Sunday, August 19, 2007

POSTCARDS FROM AFRICA - #4 of Michealene Risley's live-blogs from Zimbabwe

Ed. Note: Sincere apologies for the delay in posting this. These blogs were written during the production/filming of TAPESTRIES OF HOPE in Zimbabwe. Between sporadic electricity in Africa and getting to blogs back in California, we lost a couple of days. Afterwards, the crew was arrested and interrogated by the Zimbabwe Police, and the blogs were temporarily taken down out of concern for their safety.

8/16/07
Yesterday was our first day in Zimbabwe. We were picked up by our driver Johannes. He is a slender, happy guy with a big heart. He has worked for Betty and GCN since the beginning. I have taken to nicknaming him Johannesberg, like the city. He laughs at me. He took us to meet with Betty at the Girl Child Network Headquarters. As we drove along in the car, I started shooting some of the local scenery from the backseat. At one point, we stopped on the side of the road so that we could get something from the trunk. I noticed that a small red car in front of us was now reversing back to where we had parked.

“Johannes,” I said. “Look at this car.”

I wasn’t expecting for the car to get a ticket, but it was certainly a dangerous thing to do on a busy road. He looked and quickly said, “Ah! It is my wife.”

Since we had already parked and Johannes had went to talk to his wife., I took out the camera onto the sidewalk. I started capturing cars and trucks on the camera as they zoomed buy overloaded with people. The gasoline crisis is so bad that people were stuffing themselves like Sardines in the back of every available vehicle.

After a few minutes, I went to Johannes to introduce myself to his wife. He quickly asked me for a business card and got one. I passed this onto the woman driver and grabbed her hand to introduce myself. She was not smiling back. I was surprised. Johannesburg is such a gregarious man that I could not imagine him married to this woman. She nodded at me, as she fingered my business card between her hands.

Tipping her head in the air as if dismissing me she said “maybe we will see you at the Girl Child Network.” When we got back in the car, Johannes said, “That was the Central Intelligence Office (CIO) in Zimbabwe. That is the equivalent of your FBI/CIA.” “What?” I asked incredously. “And you gave them my card…?”

Besides our introduction to the CIO, the day was incredible. I will share more of that later on. I can say that between the five-year-old who was limping because of genital herpes that she got from her step-father, and the grandmother who sat on the cement with seven starving grandchildren and nowhere to sleep, I will never be the same again. I scrambled through my bag to find anything to give her. Money does not help, as there is no food to buy. I found some beef jerky to give her and the kids. I don’t think I will every eat beef jerky again and not see her face.

As I mentioned earlier, the gasoline crisis is already bad. There are only two working filling stations in Harare. There are large groups of people at intersections that wait for buses; sometimes the transport comes, sometimes it does not. Many people have to walk for miles to get home or they wait in the dark for hours in hopes that a bus will come.

The food shortage is bad as well. There are lines everywhere when certain foods come in: sugar, oil, and bread - basic necessities. The grocery stores are empty. The government is arresting those who hoard goods. The Herald, a Zimbabwe newspaper, reported that one man was arrested yesterday for hoarding food. Those people caught selling goods on the black market are fined and sometimes arrested. The lines look familiar to me only through the photos I have seen of the depression in America. It is sad.

As much as there are difficult times here in Zimbabwe, it is a beautiful country. Though there as many people fleeing in desperation, there are those who love Zimbabwe and refuse to leave. Their love for this country shows on their face and through their stubborn refusal to leave. This is the part of Zimbabwe that I have fallen in love with. It is the kind of character that emanates from Betty as she risks her life to save families at risk in a country where there is nowhere to turn or escape. People like Betty should be the kind of people we celebrate in the world, the kind that survive by helping others.

More tomorrow...

Michealene Risley

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