Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hark at the Christmas beetles

It is difficult to find a parking space in the local town now that the Christmas shoppers are out in earnest. I have never been able to decide whether people who love shopping should be admired or pitied; I just gaze on them in wonder. My rare visits to the shopping centre are brief and purposeful and I would rather go without something than join a queue.

I was thinking about this when the latest edition of the Bulawayo Morning Digest popped into my inbox. I love to read Mags Kriel's accounts of everyday life in Zimbabwe. Her anecdotes, understated and written with wry humour, convey more about the horrors of the situation there than any of the news reports that I read. Here is her latest piece (with a bit about queues), ending, as always, on a note of hope .... it is only a matter of time. Indeed, Maggie, you must be right and I hope that time will come soon.

Dante ? Who the heck was Dante ?

It was one of life's enchanted orchestral moments ....

We heard it every few kilometers, it was not consistent but very strange and very loud.... at
first we thought, with dread ... that there was something wrong with the car ... and we
were all alone on the very quiet BeitBridge to Bulawayo road, it was after all, 5 a.m. and we
had been up since two am, so nervously we tried to pretend it was not happening.

The border crossing had been particularly stressful, we had thought that arriving at the
Beitbridge border post at 2.30 in the morning, would ensure we avoided the endless
queues, but we were seriously mistaken.

There were literally dozens of buses and the silent line of border crossers wound its way
for hundreds of meters nearly to the gate !!

HeeHoo is a Patient Man and whilst I fretted, fumed and sat fed-up in the car, he stood
stoically in the line in the pitch dark outside the customs and immigration hall.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of my bad temper and I wandered off to investigate and
chat with the populace. I had my camera, as always, but was too nervous to take pictures
of the horrendous mishmash at the border post.

There were people sleeping in every nook and cranny, blankets spread out in full view of
the "authorities" . Every pavement was covered in goods, chattels and a seething mass of
humanity, it is after all, a 24 hour border post, and people have 24 hour needs.

However it was amazingly quiet, we Zimbos are an exceptionally peaceful people except
for the likes of me, and apart from the occasional murmur when the queue jumpers were
just too brazen, conversation was limited and it was quite cool, thank goodness.

Beitbridge at midday is hell on earth, but as the dawn broke, it had an appeal all of its
own.....but I could almost smell the cholera boiling under the surface of it all ....

Previously on Morning Mirror I have made a point of being positive about Zim for the sake
of the few tourists who might possibly still come and visit our beleaguered country, but
right at the moment I am ashamed of my country and I would not want you to see just
how dreadfully it has deteriorated. If the world does not help us somehow, there is going
to be an humanitarian tragedy of hideous proportions.

We got through in record time, only two whole hours ... this very week HeeHoo met some
folk at the airport, they were flying back home instead of driving, because their cross
border trip had taken ten hours !!

It is actually not the Zim side that is the problem, it is the SA side "going slow in solidarity
with their Zimbabwe brothers" I hope not, because one could develop cholera just
standing in that line for so jolly long !!!

Do us a favor, we are hungry, that's why we are crossing the border in such vast numbers,
there is nothing, nothing, nothing to eat in Zimbabwe, at least nothing we can afford, as
we have no money to buy it with !!

Anyhow, back to that strange noise, it was like a continuous, deafening, harsh, singing

Whenever we heard it, we would open the window to listen, but the strange sound would
suddenly retreat into the distance. Maybe the wheel was rubbing on something ? Maybe
the engine was about to seize, maybe the canopy of the truck that we were driving,
(packed full of essential staple foods for the 75 elderly residents of the Edith Duly Nursing
Home,) was lifting somehow, and making this strange, discordant harshness ?

Eventually we could ignore it no more. We stopped, got out, and the sound hit us like a
brick wall. It was shrill, screeching, massive, unending ..... a cacophony of gigantic
proportions, it was on one side of the road only, although the sound echoed on the other,
absolutely deafening.

It was of course, the call of the Christmas Beetle, the African Cicada, Albanycada albigera
It is a sound so familiar to all of us Africans but we had never ever heard it so loud and so

Beitbridge had just received its first rains, tinges of green were creeping through the
packed hard earth, early-bird goats were tugging frantically at the first real food they had
seen in many months, and the Cicadas were multiplying by their millions, by the second....

What an amazing sound, we stood in awed silence devouring the most poignant of all
African sounds, memorizing each sacred minute, savouring the cool ethereal dampness of
a land so beautiful and yet so desolate, so deserted, so incredibly sad.

The sun was still way down on the horizon but it was already scorching, another day had
started in Zimbabwe, where body and soul has to fight every moment of every day to stay
alive. Dante's Inferno has nothing on life in Zim at this moment in time.

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here",

but Hark !

Hark at the Christmas Beetles, all is not lost .... another day is dawning .....

There are far worse things in the world than border queues and no food, we have found
that out in a big way just recently.

'Tis but a blimp on life's curved ball and we will survive it, we all know that .... it is just a
matter of time.


  1. I wish I were on the other side to welcome them, give them a hug and a place for a warm bath and a lovely dinner. Her writing is superb and emotional. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. Karin, our media has been ignoring the plight of the people of Zimbabwe recently but there was news today of cholera and starvation. Like you, I wish I could do something.


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