Dinner with Mugabe

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August 7th 2011
Published: August 18th 2011
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I was stood in the pitch black, in the middle of the main road in the village of Chimanimani, in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, and I was pleading to be allowed to go back to my hotel. After three days of trekking in the mountains, I was shattered, and with aching legs I could think of nothing but bed. The only person in my way was Livingstone, a drunk local who, while still clutching a scud of Chibuku (think: vomit in a thermos flask), wanted to buy me not one, but two, beers, and wouldn't take no for an answer. He had, almost literally, dragged me from the bar I was in, and I pleaded and pleaded, until almost to shut my new found friend up, I reluctantly followed him down the dark road, towards the thumping music, open door, and bright lights of his favourite pub.

The pub was nothing more than a small blue painted room, with a caged bar at one end, wooden benches and chairs scattered around the edge, music blasting out from two dusty speakers, while the ubiquitous drunk took centre stage and tried to show off his dance moves while no-one else watched. As I stepped inside, I was received with what I would soon find out is Zimbabwe's characteristic friendliness. A chair was brought for me to sit at the bar, everyone wanted to introduce themselves, and what followed, instead of an early night, was a messy hangover the following day, as many an hour were spent drinking Castle, while the bar man, my invitee, the owner and a cast of extras including the brilliantly named Johnny Walker, emptied many a scud of Chibuku. As well as being some of the friendiest people in Africa (excluding the Sudanese), I found Zimbabweans in generally to be highly educated and very inquisitive, and even here it was no different as I was soon bombarded with questions and conversations. Music, the UK, politics, and even the intricacies of illegal gold-panning were discussed. Phil Collins was put on the stereo in my honour. And the night ended in a flourish when Livingstone, leaned back on his bar stool, and promptly ended up 3ft lower than he had been before, and sprawled on the floor.

As I caught a combi to Masvingo the next day, along a winding mountain road, through a valley lined with terraced hillsides, and past isolated villages of round thatched houses, I realised Zimbabwe had my heart. A country that greets you with open arms, and a massive heart. A population who can still smile and laugh even though they've been almost to hell. And where the hope of change puts European apathy to shame.

In truth, it is far from perfect, but it's a beautiful country, full of fantastic people, and all you should really be wondering is when the next flight to Harare is. For it's time to realise how out-of-date the guidebooks are, to avoid the histrionics of the media, and to discover for yourself how fantastic this place is (and how much better it could be if it weren't for the despot at the steering wheel).


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