Chameleons, Tortoises and Beautiful Objects

We rose this morning ready for breakfast at 8am. We’d not really explored our accommodation other than finding our rooms and falling to sleep. All we knew about breakfast was that someone was bringing it to us. I have some coffee with me so decided to try and find a kettle. This was more of an experience that I would have anticipated. Initially I spotted a coffee and espresso making machine, I plugged it in, light came on and I was hopeful. Water was added and nothing happened. The kitchen is not the cleanest I have ever been in and usually people staying here use it to cook their own food. There are piles of saucepans and a gas stove but no kettle. Water is poured into a saucepan but the next challenge is a lack of matches or lighter. We root through drawers and cupboards, all with a tacky feel about them and their contents. Eventually the water is put on to boil. As we’ve searched most of the cupboards we also open the fridge and the freezer and are confronted with two large frozen fish looking out from a grubby ice filled freezer. Moments later someone opens another cupboard and we finally find a kettle. Just as the water is boils one of the staff walks into the dinning area and asks if we’d like a coffee from the coffee machine in the bar… if only we’d known!

It gets to 9am and eventually people arrive to being us breakfast. We are sat outside and watch as more and more equipment is brought through. A barbecue, tables, a urn, jugs, trays, it all looks very impressive and we are beginning to wonder about the amount of effort being put into breakfast, and assume these are volunteers from the college or a church. It feels like they are going to an awful lot of effort when we’d have been happy with a bowl of cereals. Around 9:30am food is ready and we have a cooked breakfast, at which point I realise this is a catering company and they have been booked to cook for us during our stay in Harare.

It has been planned for us to visit a place called Snake Park this morning. I am surprised by extent to which people are anxious about this. The Snake Park is much as one would expect and similar to places I have been in the UK; a series of glass windows fronted tanks which contain different venomous and deadly snakes that can be found in Zimbabwe. They are all quite beautiful with their different patterns and colours. There is an opportunity hold a corn snake which I naturally take along with only one other. One member of our team is not sure at all but with some gentle encouragement holds the snake for a matter of seconds. The others all keep their distance looking sheepish.

The park also houses some bullfrogs, crocodile, lizards, tortoise (including some tiny babies) and, what turns out to be my favourite, chameleons. I could possibly consider one or two of these as a pet – they look cool and don’t do much!

After Snake Park we visit Lion Park. This begins with a drive through the lion enclosure in the minibus. We are quite excited when we see a couple lions on the opposite side of a fence. We are able to get out of the bus and take a few photos. Then the gate is open and we drive into the enclosure. The lions are now quite close to us and we are thrilled at how close we are able to get. Having not see lions on safari earlier in the week this certainly makes up for it. The rest of the park is much more like a zoo. There are enclosures with crocodile, chickens, rabbits, tortoise and lions (including white lions). Baboons run and climb around all over the place (though not in the lion enclosures) looking for food and being a nuisance. I am particularly found of the Galapagos Tortoise named Tommy who, we are informed, is estimated to be around 340 years old.

Before heading over to college for lunch we have some time to fill and stop at Chinatown. This is like no other Chinatown I have ever been too. Other than a couple of Chinese archways this is a concrete block of small shops and businesses selling a wide array of goods including x-ray accessories! There is also a large supermarket, a number of bars and off to one side an amusement park. It is all just a bit strange, especially as we don’t really have anything to do there.

Our caterers have moved across the UTC where we meet them and enjoy a delicious lunch. I try an interesting ‘traditional’ drink which even those who are locals I learn tend to avoid. It was made with maize and malt and I’m not sure I’ll be having it again. As we return to our lodge we are nearing the State House when we are stopped at traffic lights (known here as robots) when the president and his cavalcade drive past and enter the State House.

For the rest of the afternoon we have free time. A group of us decide to take a walk down to the shops that have been pointed out to us, about a 10 minute walk away. We are also interested to see close up the queues for fuel. So far we have driven past them and witnessed them growing daily as we’ve moved from city to city. They are now quite extraordinary. We walk to the petrol forecourt and the attendants tell us they’ve been without petrol for 3 days and people are sleeping in their cars in the queue. They know it will be chaos when fuel arrives and seemed anxious.

We discover that there are not just a few shops but a fabulous market. The regular patter begins;

“Hello”

“How are you?”

“Please come and see my shop”

“Looking is free.”

“I will give you a very good price.”

“We can do something very special for you.”

“Just buy one thing, something small.”

“I have not made a sale today, times are very hard, you will but just one thing”

It is the same at every stall. The boundary between stalls is respected but as soon as you pass from one to another the owner of the stall, selling many of the same and items, begins with the same spiel all over again. To begin with it is fun, but before long it becomes wearing, though I love the banter and the bartering once the shopping begins. I’m not after anything in particular but love the sounds, smells, colours, creativity and buzz of the market. There are wonderfully carved stone and wooden ornaments, paintings, beautiful fabrics, beaded artefacts, wire sculptures, brightly coloured shirts and dresses, objects made of recycled bottle tops or drinks cans. Although many stalls look similar there are occasional unique items. I check prices on a few things as I walk around, seeing what kind of price people are offering as a starting point. As I approach one stall the stall holder says something to a friend and they both erupt in laughter, I am told by the friend that the stall holder has said she is planning to marry me. For the second time in three days I point out I’m already married and move on.

Although we walk around for an hour I don’t make any purchases until we are near to leaving. There is some back and forth on the price and I know I want spend more than I think something is worth and they won’t sell for less than a price that is worthwhile for them. I walk away from a few deals. Sometimes this means I am called back and we settle or I miss out, but as I’m not particular looking for anything there is nothing to loose out on.

Over dinner we begin a conversation around communion. There are different views and theologies, different practices, including the Salvation Army who do celebrate communion. Despite the differences I appreciate the conversation as it seems everyone is genuinely interested in learning and hearing from others. We share stories of different communion services that have been special for different reasons and haven’t always used bread and wine but whatever was available in the moment. I also appreciate that we could sit together discussing communion, know of each of our differences but still join together in sharing in communion together, in unity, as Christian brothers and sisters.

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