Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa


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Wednesday 02 September, 2009

A dash of serenity and buckets of madness

Over our Heroes holidays, a few weeks ago, my partner and I drove to the Vumba in Zimbabwe's scenic eastern highlands.

I needed a break and so did my partner. After the break my partner was facing the possibility of winding down business at his media monitoring organisation. Like a few other media organisations, they were in financial distress.

So we certainly needed to go away somewhere tranquil. I felt for him. In 1999 he had had to stop publishing his investigative magazine because lawsuits from politicians had bled the magazine dry. His heart was broken.

We needed to be somewhere where we could relax and put things into perspective. A trip to the Vumba was just what the doctor ordered. We booked ourselves into a cottage at Seldom Seen.

The weather was quite warm during the day so we went for long walks, took pictures, and at the end of each day visited Tony's for his decadent famous cakes.

The evenings found us relaxing in front of a blazing fire in our cottage. There was no radio and no television to disrupt our break from city life. We played board games, read or simply talked.

Seldom Seen has views that are truly, seldom seen throughtout Zimbabwe. It has some cottagesthat overlook valleys and mountains into Mozambique. The plant life is amazing. I saw azeleas that were neatly trimmed into hedges. In Harare azeleas grow but they are usuallystruggling stunted plants. The cool moist conditions in the Vumba encourages the health growth of azaleas and other exotic plants.

While in the Vumba we thought we would pay a hotel there a visit for lunch. We went to its golf clubhouse where we had to ask a waiter three times to clear the available table on the veranda. He grabbed the dirty paper serviettes and plastic drinking straws, crumbled them and threw them right over my shoulder into the flowerbed behind me.

We were speechless. He then came back with drinks which he was about to put on the dirty table. We asked him to wipe the table, which he did grudgingly. We ordered but werenow quite certain the kitchen where the food was going to emerge was most likely a health hazard - but we were hungry.

My partner's chicken burger tasted anything but a chicken burger. My steak roll was a sickly thin piece of "carpet". It was the toughest and tasteless steak roll I have ever had the misfortune to partake of.

The following day we visited a lodge that we really like because of its scenic views, very different from those at Seldom Seen. After a long leisurely walk in the lodge's woods, we were ready for a light meal.

Getting drinks at that lodge took us 20 minutes and our orders for food took almost two hours. When we went to the reception to cancel our food order we tired of waiting. The waiter told us the food would be ready in 15 minutes. We did wait, had the food which was nothing to write home about.

The manager of the place suddenly materialised apologising profusely. I couldn't help but point out to him that they were in the wrong business. They could not entertain guests. It wasn't as if the place was teeming with guests waiting to be served. Apart from us there was one other couple.

Apart from Tony's and one or two other places, the Vumba needs a real shake-up. Service provision has gone out of the window. Even small guesthouses in South Africa knowhow to look after guests, not so in the Vumba. Maybe it is a good thing we do not have hoardes of tourists, otherwise we would be embarrassed no end.

People in the Vumba are generally friendly and gentle. Save for a few mad drivers on the road, driving back was uneventful. We both felt rested and I was ready for work while my partner was ready to deal with the pain of winding down business and giving the bad news to his staff.

I came back to be attacked in a violent smash and grab. Just a week ago, driving out for dinner our car had its front passenger window shattered. Some huge thug grabbed my bagwhich was wedged between my thighs. I had the strap in my left hand and was not about tolet go.

I told my partner to increase speed and when he did I yanked the bag out of the thief's hand. He stumbled and almost fell across the road. I had cuts on my fingers, was bleeding heavily but I had my bag. Our chief of security Dave Wells is always telling us to be careful and not to fight off thugs - very sound advice. If I was anyone else I would have screamed and let go of the bag but I refuse to be a victim.

In 2000, in broad daylight while covering parliamentary elections I was held by four thugs at knifepoint. I let them take my tape recorder and mobile phone but after that day I also vowed anyone who dared attack me again would have a hell of a fight on their hands.

A group of middle-aged women in Kenya are taking self defence lessons because they are sick and tired of being raped and assaulted by thugs. You get to a stage where you say enough is enough. And I have reached that stage. Do not take my advice - but I will fight back.

Harare is getting too violent, increasing house break ins and car jackings do not make it an attractive city.I am already yearning for the tranquil of the Vumba.

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I know it's instinctive to hold on but it's best to let go. You might keep your bag but you can just as easily get pulled with it and end up with a broken arm or leg (I speak as a one-time tour guide with experience of collecting passengers with arms in plaster from police stations).

Posted by OwenE2 on September 06, 2009 at 03:04 PM BST #

Hi Grace, I am writing an article about you and your blogging colleagues at the FCO (with the help of the Digital Diplomacy Team). I wonder if you can send me pictures of you at work? Would love to see more visual content on your blog too! BW Caroline (aka blogger Nomadic)

Posted by Caroline Jaine on September 14, 2009 at 01:54 PM BST #

All might have been easier, if you were a vegetarian, less disappointment in the restaurant and less aggressiveness and therefore less difficulties to let go things. Things come and go.

Posted by Costa Rica Real Estate Guy on September 18, 2009 at 06:28 PM BST #

Thanks Grace for your blogs! I really enjoy reading them. I am so sorry about your partner's organisation.

Posted by Emilar on October 08, 2009 at 02:05 PM BST #

So interesting to read about your life; your blog is amazing. I visited Zimbabwe some years ago and am so sorry to read about its problems. I wish you all the best.

Posted by Fiona on October 22, 2009 at 09:50 PM BST #

My brother visited Vumba while touring round the world. He wasn't overly impressed with the services

Posted by web design essex on November 24, 2009 at 10:23 PM GMT #

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