Going Places: Tales from the road: Postcards from Africa

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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By Todd Krieger

July 31: Mutare, Zimbabwe

Holding off the morning's chill, we head for the communal lands, reserves that were created by early white settlers as a place to group the indigenous peoples, ostensibly to preserve their culture, and for myriad other political reasons.

The impetus for the journey comes from a book that Monique has stumbled onto called Guardians of the Soil, which features interviews with elders from various communal lands throughout Zimbabwe, each one discussing their respective connection to the land they and their ancestors have called home for generations. Our destination: Zimunya, south of Mutare.

Postcards from Africa
The wisdom of the elders
Ishe T.
We meet with Ishe T., the elder chief of Zimunya, regally dressed in tie and pith helmet. Within moments of making the necessary introductions (we're aided by a highly proficient English teacher), Ishe shows his Rhodesian identity badge.

A rectangular metallic object with a photo engraving of a younger man bearing the name Patrick Tsvakai Munyarari, the Rhodesian national identity card suggests a litany of abuse and disrespect at the hands of the colonials, but Ishe doesn't see things that way. He simply views the card as what it is--an identity card. A lifetime resident of Zimunya, Ishe is the most respected elder and his wisdom is looked to in times of disputes between neighbors, quarrels among family members, and when there are problems with the land--as in times of drought.

When we talk to him of the creation of Lake Kariba and the forced resettlement of the Tonga people to make room for the game park and provide hydro-generated power for the country, he responds through his translator, "It is not healthy to evict people over animals. There is plenty of land in this country for everybody." Through this conversation with Ishe, it becomes clear that throwing in the added elements of history, wildlife, and land use into the already volatile stew of race relations makes for a fiery mix of resources, rights, and conflicting interests.

The ride south from Zimunya is a slide show of ever-changing scenery. One moment we see barren rock formations that call to mind Joshua Tree, then tree-lined winding routes reminiscent of California's Napa Valley, and then desert terrain similar to regions of northern Nevada. It is here on the road to Chipinge in the southeastern corner of Zim, that I see my first baobab trees. The Zimbabwe equivalent of the redwood, the oldest baobab dates back some 4,000 years and has a circumference of nearly 90 feet. And as for its features, let's just say that if the Addams Family had a family tree it would be the baobab. The chilly winter climes have left the baobab spindly and white, the perfect silhouette to conjure up visions of a haunted, spook-filled night.

We pull up to the Lake Mutirikwe, formerly known as Lake Kyle and the site of the second largest lake (artificial of course) in the country, just in time for a splendiferous sunset. The innkeepers at the Glenlivet Hotel regale us with tall tales of drunken Germans and boisterous Aussies, and then we enter into the twilight zone of hotel land as the only guests on the entire compound. Our sole company: two black labs named Randy and Kon-Tiki and a chorus of croaking frogs that would put the Okefenokee to shame.

NEXT: Tobacco, roses, and ostriches

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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