When I visited home (Zimbabwe) in 2013, I came back with a different perspective altogether. I remember marvelling at the big expensive cars I saw sweeping past the Harare City Centre roads. The loud music,the hands with
manicured nails, gently holding the steering and the big fancy sunglasses, with the car windows completely winded down, for a minute you would think you are in the States. You could almost smell money from a distance!! Strolling into the Harare streets, with women looking the part in jeans, heels and flashy handbags and hairdos on point, it seemed like it was the norm. I realised that the things that we choose to see, are the things that our minds will dwell upon. So when I visited Zimbabwe this time round, I told myself, I wanted to see with the inner eyes, I wanted to see the things that most eyes miss out on, I almost needed a pair of microscopic eyes to see past what I had seen before with my natural eyes.
So one day after running a few errands in town, I went and sat in
Africa Unity Square, a square that’s almost in the heart of Harare. It has about five entrances, so hundreds of people use it daily to cross in and out of town.
Placing my handbag down, I sat on a ledge of what used to be an old water fountain that had long dried up and was now filled with leaves and bits of grass that were being swept in by the August wind.
As I sat there, my eyes opened and I began to see the hidden things that I had been missing all this while. As people passed by, i had a feeling of lost hope enveloping me as I sat there. A shabbily dressed woman passed by, with a young man by her side, whom I suspected might have been the son. She had her arms folded on her back and walked looking down, pulling her torn shoes. I could almost see through her and knew things were not right. She seemed like one of those mothers that sacrificed everything to better the life of her children.
As people passed rushingly I noticed many lying on the grass, under the shades of the trees with satchels and some with medium sized bags. As soon as it was 1pm lunch time, people stood up, straightened their clothes , picked their bags and rushed into town. I wondered why, and I asked a man who was selling water and drinks, why people were flocking into town. He then explained to me that, some will be following up their monies from their working customers who will now be on their lunch breaks, some will be coming to see their relatives to borrow money while some had goods to sell that they carried in those bags, so they were rushing to meet up with their customers.
As people rushed past the square, I noticed a number of them were holding those A4 brown envelopes. I asked my nephew who explained to me that, many of the people carrying around these envelopes will be job-hunting, from one industry to another searching tirelessly for jobs. The look on their faces told a thousand stories. Disappointment, despair , hopelessness, lost, sad, sorrowful and stressed. I could see past those shiny faces, with boldly shaved heads that things are not ok. Things are really not well in Zimbabwe. The dollarisation helped a lot but the dollar itself is difficult to get hold of.
Speaking to one man who was selling crisps and soda drinks, he enlightened me on the hardships on the streets of Harare. “Sister, after the vendors where chased out of town, the streets have become clean”.
“During the day the few vendors who cannot afford to sit and let things get worse, stash their products in drains or in leeways and take a few to sell around town, but by 5pm the activity of vendors increases with hundreds of them flooding into town to try and sell something and earn a living”. “It’s really difficult as you do not sell much and at times you can only manage to sell two bottles of spring water at five rand each, so in a day you end up earning just a dollar or a few dollars if you are fortunate”.
I walked down to a cameramen who was busy taking pictures and instantly printing them out. His lips where so dry and his skin cooked to black as he worked daily in the scotching heat of Harare. I quickly cooked up a conversation asking if business was still as good seeing as there’s a lot of technology and many people are now relying on gadgets to take pictures. He explained to me that the photography business was steady and that even if there are many gadgets taking photos, those photos by a professional photographer have a high quality that will never be achieved by a camera phone. I argued my points even showing him some of my photos that I had taken using iPads and he still argued his point across. I later asked him to take me a picture so I can support his business and he did do his job well. He charged me $1 but I handed him $2 and said to him, you are working in the heat, so get yourself some water. He was so grateful and thanked me wholeheartedly.
As people continued to pass through, I itched to speak to them. I wanted to hear their stories, I wanted to hear that voice that had long been quietened by hardships. I wanted to say how are you, How are things and how are you copying. Sadly I was not brave enough to approach more people. My heart wanted to reach out to women, as I know many of them are the ones that are working left, right and Center to provide for their families.
As I walked back to where we were meeting family, I passed through a middle aged woman. She was selling masau, she had packed a few packets and by her side was a huge sack. I asked her how much they were, and she said, ‘only five rand’. I said to her I mean the big sack on your side, she laughed and said “oh those aren’t packed yet”. I said to her, well I want to buy the whole sack and support your business, her face straightened and she looked at me as if she was asking if I was really serious. I repeated and said, “I want to buy the whole sack, how much will you charge me?”, now smiling, she replied, “oh ok ndokuitirai $3″. I knew she had undercharged me because I had caught her off guard, so I handed her $5 and said, ” I will give you $5 for that sack and get yourself a drink later”. She thanked me so much, handing me the sack laughing joyfully. At least I had done my good deed of the day.
By the time I got home that night, I had seen it all. I concluded that many people are struggling big time ,back home. Things are really not well and employment rates keep going down with many being made redundant without notice or packages. That’s why many of the vendors in Harare are young men and women who should be in school concentrating on their studies. Whether things will get better or not, for now there is real hardship among our people.