A Quiet Day

I did manage to get a little sleep. Upon waking we were unsure what the day would hold. I had managed to watch videos from social media of some of the events around Zimbabwe yesterday. A report on the BBC mentioned the area of Harare that we had been in the previous day and we learned it was one of the worst hit areas. Rumours were circulating about the army going door to door in high density areas (townships). There were reports of looting, the opposition head quarters has been burned down, numerous people have been shot, but by whom and the number of deaths is unclear. I read that the internet is likely to be switch off and sure enough we begin the day with patchy service, certainly no social media and before long it is gone.
Our team leader orders a taxi and goes our to see how things are along the route between our lodge and the airport. Whilst he is gone we have breakfast, grateful that staff at the lodge are still coming to work along with those catering for us. As people have been called to stay away from work and the challenges faced by those who travelled to work yesterday I am humbled that these staff are making the effort for us. We don’t know what might happen. Will there be more disturbances? Will they come to the neighbourhood we are in? Will we be asked to make a quick exit? Will be flying out early? One of the lodge staff who lives about 10 minutes away said it had been eerie this morning coming to work as the streets were so quiet.

We eat breakfast and decide that it would be a good idea to have our bags packed and for everyone to be in a position to leave fairly quickly if that is required of us. Our team leader returns and informs is that the route is relatively clear and things are relatively quiet. He did see one man being beaten but emphasised that the safest place we could be at the moment is right where we are. Although it would probably we safe for us to walk or drive to a coffee shop there is no where open. Gates are closed to shopping centres, shops have their shutters down and people are staying at home. We are going to do the same.

We learn that 55% percent of the country now has no internet, meaning that there is no way for the demonstrators to communicate with Whatsapp or similar are easy rally masses of people. It also means we are without much communication to the outside world and don’t know what is happening. Without access to social media, no TV and a broken DVD player it seems like this is going to be a long and quiet day. After the initial anxiety and anticipation that we may be required to move quite quickly it turns out we are to stay put. It is a cooler, wetter day. We aren’t able to sit out in the sun or make use of the swimming pool. One of the team finds Monopoly and organises all of the cards, money and pieces. There is no board and so he spends an hour or so drawing one. Despite the effort and the boredom it ends up with no one playing.

A number of us visit the craft shop and look at the fabrics, bags, scarves and souvenirs in the reception of the lodge. A number of purchases are made as people realise there is not going to be another opportunity to visit the market to purchase gifts or mementos.

By this time it is only mid morning and we drift into our own activities. Some of the younger members of the team find it particularly difficult and are very bored. Others read books and I decide to catch up on some blog posts (even if I can’t upload them I can write them in order to capture the memories of recent days and reflect on our time in Zimbabwe). I feel remarkably positive, a weight was lifted from me yesterday evening and the forced day of nothing is a gift.

Just before lunch the UTC Principal and a couple of the lecturers arrive. As I am in the main communal space I welcome them and quickly knock on a few doors to bring the team together. The original plan had been for us to visit the college for another lecture, as we did yesterday, this changed to some of the UTC students travelling to join us but given the uncertainties ended up with the staff only.

Over coffee we discuss the situation. Our guests inform us that the roads are very quiet. Shops, restaurants, businesses and schools are closed. People have stayed home. The expectation of the college staff is that the strike will only last for 3 days as the organisers will want to negotiate, to make demands or clear expectations which if not fulfilled will result in further strikes and demonstrations. Due to their contacts through the churches, with members who are working at all levels of government in addition to regular folk, their information feels reliable.

Our conversations cover politics and the euphoria of November 2019 with the toppling of Mugabe, but for those who remained calm they knew that a leopard doesn’t change its spots and so the current situation is of little surprise. Thinking about the future our guests say that they think Zimbabwe needs to find its way to becoming stable and a place from which the people can begin to have hope. The question they are asking is whether they are 40 years in the wilderness like the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt or 70 years in captivity in Babylon. Such comparisons certainly offer a different insight into faith when making comparisons to such biblical stories. When asked that we could be praying for regarding Zimbabwe we are given three suggestions:

  • That the pulpit would be used as an avenue for change.
  • That prayer, worship and teaching would be used as an instrument of political change.
  • To pray for the people who are going without food, particularly in the rural areas where you come face to face with poverty.

We learn that children (aged as young as 9 years old) from Epworth, the high density area near to the college and from the homes built on the college land, are not at school but come to the college looking for jobs. They offer to till the land and other manual tasks. Those who are blessed with land and wealth are those who have succumbed to the system and not to God’s justice. We must succumb to God’s justice.

Our caterers return and provide us with another delicious lunch after which our visitors leave. The afternoon is spent with people sleeping, reading and I continue to catch up on my blog posts about the trip. It turns out that after the initial excitement a three day general strike along with disturbances is rather dull, though we are sure that family and friends at home following news and hearing nothing from us it is somewhat more concerning.
Our accommodation includes a bar and occasionally non-residents pop in for a drink. This afternoon a guy came in and ordered a coke. He sat down across the table from me and we made pleasantries. As I listened to music with headphones in and typed away on my laptop his boredom was also apparent. He spent at least 45 minutes drinking one bottle of coke during which time he picked up the rules of Monopoly that had been left on the table and read them from cover to cover before leaving.

Before dinner a few of us end up gathering, chatting and laughing together. I try to get the TV and DVD to work but the wiring is all a little dodgy so leave it. I do take a look through the bookshelf and find a number of “interesting” books including an horrendous book from 1965 promoting apartheid. Shocked I share this with the team and agree not to leave it on the shelf but to remove it from Zimbabwe completely.

After dinner we play a couple of ‘parlour games’ which is very funny, and is probably the highlight of the day for many. I text my wife and let her know we are safe and bored, asking if she will let me know of the result of the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal. Unsurprisingly the government loses, but the margin is historic and not expected. Tomorrow we fly home and having spent two weeks away from UK politics, engaging instead with a significantly more pressing and extreme issues of poverty and political abuse, I am sure we’ll be returning to a 24 hour news cycle of Brexit and over hyped uncertainty.

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