Harare Hop

hre1I am looking at the sun setting behind the Harare Gardens from my room on the 18th floor, and feeling very lucky to be here.

There are three power outages at the airport in the twenty minutes I spend queuing up in front of the immigration desks. It would be a longer wait but the clerk likes my surname, passes my passport around, asks me about Spanish football and welcomes me into Zimbabwe just as the electricity fails for a fourth time. Baggage carousels stop mid-roll as if in a half-meant coma. The waiting crowd lowers its voice in the semi-darkness and I wonder why we do that, grow quiet when the lights go down.

I walk into the sunshine rolling my battered bag under Chinese signs and a large portrait of Robert Mugabe.

hrecrowneplazaThe only road connecting the airport to the city is a barely paved single-lane trail. It’s enormously dusty and full of giant potholes that the driver tries to navigate. “In Harare, if you see someone driving straight, they are drunk”, he says and we swerve and we laugh and I nearly bite my tongue in half at the next pothole. Turning towards Park Lane we pass the National Reserve Bank. “It’s empty now”, he says, with a side-eye.

You get a lot of side-eye in Harare. A lot.

Walking around town you get the impression that the city is shaking its head after a blunt indeterminate shock. The loudness is a bit muffled, sort of like it was at the airport, when the lights would flicker shadows upon the presidential portraits. The mess is muffled too, the daily functioning and coming and going just hangs mid-step for the briefest of pauses. It’s only the beginning of the start, they tell me. The country melted down and it’s trying to reboot.

People like my orange shoes and they want me to trade them for all sorts of things.

Zimbabwe has stopped its implosion with a very uneven and unsteady grand government coalition and the adoption of a basket of currencies, among which the US dollar seems to be king. “The Zim dollar is, how shall I put it” a woman tells me, “inactive for now. Thank God.” And side-eye. Her friend nods. He named her latest child Morgan, she says. Side eye. “We’re all waiting here. You know. Waiting.” Side-eye.

When night falls, a few lights spring out spotting the dark in downtown Harare. They are fires lit inside tin barrels. A few people huddle around them. It’s quiet and beautiful and disconcerting.

Beyond my 18th floor window, as far as my eye can see, Harare is waiting.