Driving around the bend

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Janet driving in Zimbabwe

Janet driving in Zimbabwe

As I mentioned in my last post, driving in Zimbabwe presents many challenges. The roads have to be seen to be believed – an endless mass of humps and potholes, requiring the driver to weave a precarious path from one side to another and back again. It is an old joke in Zimbabwe that you can tell who the drunk drivers are because they are the ones driving in a straight line. Off-road driving, of which there is a lot, has even more pitfalls – the solemnity of my trip to the cemetery on the anniversary of Simon’s passing descended into the ridiculous as I failed to notice a tree stump and got stuck, unable to go forward or backwards, until we enlisted help to lift the car free.

Then there are the roadblocks. I received two ten dollar fines – one for listening to music without a radio licence – particularly galling as it was our own music we were listening to, but I was advised not to say anything – and one for not carrying a workable fire extinguisher. On the one occasion when I was stopped for something I agreed was dangerous – carrying too many children in the back – the officer let me go. But on the whole I was stopped less frequently than my Zimbabwean friends – Charlie said it was assumed that white people were more likely to have their papers in order.

Driving gets doubly scary at night as there are no visible road markings or street lights. And heavy rain causes more problems, as you just can’t see where the potholes are.

Our car is a silver Toyota Ceres. Simon and I bought it in Swaziland, and he drove it, with a friend sharing the driving, all the way to Bulawayo, at no small cost. It was his pride and joy however, and is now Charlie’s. Charlie never tires of adding things to it and even sleeps in it overnight sometimes. On the windscreen he has the words “Dr. Mahlaba,” one of Simon’s nicknames, and at the back the word “Junior.” A pendant with Simon’s photo on each side dangles from the rear view mirror.

Owning a car brings unspoken responsibilities in the neighbourhood. Charlie woke me one morning at six, to say that two young men were outside wanting us to take them and some audio equipment to a place in town where they were working at a wedding. Refusing was not an option. Simon always intended it to be a source of income for the family and Charlie often hires it out for small amounts. I advised Charlie to sell it after Simon died, thinking that it could bring more problems and expense, but I’m glad now that he didn’t listen. It was invaluable to us during my stay.

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