The Long Drive

It is never nice to be sick but when you wake in the middle of the night in a foreign land with your stomach churning it is particularly unpleasant. For a moment you don’t want to be sick, then your thoughts turn to every unpleasant illness you’ve heard about, such as cholera, and then you just know you want whatever is in your to get out by any means possible. Thankfully 15 minutes of D&V and I was back in bed drifting off to sleep. I woke to the sound of my alarm, feeling green around the gills and uncertain about what might lie ahead. I skipped breakfast, deciding that plenty of water and very safe food was the order of the day. We were to spend the day on the bus driving from Bulawayo to Mutare, via Masvingo.

I boarded the bus, settled into my seat and closed my eyes. I don’t know whether I actually slept during the first leg of the journey but after two hours felt noticeably better. We stopped for a toilet break, expecting to find a restaurant with a restroom we could borrow. However, that was not to be and we found a home-ware store selling beds, sofa, dinning furniture and TV’s, and in what was probably the most random of restroom breaks we queue in the stock room surrounded by beds, fridges and washing machines to use a single toilet. Other than randomness of the stop it was thankfully uneventful.

Onwards we travelled for a further 2 hours. More time to close my eyes and rest. As I became more accustomed to my seat I think I did manage to doze off on this occasion for a few moments. I would wake as we stopped for the usual road blocks of cattle, goats and police or occasionally as our driver braked behind a vehicle, unable to overtake because of the traffic (usually a truck) heading in the opposite direction. Between Bulawayo and Masvingo the ground became drier. We noted a few baobab trees, with our driver pointing out that where there is a baobab there is little water and it is difficult to grow anything. The baobab fruit can be used to make a porridge like meal.

In Masvingo we meet a pastor of a Methodist Church. He again spoke of the challenges facing the church. There is a recurring theme of economy and false prophets making promises of blessing for financial incentives. He also spoke with great pride about Great Zimbabwe. Unfortunately it there was no time to visit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe as we wanted to arrive in Mutare before dark, I am thankful to have been on a previous visit. Great Zimbabwe hails from the 11th Century. During the 1960’s and 70’s the official line of the Rhodesian government that they were built by non-blacks but this was widely disputed and clearly an act of propaganda.It is Great Zimbabwe from which Zimbabwe takes its name, Dzimba-dza-mabwe, meaning House of Stone.

We drive on. More sleep, more stops for cows, goats and police. We pass villages of traditional rondovals and newer brick built homes. Our next toilet stop is just before we cross the Birchenough Bridge. We pull into some kind of hotel or guest house. There are sprinklers on in the garden and someone comments they want to run through to cool down. I agree, suggesting we go for it, they reply that I must be feeling better if I am ready to do this kind of thing again. I agree. We cool off beneath the spray of a sprinkler, well a plastic bottle with holes attached to the end of a hose pipe!

Birchenough Bridge is a reasonably large bridge. It provides good views up and down the river. I am taken about though we cross the bridge and enter Chipinge District. It was 20 years ago this year that I was last in Zimbabwe and it was in Chipinge that I stayed and volunteered building at an orphanage. The sign reads that the town was just 61km away. It caught me a little by surprise, though I had known the route we were driving .We then entered Chimanimani District, again it was 20 years ago that I was there, one weekend climbing the Chimanimani Mountains and sleeping in a cave. The memories came flooding back, not that they have ever really been far away, and for a moment or two there was a lump in my throat. I thought about my friends who owned a farm and established the orphanage on their land, now living in America as it was not safe for them to stay for too many years after 2000. I thought of the Pastor who I would so love to see again. The children with whom I sang, danced and laughed. The guys who joined us in building. The church we attended. The church in the valley where I first preached beneath a tree with the words bouncing and echoing off the mountains. I think of the team riding in the back of a pick up, singing songs, telling stories, visiting churches, houses, places of interest. It was a trip that shaped me significantly and led me to the path I now lead in life. It was the place and the people that caused me to fall in love with this beautiful country.

The final leg of the journey offered new views. Initially it was the children walking along the roadside as they headed home from school, all in their pristine uniforms. Then as we finally reach Mutare there are people everywhere. There is a hustle and bustle around the market stalls and bus station. People are selling bananas as avocados; this area is rich in these fruits. Cabbages are piled at least 6-8 feet high. There are more queues for fuel. We pass through the city and out the other side. The road winds us upwards into the forest covered mountains. There are stunning views. It is much greener here. The smell of diesel left in the city makes way to humid vegetation and occasionally wood smoke from a house with as fire burning. The sun sets before us, pointing towards the border with Mozambique.

We arrive at our destination, the White Horse Inn; something of a guest house or motel. It is somewhat dated and tells something of the story of the colonial past and likely ex-pats coming for holidays. It is however very pleasant. I am sharing a cottage with out driver and have what is at least a family sized room (double bed, 2 singles and a sofa bed) to myself. Although the wifi does not reach my room I am able to connect in the main Inn and catch up with family. The sound of crickets and insects fills the air. Although I am feeling better I stick to a safe dinner of soup and bread, adhering to the sign on the wall that notes “From 6:30pm long trousers, no jeans or tee shirts, ties appreciated.”

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