The sudden jerk of the landing plane frightened me awake. I had fallen asleep shortly after my departure from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia and now, after nearly 24 hours of non-stop travel that saw me fly out of Toronto, into Rome and on to Addis Ababa, I had finally arrived at my final destination: Harare, Zimbabwe.
The opportunity to travel to this incredible but troubled country, located in Southern Africa, came about through the Centre for Media and Transitional Societies, a partnership between the Carleton University School of Journalism and media outlets throughout Africa. Over the past seven years, CMTS has placed more than 150 Carleton journalism students in newsrooms across Africa, of which I am the first to go to Zimbabwe.
As a CMTS intern, my objective in Zimbabwe is to gain journalistic experience in a foreign environment in order to not only grow my skills but to see how media, and life, are practiced in an African context. I must confess, however, that my objective in Zimbabwe is two-fold. As the title of this blog suggests, this trip is a homecoming of sorts. I was born in Harare and my parents called this place home long before they ever dreamed of immigrating to Canada. I’m using this incredible opportunity therefore to not only be a journalist but to also connect with my family’s personal past and the world we left behind when we came to Canada.
As I made my way through customs and towards the main entrance of the airport I saw my aunt, my uncle and my little cousin, part of that personal past we left behind, who had come to pick me up. As we were leaving the airport and I took my first steps on Zimbabwean soil in 15 years, surrounded by family I hadn’t seen in years and with the warm African sun on my face I forgot all about my airplane weariness.
In true Zimbabwean fashion, at least as of the last decade or so, my uncle warned me of thieves targeting people leaving the airport. We hid my luggage under a tarp in the back of his truck as he told me of a notorious intersection just outside the airport where they wait in ambush for people to stop at a red light. When the car stops they run up to it, break the windows and take anything they can before running away. “It happened to one of your cousins just a few weeks ago,” he said. “Welcome to Zim,” he chuckled.
As we drove out of the airport and nervously passed the intersection without incident we came alongside something just as Zimbabwean as thieves and dangerous stop lights: half finished infrastructure. This happened to be an unfinished road running parallel to the one we were on. Construction on the road had started during the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in neighboring South Africa. In a gross misjudgment, the Zimbabwean government believed they would be able to cash in on South Africa’s event by attracting their own tourism. No one came. Now, three years later, the road that was supposed to be ready for the world’s biggest sporting event lies half finished in the best parts. Most of it still only graded dirt, the tar yet to be laid. This road has become emblematic of much of Zimbabwe; unfinished and pothole ridden roads strewn with garbage. The crumbling effects of time have largely been left unchallenged.
We wound our way through the chaotic streets of Harare passing street vendors, animals and children walking home from school all mixing to make a truly hectic scene. Dotting the side of the road, rising above the chaos of the street were billboards advertising the upcoming election. From a journalistic point of view I couldn’t be more excited to bear witness to an African election. Unlike in Canada, where elections and voting can be considered mostly mundane, elections in Africa always have a flare for the dramatic, unfortunately far too often for the wrong reasons. Zimbabwe brings this to a whole new level.
The 2008 election campaign was marred with extreme violence and corruption and although observers are not expecting this years elections to be as dangerous, the situation remains precarious. During my time in Zim I will be interning at the Zimbabwe Independent, a newspaper based in downtown Harare. I’m looking forward to meeting the people of Zimbabwe in my capacity at the paper and piecing together the messy story that Zimbabwean politics has become.
I hope you who will be reading this blog are able to gain some insight into the inner mechanisms of this beautiful yet maligned country as well as get to know a little bit about me, my family and our collective past here.
Until next time!