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  • Writer's pictureNondiarist

Zimbabwe revisited - Great Zimbabwe

1998 was the year all five of us ended up in Zimbabwe together. It wasn’t planned that way. We booked our holiday and then, independently, both Eddie’s parents and my mother decided it would be a great place to stopover on the way to Australia and New Zealand respectively. We survived it.

You can’t visit the country without taking in Great Zimbabwe, where spectres of the past whisper among ancient stone walls. My ex-schoolmate Crystal kindly lent us her yellowish/greenish Ford Laser, aka, rather unfairly, the Vomit Comet. It was a four hour drive from Harare, although it did feel more like four years with the Mothers talking at each other, starting at minute-one, in the back of the car. I have no idea what they talked about. I had no idea one could actually find stuff to talk about for four hours. Eddie’s dad, probably wisely, opted not to join us.

I stuck to concentrating on the road, trying not to be lulled by the hum of wheels on tar; there was very little other traffic in either direction. At one point we got hit by a torrential downpour. Even with the windscreen wipers doing double-time, visibility was barely twenty metres and the Talking Titans were momentarily silenced. Lightning and thunder chased each other across a black sky and I slowed to a crawl to prevent the Comet from aqua-planing on the sheets of surface water. Then it was gone, and just as the last of the rain cleared away there was an agonised nails-on-chalkboard screech and something flew off the front of the car into the bush on the left. The screech continued – screeches, rather, in a rhythm….screech-eek-screech-eek-screech-eek…while I stared in growing consternation at the arc of scratches appearing on the glass in front of me. We pulled over and searched in vain for the driver’s side wiper blade for about fifteen minutes. Pointless. We just hoped it wouldn’t rain again.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as eerie as Great Zimbabwe. It is ancient, and it feels ancient. I was twelve years old the first time I visited the ruins and I remember walking along the corridor between massive dry stone walls, touching them, trying to imagine the people who built them, and dreaming about them in my imagination afterwards.

Then shortly before leaving Zimbabwe I found myself in the area while on a work trip to nearby Bangala Dam.

I was drawn back to the mysterious walls and the enigma of the conical tower and spent some time sitting in complete solitude on top of the “Acropolis”, looking out over the remains of the historic city and the immensely beautiful, apparently empty landscape surrounding it. It was an emotional experience, knowing I would soon be leaving Africa for good and not knowing if I would ever come back. No human or animal sounds reached me up there – I could’ve been the only living creature in the world.

But I did get to return. The day of the Talking Titans and the flying wiper blade was a long one but so worth it for feeling the touch of ancient Africa once again and having those old memories stirred.

I remembered something else too. The English professional ballroom dancers my parents had hosted while I was still a schoolkid – super-fit people who were shocked to find themselves gasping for breath after only a couple of minutes of quickstep in a practice session at the dance studio in Harare. I remembered this as I huffed and puffed my way up the Acropolis and damn-near passed out about two thirds of the way up. It was a revelation. I knew exactly how they’d felt and I knew why – it’s true what they say. I’d been living in Bournemouth, England, for several years by that time and the air is decidedly thinner at one thousand five hundred metres above sea level.

Unbelievably, after a couple of hours’ rest ‘n’ recuperation, the Mothers talked at each other all the way back to Harare. No, I don’t recall any of what was said. I just know it was my mother who finally capitulated about half an hour out of the city limits. It was her one and only defeat, but at eight hours that’s pretty impressive.

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May 16, 2021

Scantly remember debate on changing the name from Zimbabwe Ruins to Great Zimbabwe. Any details?

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