Monday, October 20, 2014

On the Hunt for 'Real' Coffee from Beitbridge to Harare

Golden Spiderweb FungaiFoto | ZIMBOJAM.COM
Below is a piece I recently published on Zimbo Jam about a road trip sans filter coffee! Here's a link to the original article:
I’ve been called a “coffee snob.” And I’ll be the first to admit I have a caffeine dependency. No, addiction! 

I love my morning cuppa Joe, as they say in the USA, and can be pretty miserable if I don’t have it.
Now, when I say coffee, I don’t mean Nescafe or Ricoffy. I mean coffee coffee. Real coffee – filter, espresso, cappuccino. Coffee made with real beans. Anything else simply doesn’t cut it.
In Zimbabwe, a coffee-producing nation it is fair to assume that it should be relatively easy to get a cup of “coffee coffee” pretty much anywhere.

Apparently not.

Some weeks ago, a dear friend and I were driving back to Harare from Johannesburg and ended up spending the night at the Lion and Elephant Motel in Bubi River, following some typical road-trip adventures involving bald tyres and a pretty horrendous Beitbridge border crossing. We left Bubi River before Lion and Elephant had started serving breakfast. Our goal was to have coffee and breakfast in Masvingo. 
First stop: The Blue Bird Café, 50 Robertson St, Masvingo

From a quick Google search for ‘breakfast in Masvingo’ The Blue Bird Café sounded like the perfect Sunday brunch spot and has some lovely online reviews suggesting a wonderful menu, and, more importantly, great coffee.

Alas, it was closed on Sundays. Looks like a great place to visit next time we pass through Masvingo. Not on a Sunday. 
Second stop: The Chevron Hotel, Simon Mazorodze Ave, Masvingo

We were skeptical about the Chevron’s breakfast before entering the building. The skepticism grew as we walked through dark passages to the dining area. Wait staff seemed surprised to have customers, with only one couple sitting in the dining room. The breakfasts were pretty overpriced, with a full breakfast at $18; a Continental at $15. But what sealed the deal and sent us scurrying back to the car? They only had Ricoffy. Unacceptable! 
Third stop: Golden Spiderweb, somewhere between Masvingo and Chivhu

To be honest, while we’d heard good things about the Golden Spiderweb, we were creeped out as we approached the café. It was completely deserted and looked like a relic from another era. A Rhodesian era, to be specific. Everything inside was set for a banquet; only no people or food. Not even any wait staff. After wandering around for some time we managed to locate someone at the back. And yes. There was no ‘real’ coffee. We signed the visitors’ book though! 
Fourth stop: Denise’s Kitchen, also somewhere between Masvingo and Chivhu
We’ve been here before, and enjoyed it very much. And Denise’s Kitchen probably looked the most promising of all the places thus far. There were people sitting under umbrellas at their outdoor tables. Sipping hot drinks. The desire and hope for coffee was strong. Even stronger when we saw their extensive menu. Starting to salivate, we were again disappointed. No coffee in the kitchen. Ricoffy? 
No, thank you!  
By this time a caffeine headache was starting to throb and the jokes about finding a cup of coffee were starting to wane into the realm of sad, mad or desperate.  
Fifth stop: Vic’s Tavern, Chivhu

Again, this is somewhere where, in the past, we have enjoyed a nice cup of filter coffee. Their menu and customer service may be severely limited, but several months ago, en route to the Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, we stopped here for coffee and Coca-Cola in their semi-outdoor verandah. Alas, this time around, nothing was available. Once we had finally found someone to serve us, we were offered Tanganda tea or soft drinks. Not what we’re looking for, sorry!  
Sixth stop: Chicken Inn, Chivhu

In a last ditch effort, before we succumbed to the caffeine-deprived fog that accompanied the rest of the drive to Harare, we stopped into Chivhu’s Chicken Inn. Amazingly, they boasted a Nescafe machine, which at this point would’ve been welcome. Alas, no ZESA. Therefore, no coffee. 
At this point, we gave up and finally got our delicious cup of coffee in the comfort of our own home in Harare. Ironically, even that coffee wasn’t Zimbabwean – the grinds were a gift from a friend who’d recently visited Jamaica. Beitbridge to Harare, a failed hunt for a real cup of coffee.

- Harare Coffee Lover

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How many is too many?

A prolonged screech of tyres.
An explosion, a bone-wrenching crunch
Of metal on metal.
It echoes crunches from last week,
from last month or year.
Panic. Screams.
Wailing, a woman.
A mother, a daughter.
Rush to the window.
Another accident; same corner.
A kombi this time.
This time these people.
The back taken out, smashed beyond recognition.
Bodies, broken and misshapen
Scattered amongst the wails.
Bananas, bunches fallen and squashed.
Flashes of iphones.
Chatter I can't understand.
The wails I understand.
The scene I recognize, I remember.
A crowd gathers too quickly.
"Is someone dead" a sekuru asks me.
"I don't think so."
Someone is urging another's arm
back into its socket.
The wails continue. Mournful.
Sirens arrive. Not enough.
The crowd stays, grows.
The chatter, the chatter, the chatter.

These windows of 274 have seen too many accidents,
Heard too many crunches,
Too many screams.
How many is too many?
When will enough be enough?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"It could be better."

Today is the eve of my first road trip outside of Zimbabwe since returning earlier this year. No cross-border road trip is complete without a visit to Southerton police station to get cross-border clearance for the car.

As always, this was a somewhat confounding experience. Thankfully there was barely a queue, so the process at the very least was relatively quick.

A friend and I drove up to the inspection bay and wait around for the "inspector" to come and look at the engine and chassis number. He ambles over. Inspects the engine with his bright lamp. Scribbles something on a piece of scrap paper, which he hands us but curiously, nobody ever asks us for. Tells us to go to office 18, which is less than a 50 metre stroll from inspection bay.

As we start to walk across, a stern looking lady tells us to move the car. Because of course there are other people needing inspection. Not!

We do so, and make our way to office 18. A large, bald gentleman is sitting in there alone, behind a desk with a variety of forms in different boxes. After a short discussion about how many international trips I may be taking in the next 6 months, he gives me a form that will allow me to move in and out of Zimbabwe for the next 6 months. Tells me to fill it out and return to the other office. At the inspection bay.

We head back to the inspection bay office. Hand the completed form to the lady sitting behind a computer. She signs it. Tells me to take it to office 20 - 2 doors down from office 18. Did she look up my engine number on the computer to check the car's not stolen? Perhaps, but seems doubtful.

Office 20 - the gentleman here is sitting behind a desk with an enormous pink book. He writes all my and my car details in his big book. And I "sign" the book and my form with a bright pink thumbprint from my right hand.

"Please take the form to office 18 for a date stamp. Office 18 is two doors down from here. Not the next door, but the next one." (complete with hand gestures - just in case I got lost in the 3 metres between office 18 and 20)

I return to office 18. Same large, balding gentleman asks me how I'm doing. I return to greeting, and he says "It could be better." No doubt!

He stamps the form, and I am free to go. Free to leave Zimbabwe with my pink Toyota Vitz for the next 6 months. It could be better. But it could also be worse!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Revival of an international nomad

After an almost 4-year hiatus, I am considering reviving this blog to document the next phase of my adventures as an international nomad - having skipped a significant period while back in the USA. I  moved back to Harare, Zimbabwe, two weeks ago and the palpable energy and general joie de vivre I feel here nudged me to return to documenting the ins and outs of life in this inspiring city.

Since my return, I have had the joy of reconnecting with some of my dearest friends in the world. Thanks to these wonderful people, I not only had accommodation waiting for me when I arrived Harare, but some friends had borrowed and moved a bed into my room (up the 3 flights of stairs!); had prepared the bed for my first night; had bought me groceries. And the night I arrived, two generous (and strong!) young men - my two wonderful housemates - helped drag my ridiculously heavy, oversized luggage up those same stairs. I'm hoping to be here for a year, so those bags were ever so slightly over the top!

The Zimbabwe rains, which soothe the soul and bring life to the earth, have blessed up numerous times since I arrived. The first time the heavens opened, I rushed outside for a soaking and a mini raindance. A few nights ago, I struggled to sleep while the skies crashed and flashed incessantly for a couple of hours. I failed in my attempts to take a photo of the lightning, so resigned myself to no sleep until the storm had passed, and just lay in awe of the power of nature!

I've also been blessed with the cutest little car imaginable! One of my priorities after arriving here was to get a vehicle that would give me the independence I always crave in Harare. Again, some kind friends came to my rescue and my first Saturday morning I went to test drive cars. In my usual impulsive style, I bought the first car I saw - a pink Toyota Vitz, with the lowest mileage I've ever heard of for a 10+ year old car! It took several days to get all the legal paperwork done, and I'm not completely out of the woods yet...but, I now have my license plates (including the "3rd plate" - a sticker for the windscreen); a registration disk from a bank whose photocopier wasn't working; insurance that is worryingly inexpensive; and even my ZBC TV/Radio license is proudly displayed on my dashboard! So a lot of expenditure later, I am legally on the road and not terrified to be stopped by police.

Lastly, I started Shona lessons my first day in Harare. Where? At the Zimbabwe German Society of course! It's embarrassing to think it's taken me this long to take language lessons, but it's finally happening. I can now greet people in Shona at all times of the day, and am starting to learn my long list of verbs. Thankfully a lot of Shona has become "Shonglified" so apparently you can add an "i" or "ma" to a lot of English words to make yourself understood.

Signing off for today....hope to be back here regularly. Loving life...happy to be home. Next installment: the First Braai at Number 274 :-)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Critical thinking and reflection: why is it important?

Yesterday I went to a talk at U.Mass, Amherst, by an amazing South African psychologist, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. I have heard Pumla talk before (also in Boston...why is it that I connect with more South Africans when I'm in the US than at home?!!) and have read her book about her experience on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, A Human Being Died that Night. Her experience is definitely worth reading about, whether you're South African or not.

At the end of her talk last night she said something thought-provoking. In essence, she said that the most important thing we can put our efforts and resources into, in terms of helping societies move forward after trauma/upheaval, is to teach children to think critically. Really? Yup! You mean, not send in teams of psychologists, lawyers, find retribution or amnesty or whatever? It lies in education? The focus should be on the ones who were not even directly affected by it?


I have thought about this issue of critical thinking and reflection in the Zimbabwean context. After my several years there, I came to believe that many of the problems in that country were largely because of the schooling system and its teaching methodology, and that critical thinking is discouraged at a school and national level. But I've shied away from thinking critically about solutions to South Africa's problems. Frankly, to me, South Africa's problems seem too large, too intractable. And I have such mixed feelings, emotions, about what it means to be South African, that it's been more comfortable for me to leave South Africa's problems to....oh, those South Africans actually living in South Africa.

Last night felt like a personal challenge to me. Here I am, enjoying an incredible education at the University of Massachusetts. Why and how? Largely because I benefited from an excellent education in South Africa, and an undergraduate degree that cost me almost nothing due to South African state funding. I largely enjoyed those privileges for no reason of my own causation: because I happened to be born white, and, in then-apartheid South Africa, that meant privileged. Access to education, space, healthcare, everything really. So as a beneficiary of that privilege, does that leave me with some sort of responsibility to the country of my birth?

I have hedged that question for years, largely by going to Zimbabwe and spending time working there and allowing myself to feel like I was contributing to the region of my birth.

Taking this issue apart, breaking it into small pieces that I can look at, reflect on, then, hopefully, act on, is what I consider critical thinking: looking at an issue from multiple angles and reflecting on the consequences of multiple courses of action. So why is this important? And how should we teach it?

Why it is important is because for too long whole populations have followed orders, often without either the opportunity or the capacity to question it. And when they have questioned it has been in an instinctive manner rather than a calculated, reasoned one -- and often this has led to bloodshed and more. I strongly believe that for society to move forward in a progressive way, we need to learn how to not only trust our instincts, but also to trust our thought patterns. And we need to learn ways to train our thinking in ways that we can see or "mentalize" issues from different perspectives from our own. When we consider the effect of our action on other people and try to put ourselves in their shoes, that is when we will be making progress.

How do we teach it? Well, that's why I'm at school -- I'm trying to figure that one out!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A "new start" or a continuation?

Yesterday I started grad school. A Masters in International Education at the University of Amherst. It's been very intimidating making that shift from conducting a class to receiving instruction; switching from instructor to student. I haven't been on the receiving end for almost 10 years! (oof, I feel a little old when I write that!!!) But the past few days have really got me thinking about my next steps. And what it is that keeps us growing as human beings. We go through this life being givers and takers of information. Hopefully we strike a balance between the two. I've really experienced the feeling of living and growing during the past 48 hours, in a way that I haven't for a while. So I guess it's time to learn.

So the next question I've been asking myself is this: Is this a new beginning for me or is it a continuation? I've decided that perhaps it's a bit of both. I thought it was a new beginning. I have a new home, a new zipcode, a new car (well, used, but new for me!), am no longer working fulltime, am studying, new friends, new grocery shops, new everything. But is it? Since starting classes less than 48 hours ago, I've discovered that life is a funny thing: we're actually learning all the time. Today I went to an international education policy class, thinking I knew absolutely nothing about it. But throughout the class realized that I have been affected by education policy since I can remember -- and have a wealth of experience simply through living! So while I may be in a new place, yes, and I may be making new friends...this next chapter is simply that: a new chapter. Not necessarily a new beginning of the story. Just an opportunity to expand my borders.

Yippee for expansion!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homeless versus Nomadic

It's been a long loooong time since I last posted to this blog. And during that time I've realized that in my mind there needs to be a distinction between being "Nomadic" and "Homeless." For several years I have felt "nomadic." But for much of the past year I have felt "homeless." Apparently there's a major difference. At least for me there is.

Since May 2008 I have felt distinctly homeless, after being asked to leave Zimbabwe at very short notice (note: euphemism!). Yes, a nomad wanders, but generally has a sense of direction; takes a traditional or established path; or follows a specific mission or purpose. I was caught unawares and had little time to whip up a plan. So I wandered somewhat aimlessly.

That aimless wandering included a hope of returning to Zimbabwe at some undefined date. Although that remains my hope, I discovered I needed a more definite plan. And I needed a home base. One of those two things has been established (enrolled in a Masters program in international ed) , and the other looks like it's not far away (a home-away-from-home).

Why is home important? The old saying goes "Home is where the heart is," and this has definitely been true for me. Although my thoughts and dreams often wander across the world to Africa and specifically to Zimbabwe, my heart is firmly here in the USA and I hope it will be for the next few years. It takes a commitment to be here, in a place I don't fully consider my "home" but that's definitely what it feels like right now.

Does home have to be a physical structure? Not necessarily, but again, I've found it helps! And as of next week, when I move into my new place, I'm hoping that the combination of having my heart and commitment to being here..along with a wonderful new home in which I can feel comfortable and happy in, will bring satisfaction and progress. Stay tuned for updates....:-)