Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cathy's letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,
The moon was still up and a handful of stars shone in the sky when I left home before dawn on Friday morning. It didn't take me long to get to the petrol queue and I coasted into place behind an old Peugeot. There were more cars coming in behind me and all were saving precious fuel, switching off their engines and rolling down into the queue. I had bought a book but it was still too dark to read so I locked my car and walked along the line to see how many cars were in front of me and tried to work out how long it might be before I got to the front. There were 22 vehicles ahead of me and in almost all of them the drivers were huddled under jackets and blankets asleep. The petrol station whose big sign boasts "24 hour" service, was actually closed. It would only open at 6 am and even then it wouldn't really be open because they had no fuel to sell anyway. We were all queuing on the back of a rumour that had persisted for over 24 hours that a petrol delivery was imminent. The tanker hadn't arrived yet but still the people waited. The latest rumour was that the tanker driver had a puncture and was delayed in Harare but that had been many many hours earlier but, in true Zimbabwean fashion, we were ever hopeful and so we waited. Just after dawn broke I saw a man walking along the fence line of the petrol station. He was thin and barefoot and his clothes were very dirty but he was intent and kept bending down and carefully picking weeds. He wasn't pulling out the weeds, which I know as Blackjacks, but breaking off the younger leaves at the tops of the plants and collecting them carefully in a bunch. The cooked leaves of young Blackjacks are edible and in amongst the plastic bags, crisp packets, cigarette ends and street litter, the man was obviously collecting food. Soon he had a large bundle of leaves in his hands and left. As the light of day increased, the queue at the petrol station became a jungle. Young men with dreadlocks and backwards baseball caps came in cars with blaring radios. First they cruised the line, looking at faces and spaces, and then they stopped wherever they decided they were going to jump the queue, pointing their cars at the place they intended to squeeze in. Petrol pump attendants, waiting to have something to do, find themselves as the most sought after and popular people and it doesn't take much looking to see money changing hands and notes being tucked into pockets. A momentary diversion from the boredom and the waiting came with four women of the night who strut and swagger alongside the queue in skintight jeans and high heels. The contrast between the man picking Blackjacks and the women with crimson and bright blue highlights in their hair, is stark and surreal. As the day got hotter and the sun higher, still the tanker didn't come and people started giving up. I gave up after three hours. A fruitless line for a few litres of petrol seemed a far cry from the incessant crowing on the propaganda TV and radio all week about our newly acquired Chinese aeroplanes. If the propaganda is to be believed these two new aeroplanes are going to "turnaround" the economy, "revive tourism" and flood the country with foreign currency. I can't help wondering if these Chinese planes also need fuel to operate as frankly the irony of new planes and no fuel is just too staggering.Until next week, love cathy Copyright cathy buckle 7th May 2005 http://africantears.netfirms.comMy books on the Zimbabwean crisis, "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" areavailable from: orders@africabookcentre.com ; www.africabookcentre.com ;www.amazon.co.uk ; in Australia and New Zealand: johnmreed@johnreedbooks.com.au; Africa: www.kalahari.net www.exclusivebooks.com

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