During Heroes Day holidays I found myself a tourist on the road from Harare to Kariba, but I was not one of the holiday-makers who drive gleaming the-best- four-by-four-by-far vehicles which tow sleek-shaped boats behind them and drive straight to their favorite hotel or harbor and only stop for recess at reputable hotels or service stations; I was on a bus whose trade name is Four Lions, which I thought a suitable name for travelling with to a resort town, but from whose seat I had to remove grains of tomato sauced rice which were the residue of somebody’s lunch-box on the last trip. My bus also had something in tow, it was not a sleek boat, but a trailer full of passengers’ luggage which consisted mainly cartons of groceries and snacks for resale in tuck-shops, market tables and general dealers, and perhaps for others across the border into Zambia.
I kept myself entertained with Facebook on my phone while the bus’ conductor tried to blast my eardrums out with DVD’s of museve music especially featuring a skinny philosopher from Mutare who dances in one place. My headphones were outclassed, I had to surrender to the mundane.
The bus made steady progress through police corruption-points dotted almost every thirty kilometers of highway. It seems every police precinct now has its highway outpost where the bus driver hands over between five and twenty dollars to his conductor who goes out of the bus over to the police to do who knows what. Speed traps were beaten by information sharing via headlights, while suitcases threatened to fall out of overhead carrier compartments and break someone’s neck. I think the position of speed-traps is the only form of productive information that black and white Zimbabweans ever share.
Progress was steady till the town of Karoi where pick and drop and the number of kids demanding toilet recess increased. The bus filled to standing just before Makuti, now the driver had nothing to rush for, there was no other bus to beat for passengers so his speed conveniently and suddenly dropped. Now that my phone had only but random data coverage in these parts, I found myself exchanging my attention between the spectacular scenery of the landforms and hairpin bends of Makuti with the DVD’s playing on the overhead screen were the vastly improved Jah Prayzah was doing his thing on stage at a gala that had recently happened somewhere. I can say the man can communicate with a crowd, he knows how to do a live show and is not jealous of his fellow musicians as he constantly alludes credit to them. Mai Gamu the young lady who was sitting beside me with two daughters since Karoi also agreed.
As far as scenery is concerned, I always argue that the scenery from Makuti to Charara is more beautiful than Claremont through Troutbeck to Nyanga only that perhaps Nyanga district has friendlier temperatures and fewer mosquitoes, but then Makuti to Charara has more wildlife concentrations and is untouched by plantation agriculture featuring trees for timber that point straight into the sky without opening their arms, and the lake is occasionally visible in the distance.
I arrived at the Nyamhuka bus station just before four in the afternoon, so much for my bus’s time keeping and the uniformed highway robbers who queue up to a dozen vehicles at a time on the highway and take their sweet time to harass and collect money, it was now too late as it was now after hours to go to a safari company based at Andorra Harbor that I had some papers to submit to as it would be past office hours by the time I would get there. I had planned to come back with the same bus’ return trip towards midnight. Now I had to sleep over in Kariba, an eventuality I had not planned for, and my low budget was not hotel friendly. My friend whom I grew up with and was now based in Kariba was proving unreachable on the phone, I was afraid of getting lost on my way to his home or getting there easily but the find it locked. I decided to check for him in the nearest pub. But my luck was still with me, as I turned to walk there I heard a female voice calling my name from inside a commuter omnibus parked in the rank, the face was unmistakable, it was his little sister Star, now all grown up. She told me he was out for a fisherman friend’s funeral in some remote parts, that’s why he was currently not reachable but was expected back that same night. In the meantime I could join her on the kombi ride to the Kariba heights family home. Since the kombi was finding it hard to get full, I ran to the nearest supermarket to buy me some beverages and at the time I came back it had still not filled up. I sat in front with the driver so that I could get a better view and never forget the route again. We sat there at the rank for thirty minutes while the kombi filled.
The trip into the heights was not short of scenery. The tarred roads of Nyamhuka Township were full of elephant dung from a herd that had just passed through. The lake waters were always shimmering silver below, while the minibus snaked up into the Heights past pockets of poverty in lakeshore Mahombekombe Township into the relative baboon infested wealth that Kariba Heights suburb is.
We got home, spoke a bit and reminisced about the old days before I felt a certain kind of thirst that water could not quench so I left for Pagomo View club to take what my favorite newspaper columnist Dusty Miller would call chilled articles of a moderately intoxicating nature. I honestly think that Pagomo View has one of the most spectacular views of Lake Kariba. It was not yet too dark to see the gleaming white houseboats and speedboats in the lake hundreds of metres below. From Pagomo View I could also see the thickly treed Zebra Island and also Antelope Island. I was told by a fellow boatman drinker that the space between the two islands was notorious for high waves that could overturn a speedboat in inexperienced hands. My friend Roddy joined me at Pagomo View later. We sat in the bar well past midnight before walking home without any fear of mugging, such is small town life.
The following morning Roddy accompanied me on the trip to Andorra Harbor where I had some papers to leave at a safari company. In the easy going nature of resort towns, it did not feel like business at all, it was a sort of tourism and Roddy was guide, we managed to hitch a lift in an open truck driven by an old white guy everybody called Machembere. We jumped off at the Mahombekombe turn-off. Roddy showed me places that one would never likely get shown by commercial tour guides. To get to Andorra Harbor we had to walk through a thickly forested valley on the edges of Mahombekombe township where I was shown a place where a sad tale of human social and economic tragedy occurred, many of us had read the tale in commercial newspapers earlier this year; where it appeared with the simple headline, Kariba woman mauled by lions while having sex in the bush. Here I was being shown the exact spot where it occurred and the woman now had the name Mai Desire, a market woman and single mother with little prospects of ever finding permanent employment and living in a sea of poverty in a township full of one and two-roomed core housing units on sloping ground that has no space for extension. My heart went out to her, she was struggling to survive and was not partial to occasional sex for money escapades.
By ten o’clock in the morning, I had finished whatever business I had in Andorra Harbour, Roddy walked me back to Mahombekombe township were bought ourselves a bottle Gold Blend whisky from one of the two-room matchboxes. We now joined by two friends returned from a night on the water on kapenta rigs, one of whom supplied two-litres of frozen water, which we took with us down to the lakeshore nearby so that I could get a feel of the wind and water, we walked past a group of men and boys bathing and doing laundry on the lake. A crocodile’s nose and eyes were visible just above the water in the vicinity. The social observer in me could not fail to ask why laundry was being done on the lake and not at home. The answer I got from my Mahombekombe companions was that some of them would be cutting costs of metered water at home, or others have had their supplies cut off for non-payment while others lived in unserviced illegal structures . A guy also returned from a night on a kapenta rig on the lake was casting his fishing rod to catch relish for his lunch, after thirty minutes of trying he pulled out a healthy medium size tiger and went straight home.
My final observation of my Kariba journey is that if one has a fishing rod and was willing to take risks in of- license fishing, they would never starve in Kariba. And away from the gleaming houseboats, sleek speedboats and air conditioned hotel rooms full of expensive camera carrying tourists, for the common man as it is in the rest of the country, it is a struggle to survive.