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Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Wednesday 15 April, 2009

Cruelty and Kindness

The Foreign Office is cruel. I was posted to Zimbabwe despite its awful reputation. I stepped off the plane anxiously, expecting to be butchered at once and fed to lions. That didn’t happen, but I have suffered a greater pain - falling in love with this beautiful, cursed nation and now, after more than three years, having to leave.

You may wonder how I have come to love this country after witnessing so much horror here. After all, I have seen Masvingo’s rich soil stained red with the blood of those who dared to vote the wrong way. I have spoken to a man six hours after he was set alight and left for dead by the cruel war vets. I have seen too many of the one million young people, who have been wasted by HIV infection during my time here.

But amidst all this suffering, there is a grace. The grace of trade union leader Raymond Majongwe, still sticking up for teachers despite the terrible abuse he and his profession have received; the grace of apostolic worshippers processing along Sunday streets in gleaming white robes; the grace of the rural donkey, stoically pulling his heavy load up the hill.  

There is also beauty: a rural woman walking economically and upright - a child strapped to her back, a heavy load on her head; the rocky, forested kopjes of the Great Dike – perfect hideouts for shy but deadly leopards; the sun catching the ripples of Lake Kariba’s endless waters.

Despite all the efforts of Zimbabwe’s cruel men, I will take from the country memories that are good. The grace, the beauty, the courage and the strength have outweighed and outlasted all that has been vile.

Perhaps because of this excess of goodness, the country is trying to plot its route away from desperate 2008 into new years of hope. So far concrete signs of recovery are few, but signs of the uplift in people’s expectations are everywhere. Here’s one from Harare this week: a petrol pump attendant buying an ice cream for himself on a hot day – a sight not seen in Zimbabwe since poverty and cash shortages started to bite.

If I am – as I hope - leaving a different Zimbabwe, the country has changed me too. I arrived an arrogant and complacent British diplomat. I hope I have learned to be humble in the face of others’ superior qualities and to understand how lucky I am to have grown up surrounded by tolerance, liberty and plenty. 

Until today, I had not realised how much I am feeling about leaving Zimbabwe. But now, Easter Monday, the day before I leave for good, I find myself crying tears for the sweet friends and the soul-expanding life I have to leave behind. I know I signed up for a job that makes me move country every three or four years, but I didn’t know it would be as hard as this.

So yes, the Foreign Office is cruel. My brain must go on to some other job, while my heart stays in Zimbabwe. How cruel to be dragged away just as recovery might begin. But I am forever grateful that I have had the chance to come here and see things good and evil, which will temper the way I live the rest of my life. I have never had a more worthwhile job. 

Thank you for reading my blog. The incomparable Grace Mutandwa will keep you informed about Zimbabwe in the future. And others may take it up too. The word processor is mightier than the sword!

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Comments:

Thanks for your work and your blog, Philip. As another foreigner who came to love Zimbabwe during my time there, I really appreciate your on-the-ground reports of what you've been seeing these past few years. Thank you!

Posted by Ben on April 15, 2009 at 01:48 PM BST #

Your blog will be sorely missed - I hope your next post proves to be as interesting and inspiring.

Posted by Katherine Sanders on April 16, 2009 at 04:19 PM BST #

Good luck with your next posting Philip, I have enjoyed reading your blog during my working hours and it has helped me realise how very fortunate I am.

Posted by Rikki on April 16, 2009 at 06:36 PM BST #

Yes, thanks Phil for all your updates and the insights you have shared. I look forward to your next blog from wherever you go in the future. And thanks to Grace I can keep on reading about Zim - I hope the improvements there can continue.

Posted by Paula R on April 16, 2009 at 11:41 PM BST #

I'm glad to know that the Foreign Office sends out people to represent us who feel sad when it calls them back.

Posted by OwenE2 on April 19, 2009 at 03:42 PM BST #

I really enjoyed your last item, Philip. As someone who wants to eventually live in Zim, I have found your simple delivery very refreshing and honest. How lucky we are to have what we have here, however unplatable it may be at times; I feel humbled. I hope one day we might meet, I wish you well. Richard K

Posted by Richard Kapff on April 20, 2009 at 04:21 PM BST #

Philip being a Zimbabwean myself and having left almost 15 years ago. I hear every word you are saying. I can picture everything you have described and I feel the pain you feel as well. Zimbabwe will always be home to me and one day I will return I am sure. Lovely piece of writing. I shall mail it to my Mum and dad that are still in Zimbabwe.

Posted by Maddy on April 21, 2009 at 08:59 AM BST #

Dear Philip, I well understand how you feel, having recently visited Zimbabwe for three weeks and so much appreciated all it has to offer, while being fully aware of what is going on in the background which you just don't see, as a visitor - apart from a great friend of ours being badly beaten up at the same time as we were due to have lunch with them on their land on the outskirts of Harare, not even a farm. It is good to be able to keep in touch with what is going on there in that background on useful websites which you, no doubt, use ? Best wishes for your new life - is it in UK? Anne Forbes

Posted by Anne Forbes on April 23, 2009 at 10:37 AM BST #

Thank you Phillip for sharing your experiences in my country with the world. I often try to explain to my friends in England that amidst the suffering and economic hardships that the people in Zimbabwe have endured over the last few years, you can not help but remain in love with God loving people, authentic food, the heat, the smell in the air, the atmosphere that i can not find words for, that you quite rightly describe as "the grace around you." May God bless you and your family, I do hope you enjoy your next assignment.

Posted by farai on April 23, 2009 at 09:03 PM BST #

Thank you Phillip for sharing your experiences in my country with the world. I often try to explain to my friends in England that amidst the suffering and economic hardships that the people in Zimbabwe have endured over the last few years, you can not help but remain in love with God loving people, authentic food, the heat, the smell in the air, the atmosphere that i can not find words for, that you quite rightly describe as "the grace around you." May God bless you and your family, I do hope you enjoy your next assignment.

Posted by farai on April 23, 2009 at 09:10 PM BST #

As one of the many diaspora, your words over the past months have brought my beloved country home to me. Thank you. God Bless you in your new post.

Posted by David on April 28, 2009 at 12:02 PM BST #

Philip, We will miss your wonderful descriptions of the humour and the spirit and resilience of Zimbabweans despite the insane challenges they/we face daily. Please pop back to this site and give us an update in a few months time when you have settled in your new post to tell us how its going and where you are. Meanwhile, pls check out my blog from time to time -- www.zimupdate.blogspot.com -- hope it keeps you smiling (and wiping away the odd wistful tear - oh sorry, forgot englishmen don't cry - they only blink furiously from time to time!) Fambai Zvakanaka!

Posted by Fambai on April 29, 2009 at 06:42 PM BST #

Thank you Philip for all your blogs. We will miss your accounts of life in Zimbabwe - your reports have been eloquent and evocative. Your love for the people and the country has shone through at the same time as your sorrow and anger at the predicament of the people. I am left with a real longing that the people will eventually be rewarded for their courage and patience and that justice will prevail. Sylvia

Posted by Sylvia Robinson on April 30, 2009 at 02:51 PM BST #

Africa, and perhaps Africa in distress even more, is like that. It gets under your skin. You rage and rant at the frustrations and inequities, you shout and swear at the injustices and corruption, but when you leave you find you love it to the bottom of your soul. It will always remain under your blood, in your bones, in your heart.

Posted by Deborah Kirby on May 04, 2009 at 04:48 PM BST #

Fambai zvakanaka, big man. Your last post, as a few others have done, left me with tears in my eyes. However, many others by you and grace have uplifted my heart... and on a few ocassions helped me to make the decision to stay and not face the heartbreak that you have had in moving on.

Posted by Janie on May 07, 2009 at 10:33 AM BST #

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