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!