31 July, 2013

Election Day

It's election day today - the first Presidential (and Parliamentary) elections since Zimbabwe's coalition government was formed in 2009, the first elections since the violence and devastation of 2008.

I arrived back home a week ago to a country that seems normal, that seems peaceful and happy. But there's a strange undercurrent of below-the-surface-fear.

Mom and I were driving through town the other day and had stopped in the middle of a typical intersection, one with the usual crowded cacophony of cars and people; combis wedged into every possible space in between cars, Buddie (phone card) sellers, newspaper sellers and guys selling car phone chargers, elections stickers, flags and belts all standing in the middle of the road, in the midst of the cars. Women walking with bundles on their heads or wearing heels and a business suit, out on lunch break.
We heard the sound of sirens approaching from somewhere in front of us and a motorcycle zipped past on our right, followed by four more, all with their sirens screaming. The President was coming. The light ahead turned green but nobody moved; all cars and people were still and waiting, faces carefully neutral.
After the motorbikes came the police-cars and in the middle of the entourage was the black car with flags, protected by an army truck behind and an army truck in front, both filled with soldiers, their guns trained out at the rest of us. Then came more motorbikes and lastly, an ambulance.
The street breathed again.
People moved, kept walking, avoided eye contact and didn't joke or smile. Cars drove onwards and the strange silence was covered up with growing talk.

That's the feeling on the streets; people are quiet and worried. Though campaigning has been "mostly peaceful, with few reports of intimidation" (according to the BBC), the fear is of a different kind. 

I was chatting with a friend who said that a couple weeks ago, in a suburb just outside the city, government men came in and rounded up the people. Every person had their picture taken. Then the men left. No one was told what the pictures were for, when they would be used or who had ordered them.

"At least when they're beating you , you know exactly what it's about. But this...you don't know what they could do," my friend said.

People are afraid because we don't know what to fear. We don't know what will happen

At the moment, there's nothing we can do but wait. We're going on about our lives as usual - I have a kitchen tea to prepare for and (eventually) a job to find. But at the back of our minds are questions: Do we hope for a "New Zimbabwe"? Do we fear for our safety? Will anything change at all?

As a friend said this morning, heading to the polling station in town to vote, "we'll know in five days". We hope. 

04 July, 2013

Bucket-loads of treasure

I hope I'm as cool as my grandparents when I get to their age.

I'm staying with Granny and Grampa Dietsch, in New Jersey for a week and this morning, Grampa was writing an email to a man called Charles in Papua New Guinea.

"I wish he'd write in English," he said, "my Pidgin is a little rusty."

It's been a few decades since Grampa's had to use it.

I asked Grampa about how he and Granny got to Papua New Guinea.

"Well, let's see, this must have been 1950 or 51. I was about twenty three and I was heading to Manus (a small Island in Papau New Guinea) with Liebenzel. But before I left, I made sure to propose - Hilda was only nineteen so we had to wait another year until she could marry me. And Liebenzel wanted you to be in the mission field for two years before you got married but there was no place for her to stay on the island by herself. So I left and a year later, Hilda came over and we got married. She took a plane to Australia, then a ship out to the island. We had to delay the wedding by a two weeks, though, because there was this sailor that died in a car accident and I had to do the funeral.
I remember a team of Australian cricketers stood at the door of the church building, more like a hut, and watched. They wouldn't come inside because they were Catholic.
And then (he chuckles here) I got malaria that night and your Granny spent the first week of marriage nursing me!"

Granny called us in for breakfast and after we'd eaten our toast and boiled eggs, Granny and Grampa Dietsch read the Moravian Devotional and prayed together. It's a part of their morning routine - Grampa reads the German and Granny reads the English. Yesterday, they got into a discussion about the finicky German articles -di -da -das and so forth. Apparently Granny is better at knowing which one to use.

"You just grown up hearing what the right one is," she said.

Then it was the roots of German names. Dietsch comes from Deutsche (as in Deutschland) and Faustel (my great-grandmother's name) comes from the word "faust" meaning "fist".

"So, Faustel mean's 'little fist'", Grampa said, "oh but my grandmother had a big fist."
He chuckled.
"She loved the comic book, The Phantom, and read it to us kids there, but she couldn't read English so she just made the story up from the pictures. And, if the phone rang she'd pick it up and shout, 'Hello!? Nobody home!' and hang up."

At this point in the story, Grampa's giggling so hard he has to take his glasses off and wipe his eyes.

Grandparents hold a bucket-load of treasures.