Here is a story, but first let me emphasize that the biggest take-away from this experience is that the people of Zimbabwe offered grace and friendliness and most importantly a wonderful sense of humor. In the few hours I spent in Bulawayo I made a couple of new insta-friends, was greeted with many delightful attempts at learning how to say hello in Kiswahili and enjoyed mutual political curiosity.*
And then I had to leave because I had foolishly stated “media consultant” on my immigration form under “occupation.” In August of 2016. In Bulawayo. Immigration wasn't having none of that mess, thank you very much. People: context is everything. If I was paying even a bit of attention, I would have put down 'development specialist' or 'NGO consultant' or any number of dubious two-word terms to describe whatever it is that I do. But... I didn't. Foolish!
On the bright side, I am now a member of the club of people who have been honored with a request to leave Zimbabwe for lack of the right press accreditation. Did I tell you about that time I went to Pakistan? Yeah. “War” stories, baby, buy me a double of mid-shelf firewater and I'll tell you some. But I am still not a journalist, even if the Government of Zimbabwe is being overly broad in its definition.
This is the point at which I tell you that the authorities took me into a back room and beat the truth out of me with a chain-wrapped tractor tyre until I confessed to having eaten my fraternal twin while in utero. In keeping with the idea that critical cranks like me are always out to vilify governments, and that repressive regimes are run by thuggish bureaucrats in ill-fitting suits.
The Zimbabwean authorities I interacted with were polite. Every refusal was issued with an occasional smile and an apology about the official's inability to help with the situation. Who wouldn't fall a little bit in love with a country where the people are so determined to practice the idea that laughter is the best medicine? Even if the laughter is sometimes only implied, due to the constraints of the circumstances?
I hope to come back to visit sometime. Perhaps when things are a little more relaxed, and maybe for pleasure rather than work. To putter around some stone buildings and enjoy a few beers with people with a deliciously wry perspective of life. Whatever might be happening politically is not something I need to comment upon- everybody goes through tough times. I'm just glad I got to experience, first hand, 48 hours of Zimbabwean hospitality.
So well-met, friends, and thank you for the street cred. Now I can hang out with baby journalists and exaggerate about that one time I was thrown out of Zim and watch them swoon with envy. As per tradition. Stay well.
*Africa: what is it with you guys and the crushes y'all get on Tanzanian Presidents? We've got three retired ones to spare, feel free to adopt one (except Mwinyi. We need him for powerwalking fundraisers). Jay Kay likes to travel: think of all the gorgeous smiling you would get in exchange for footing his wanderlust. Any takers? AU? Hmmm?