Walking the streets of Zimbabwe in Cathy Buckle’s shoes

In here weekly missive, Cathy Buckle describes the current situation in Zimbabwe. Six years after the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe, there are still no jobs, and everyone is working to survive under the trees, on the pavements, and sitting in the dust in the sun or wind day after day. She takes readers through Zimbabwe’s streets, describing how people sell everything they can to survive, from toilet paper to fruit and vegetables. She also highlights the Bend Over Bazaar, where people can buy second-hand clothes and shoes. But as always with Cathy, she finds the light of optimism in the country’s beautiful countryside at night.

Walk in my shoes in Zimbabwe

By Cathy Buckle*

It’s been a long time since I described what everyday Zimbabwe looks like. Come, walk in my shoes, have a look.

Our economy and life are on the pavements, at the intersections, on the roadsides, and under the trees. Need toilet paper? There’s a guy on the corner of those two streets. Buckets, mops, brooms? Go to the lady under the tree near the deserted factory. Shoes, socks, tights? The woman with the toddler near the government offices has an extensive selection. Need a new pillow? There’s a man in a red car at the roundabout, and he’s got beautiful duvets and blankets too. Fruit and veg? It’s everywhere: on pavements, under trees, in city centers and suburbs, at stop streets and traffic lights, at taxi ranks, and outside hospitals. Whew, this is easy-peasy shopping, with no tax, no trolleys, no queues, and smiling people are so grateful for your patronage. How about lunch? Donuts on that corner, boiled eggs and buns under that tree, a guy roasting maize (corn) on an open fire near the hospital. Sausages and chicken pieces from a lady over there. Salt in a little twist of a newspaper; hot peri-peri squirted out of a little bottle. The handful sells roasted peanuts. A stick of sugar cane if your teeth are up to it: bite, grip, pull, spit, chew, juicy, divine! This is the face of Zimbabwe 43 years after Independence and six years after the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe. (The coup they said wasn’t a coup, that is!) There are still no jobs, and to survive, everyone is ‘at work’ under the trees, on the pavements, sitting in the dust in the sun or wind day after day. Miss a day, and they can’t meet their rent, pay school fees, or buy their meds.

Also read: Stepping into ancient history amidst modern challenges – Cathy Buckle

Let’s go to the Bend Over Bazaar! It sounds exotic. An intriguing name. There it is, along the path by the railway line. Mountains of clothes, tops, dresses, jackets, jeans- they’ve got it. You bend over and choose what you want, try it on right there in the sun, in the open, pull it on over your clothes, or hold it up to your top, your waist. Slip your shoes off and try a pair from that pile there, there, or there. Competition is fierce at the Bend Over Bazaar, but the ladies still call to each other: has anyone got a size 12, blue? They are all looking out for each other; this is how Zimbabwe survives.

Need to go to the bank? I don’t think so, not today, in fact, any day between the 20th of one month and the 6th of the next. Hundreds of people wait in line, waiting for hours to redeem cash sent to them from relations in the Diaspora, withdraw their pay, and try and get their pensions. It’s too depressing. Let’s take a little drive.

A few blocks off the center of the capital city, a young guy in his mid-twenties gets to the middle of a chaotic intersection. Chaotic because the traffic lights aren’t working as usual. Chaotic because no one gives way, traffic pushes forward, and vehicles cut you off and crowd you out. Quick, push, squeeze, slam on brakes, get stuck in the gridlock, and hope no one hits you: Aaaaah, a nightmare. But then comes this young guy, maybe mid-twenties, in dark green shorts, a black T-shirt, and a green wooly hat. With a small rucksack on his back, he fearlessly makes his way to the middle of the intersection and starts to direct traffic. It’s a sight to behold one unemployed young guy calming the mayhem. He pivots on his toes and swings from one direction to the other, whistling, pointing, stopping vehicles on that side, and gesturing for others to go from the other side. Amazingly people follow his signals, and in a few minutes, he’s cracked it, and we’re moving again. I smile and wave as I get through; he nods in acknowledgment and returns to the task. If it’s this easy to resolve chaos, where are our leaders?

Also read: Cathy Buckle: Zimbabwe’s bitter harvest – Exposing the gold mafia and corruption

Let’s head into the suburbs. You can get anything here, from a blast from a compressor to a shoe repair, a mechanic, or a hairdresser. On every piece of open ground, someone’s grown a crop of maize (corn), and people are reaping everywhere. A bucket full, sack full, wheelbarrow full. Brown, dry, curled leaves lift into the wind. Men, women, and children pick and throw cobs onto piles; toddlers sit on their Mum’s colorful wraps in the dust. Small street cars, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, are all out there, lurching over contours, driving through the stubble to their self-apportioned squares of land, boot open, doors open, maize cobs thrown in until it reaches the ceilings.  

The last stop comes much later. Come outside with me when the burnt caramel sky has slipped away and the half-moon is up in the inky darkness. It’s cool, but you don’t need a jacket. Take your shoes off, and feel the cooling earth under your feet. Look up, watch for shooting stars, listen for the calls of nightjars, let the light of the pale-yellow moon fill your heart, feel its pulse moving your feet. This is our beautiful, fragile, harsh Zimbabwe. Every day these memorable encounters are there to see if only we let ourselves come out of the bubble and look. We know the overwhelming burdens people carry, and every day, every step of the way, we try and help each other. We know everything’s a mess, but we could fix it if only we would speak out and stand together.

I end this letter with a word of hope for the people of Sudan. Our hearts are with you; we are so pained to see the start of another conflict in Africa. Why is this lust for power and control always?

Also read: Cathy Buckle: The perils of telling Zimbabwe’s story

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe, but if you would like to donate, please visit my website. Thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy, 28 April 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle  https://cathybuckle.co.zw/

All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle, and Lulu with the hardback version of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021 and 2022 collections) on high gloss paper available exclusively on LULU. Visit my website for full details www.cathybuckle.co.zw or click here: www.lulu.com/spotlight/cathybuckle2018 or here www.amazon.com/author/catherinebuckle

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