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Zimbabwe: An unforgettable landscape

The yellow savannah grasslands of Zimbabwe.

I have many bitter-sweet memories of my childhood in Zambia in the 1970s and early 1980s. Across the southern border town of Livingstone was newly independent Zimbabwe, where petrol was cheaper, the roads better, supermarkets stocked with goodies, and the Victoria Falls Town had a more scenic view of the famous Victoria Falls.
The falls were named by the British missionary and explorer David Livingstone after Queen Victoria, but the Africans called it Mosi o Tunya (Smoke that Thunders). This small town on the Zimbabwean side was a veritable haven and a wonderful contrast to Livingstone just a few kilometers away.
This had not always been the case. Sailing high on a copper-strong economy, Zambia was the Newfoundland of opportunities for expatriates in the 1970s. Africa was emerging from the clutches of colonialism, and economies were surging with new life. Having inherited basic infrastructural amenities from their colonial masters, these countries were all set to go forward as sovereign nations, strong and proud of their identities and powers to reckon with.
Western-educated African leaders promised their people progress and prosperity, democracy and sovereignty, freedom of speech, and rights to education and health care, among other things. It was a new dawn for Africa.
As the white populations slowly returned home, fearing a curtailing of the numerous privileges they enjoyed, Asian expats flocked eagerly to fill in the vacuum left behind, providing cheap labor along with their culture — curry, saris and Bollywood — to mingle with the drum beats of the African heartland. The facilities and perks were very attractive. Prime health care and access to Western education, especially the British kind, were absolutely free.
This — coupled with roundtrip tickets to home countries, gratuities and remittances besides subsidized housing — truly made the African experience memorable. Moreover, there was the great outdoors to explore: The African bush evoked the adventurous spirit with abandon.
The yellow savannah grasslands against an idyllic azure sky is firmly imprinted on the memory; the changing seasons; the smell of freshly cut grass after the December rains; mango trees in full bloom, branches heavily laden with the fruit of the season; mulberries, strawberries and all manner of vegetables; and snakes! Harmless unless threatened, but dangerous nonetheless. However, it was Zimbabwe that truly captured the imagination. Newly independent, it had the best of both worlds. Lovingly tended to by the preceding colonial government, it was in pristine condition: Beautiful, unexplored, but with enough civilization to make it paradise on Earth.
Crossing the Knife Edge Bridge to get to the Zimbabwean side was an experience in itself. The bridge gets its name from a solid block of rock that rises from the gorges in the abyss below, tall and straight. Standing defiantly amid the raging torrents surrounding it, the top of the rock has been eroded to razor-like sharpness from the spray that constantly washes over it.
A beautiful delicate rainbow completes the picture, and is sometimes the only splash of color among the white spray, the black rocks in the dry, treacherous gorges below, and the dark green vegetation. Truly a wonder.
The Zimbabwe border checkpoint was a friendly post. President Robert Mugabe had inherited a beautiful country with an excellent climate, vast natural resources and intact infrastructure. All he had to do was run it. Food was available at unbeatable prices.
A burger, Pepsi and fries at fast-food outlet Wimpy’s cost a dollar and 10 cents (Zimbabwean currency); a Cadbury flake was 10 cents; and a 100ml bottle of Oil of Olay was a little over 3 dollars in 1981.
Brightly lit streets, wide tree-lined avenues, quiet suburbs, clean roads and the beautifully peaceful parks were a delightful change from the restive situation in neighboring Zambia. This is the Zimbabwe I remember. This was the Zimbabwe Mugabe was entrusted with.
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