(I’ll post pictures and such when I become more adept at this blogging business. Sorry for the solid block of text.)
I wonder what they’re thinking now.
I was trying to figure out how to write my first blog post earlier tonight, thinking of the trip I had just completed to the Zimbabwe-South Africa border. I was thinking about how I would describe the 9-hour bus ride, where travelers to Harare packed everything from cooking oil and blankets to snack chips in WWE wrestler-adorned packages and big-screen TVs they could resell in Zimbabwe. Many of the packages came in bags in colorful plaids or with pictures of African lions and elephants that had been bought at the bus depot for 50 Rand cents, making the travelers look more like tourists returning with vacation souvenirs and not economic refugees reurning to their damaged country with the means to keep their families alive. Every Zimbabwean had to have packed at least a dozen items each, so bags were piled on the bus’s roof where load-bearing metal poles inside supported the weight. When the roof was full, the bottom compartments were filled. When the bottom was full, luggage was arranged, under shouted Shona commands, like a giant 3-D game of Tetris in the back three rows of the bus. When the back was full, clothes and bags turned the center aisle into a rolling landscape, and made for a tight ride. It’s a miracle the bus didn’t drag across the pavement.
I was trying to think how to describe the border itself. Just south of the Beitbridge border post are makeshift fruit markets, parking lot money traders and gas can sellers (where the girls that sell them sleep outside on a mattress for a month at a time) — and all of them reluctant to talk to reporters, knowing what could happen to them or their families if comments disparaging Zimbabwe end up with their names in print. Running out from the post is the fence itself, where immigrants face miles of razor mesh, then stacked coils of razor wire (strangely light and billowy looking), then simple security fencing, not to mention the crocodiles in the Limpopo River. But I saw a herd of 50 screaming baboons jump every one of these obstacles, and judging from the thousands of Zimbabweans who stream into South Africa — escaping the regime of president Robert Mugabe that tortures them economically, politically and literally — it doesn’t seem like it’s much harder for immigrants.
But then I went to the New York Times Web site and saw that the man challenging Mugabe, and the first man to have a genuine chance of ending Mugabe’s 28-year descent from hero to monster, had dropped out of the June 27 run-off election, fearing for voters’ safety and illegitimate vote counts.
And then, all I could do was imagine what they were thinking now. What would Maxwell think, who had helped load the bus and said he was going to return to vote and help oust Mugabe “the killer,” though he said he could be murdered if Mugabe supporters saw him? What would the man who called himself Lucky, the money trader who operated just 100 yards from the border and offered to call us while he waited to in line to cast his ballot, think, after telling me that Mugabe, the “conman,” was killing his country? Or how about David, who lost his job as a banker after Zimbabwe’s economy imploded and now sold bird statues and hand-made drawers by the roadside to try to send his oldest daughter to college?
Because I remembered asking all Zimbabweans that I spoke to on that trip if they were going to vote in the election, and despite Mugabe showing again and again and again that their votes wouldn’t matter, they nearly all said yes. And I remembered thinking, as I was riding that crammed, bouncing bus through the South Africa night, that despite being torn to pieces by Zimbabwe and its leaders, most if not all of these 48 passangers were still going to vote because, at some level, they still believed in their country, so much so that you couldn’t help but believe in it, too.
I wonder what they have to believe in now.