation in Zimbabwe. The director asked us a couple of times whom we thought his daughters took after, whether they looked more like him, a Dutch expat, or his wife, an Ethiopian. Since he insisted on an answer, we gave it our best guess. Only to be informed at the end of our visit that the children were adopted. I didn’t think that was very funny, but I guess everyone had its own humour. Apparently this was one of his favourite tricks to play on newcomers. I felt stupid.

But it didn’t matter much. Whenever you are in a new country, you spend most of your first days taking in and processing all the first impressions. Everything looks, smells and feels different. Everything is interesting. And looking out the window of the car that was driving us to the hotel in Harare, you find yourself going slow motion, just absorbing that new unknown world.

We were dropped off and checked in at the Bronte Hotel. It’s a hotel in a nice family friendly setting. I met with my new local boss, a Zimbabwean lady, a true African mama.

She was nice enough and took us on a sightseeing tour of Harare, to the Sam Levi shopping centre, and the various neighbourhoods. It was a feast for the eyes for a “baby in Zimbabwe”. We had to spend some days in Harare to take care of business and would be proceeding to Bulawayo, our final destination for the time being.

I was happy, anxious and curious to see what this adventure would turn out to become. I was also happy that we had made the decision, despite all the troubles and uncertainties. Not too happy about being told that to walk outside of the hotel was dangerous.

Bulawayo

Once in Bulawayo, we quickly found a house. A big motherload of a house. My wife had prayed for one without a swimming pool, since she was worried the kids might drown. God listened to her instead of me, with assistance from our tiny, very busy office assistant named Chido. Over one acre of land, six bedrooms, double garage, nice rocky garden, large bar, big American style kitchen, the lots. And that for the equivalent of two hundred dollars a month. Set in a nice neighbourhood and with its very own automatic gate and driveway. The interior was somewhat different, with it being very much as it had been left some decades ago by the previous white owner. An old eighty years old English lady by the looks of it, based on the flower wallpaper and overall abundance of kitsch. It now belonged to a rich and influential black Zimbabwean, who was a customs agent and successful farmer. A black farmer who had actually bought his farm, rather than take it by force, and was smart enough to employ two black agricultural experts to run it on his behalf. First weeks were spent getting to know people, colleagues, other ex-pats talking to our house maid and gardener, exploring the town and sleeping on air mattresses. Since the decision to open offices in Bulawayo was a very recent one and colleagues still had to move from their technical assistant positions in government offices in small towns in the province, I had no office and no work. After spending over four months waiting in the Netherlands, I didn’t feel too bad about this compulsory holiday period in Zimbabwe which took almost three months. It gave me time to do some remodelling of the interior of the house (which mostly consisted of taking away things) and lots of socializing.

We had a golf course nearby, as well as a small aloe sanctuary and the wonderful Matobo National Park just half an hour drive away.

On my first assignment I was told to catch a plane to Masvingo, a city some 400 kilometres from Bulawayo. However, this being my first time, I could not find the airport and decided to drive there. I didn’t mind, since I liked driving and had not taken this route before.

After driving for about 1 hour I got almost froze behind the wheel when I saw what looked like an entire army of man in green clothing running towards my car coming from the opposite direction. Turned out there was a military base somewhere close by so they were just off for their compulsory exercise and were not out to get me.

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