This is Zimbabwe

Waking up to the cold weather and the breeze from forests as we drive from our lodge to the symposium venue, we often stopped to let buffalos, baboons and warthog to cross the road. The symposium venue along the Zambezi River and its majestic Victoria falls, named Mosi oa Tunya – the smoke which thunders, offering a gentle wind on sunny days. While us, young men and women from all over Africa armed with the super-pharmacist i-cubed factor, defined as a nature of being Innovators, Inventors and Initiators of things, we learn and discuss about Integrating Emerging Technologies in Pharmacy for the Improvement of Public Health Delivery in Africa.

I arrived at Harare international airport at 1:20am with my next flight to the western city of Victoria Falls at 9am. My plane was the last for the night and the airport was empty, I had in mind what is always in the media about Zimbabwe and I refused the offer from a taxi driver to get for me a room to sleep for the night. Harare was described, as I read before travelling, the world’s least livable city on earth, the 4th worst on the list.

I then preferred to buy a coca in a café for the server to leave the TV on while he is asleep, I watched the rebroadcast of all that day world cup games that I missed while on planes and transits. It was 6 to 10 degrees that night.

In the morning, I boarded the local Air Zimbabwe to fly to Victoria Falls, another international airport, being enlarged with a new terminal. Victoria Falls is a small city between the Zambezi and the Victoria Falls National Parks. Its economy is based on conferences and tourism.

From the airport to our lodge, I started being impressed by what Zimbabwe really is and what it has to offer, experiencing this reality in a city which is not even one of the top 5 or 6 biggest city of Zimbabwe. Clean roads, hotels on every single avenue, Class Taxis, Huge Mall, among others. Zimbabwe is actually a living country.

Victoria Falls is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world. Columns of spray can be seen from miles away. At the height of the rainy season, more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge, over a width of nearly two kilometers, into a gorge over one hundred meters below. The wide, basalt cliff over which the falls thunder, transforms the Zambezi from a placid river into a ferocious torrent cutting through a series of dramatic gorges.

David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary who discovered, or let’s say the first white man to view Victoria Falls –and named the falls, the city and the park in honor of Queen Victoria. How cool!
I was glad to hear that the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya –The Smoke that Thunders continues in common usage as well and is recognized by the world heritage list.

Facing the fall is another sheer wall of basalt, rising to the same height, and capped by mist-soaked rain forest. A path along the edge of the forest provides the visitor prepared to brave the tremendous spray, with an unparalleled series of views of the fall.

My excursion to the Rain forest was breathtaking that I had to visit twice, Victoria Falls presents a spectacular sight of awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The area surrounding the Victoria Falls supports many species of mammals, large (elephants, buffalos), small (warthog), primates (baboons) and they regularly find their way in the town and its developments.

After long busy days, we used to sit around a blazing fire until late at night, laughing out loud at Nigerians’ jokes, dancing to South Africans’ tunes and me the Rwandan, playing the most advanced African, you know the banned plastic bags thing, the success story after the genocide, best in doing business, cleanest city, so on and so forth. Actually everyone defined Rwanda according to the movie Hotel Rwanda, It took me two hours that night to tell the Rwandan story, and my pride was to end the story with above-mentioned success facts.

After a few weeks, I took off from Victoria Falls. Approaching Harare International airport with a view of endless plains and fantastic rock formations under the wing of the Brazilian-made Embraer of Air Zimbabwe, I was no longer afraid of horrible Harare after Victoria Falls and I was not convinced by reports coming from the west.

I was driven through green and quiet streets, some carrying interesting names like Benghazi, Julius Nyerere, and Robert Mugabe Avenue towards Harare’s modern and elegant city center. I search for sandbags and gunners, for gangs roaming the streets, for the garbage-clogged waters and horrid pollution, there is nothing like that here, no slums and no burning fires. They are few beggars, pavement not that much potholed. Harare can be described as a beautiful city from what I saw through the window of a car.

As a pharmacist, what a fellow friend could show was his workplace, the hospital, located in a quiet part of the city and it could be easily qualified as one of the most elegant medical facilities. It is stylish, full of artwork, and at the same time high-tech and immaculately clean.

I saw Harare Gardens, a beautiful park with people resting on the grass, enjoying picnics, and reading. We don’t have that kind of public space in Kigali. But Harare, we are told, is the worst city on earth!

Another observation, people read a lot, magazines and newspapers are sold like bread. Why do they do it? They are literate, Zimbabwe is the most literation nation on the entire continent. Literacy level currently stands at 92 percent.

Should I mention movie theatres, posh cafes, golf courses, pedestrian malls, supermarkets, designer stores, luxury cars stores? Harare has everything.

Zimbabweans love their country. Dollarization made prizes high and embargos crippled the economy. But people are resilient and tough, and very kind at the same time.

They have a rich artistic tradition, including fine arts and crafts, stone and metal sculpture. Their basic food is called sadza, softer than our Rwandan bugali. They eat all sort of things.

Zimbabwe and Zambia has been a one kind of experience in a learning and touristic environment, with an awesome reception committee, good food, friendly different character of people converging in one place, amazing nights of partying and dancing to different cultures and songs. The kind of experience one never wish to end.

My last night I went to Avondale shopping center for a pizza with my host. Close to midnight, I’m driven to the airport. In this most terrible city on earth, endlessly impressed, suddenly in-love with the city that has been standing tall despite embargos, intrigues, and slander coming from the old and new colonial masters of the world.

2 am, I board another Brazilian-made Embraer of Kenya Airways on my way back home, I already miss everything I experienced here and people I met. I think of coming back soon…

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