The uncomplicated charms of Zimbabwe
As a crowd of American tourists arrive, an expat rediscovers he love for Zimbabwe.
This whisper goes through the Zimbabwean town: The Americans are coming.Skip to next paragraph
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New York-based author Douglas Rogers is bringing a party of readers to visit the haunts he describes in his first book, "The Last Resort," an account of his parents' brave bid to keep their backpackers' lodge, Drifters, in eastern Zimbabwe, throughout the chaotic years of President Robert Mugabe's land reforms.
Tourists are still a rare sight in any part of crisis-riddled Zimbabwe, aside from the resort town of Victoria Falls. There were only 2.2 million last year, most of them from neighboring South Africa.
My mother-in-law, who can remember the days when four-wheel-drive vehicles trundled regularly down Main Street and when Drifters pizza nights were a riot of lighthearted chatter, is eager to see these visitors from afar.
I am, I have to say, less keen.
"Caterpillars," I say to my husband wearily. "They'll want to know if Zimbabweans eat caterpillars."
(And yes, Zimbabweans do. My favorite fruit-and-vegetable store, next to Fajoo's, the haberdasher, sells them. They look like large black nuts. I find them no more outlandish than the garlic-smothered snails offered in the restaurants along St. Michel in Paris, where I used to live.)
Still, we pile into our car this autumn afternoon in the Southern Hemisphere and drive out to Odzi, where Drifters still stands and where – so my mother-in-law has heard – "the Americans" will be relaxing.
I sit in silence as my husband hands over US$1 at the makeshift tollgate. This week, press reports said some traffic cops were raking in up to $300 each day from unofficial tollgates in a bid to supplement their meager $200 monthly salaries. Reports also claimed Mr. Mugabe was readying to push ahead with elections this year, defying regional negotiators and his coalition partners, who fear a rerun of the 2008 election violence that killed 200 people. Villagers loyal to the president are pushing for a clause in the Constitution that will make it a capital offense to criticize him.
The Cecil Kop mountain range towers to my left, flanks bleached to straw by the last of the summer sun. Sometimes I can't help feeling marooned in the beautiful, but often-frustrating country I moved to 10 years ago when I got married.