Murungu in Baghdad

10 May 2010

I must admit that while I walked across the bridge to Zimbabwe Bob Marley started playing in my head. Sunny, windy, I'm smiling to myself. But they wouldn't let me in because the visa sticker is too big for the remaining space in my passport. I walked back to Zambia; they wouldn't let me in unless Zim stamped a denial. Back to Zim. Self-important immigration guy is on break, lady wants to gossip with friends and not listen to confusing story from white guy. I convince somebody else to just put the visa on top of the info page. I'll get it fixed in Harare.


The border isn't a town really, its just a third world truck stop with a settlement of shacks the locals call Baghdad, a motel with great Chicken and Sadza for $7, whole quarts of Castle lager for $2 and some truck stop whores. This, of course, is how AIDS makes its way across Africa. I ponder this while glancing at them, watching the Baboons and the foot long lizards crawling around the motel garden.



Zim is wild. No fences from here on in. Hurungwe and Mana Pools National Parks are some of the best in Africa and this is right on the edge. Deep in there are serious safaris requiring preparation and large vehicles.


I'm looking for a little road that leads to Tiger Safari, a small fishing spot along the river. The words "third world" echoing around my head. People are not smiling like they did in Zambia. People are staring at me. Surely this is where I'm going to get robbed of my precious laptop, right ?


Finally somebody calls out to me to ask where I'm going and then gives me the most important advice of all: WATCH OUT FOR ELEPHANTS !!


Its about 2km to Tiger Safari and the dirt roads aren't really marked. I realized I didn't know the rules of engagement. In India you could pick up a stick and the monkeys scattered. I asked some guy about this. No, the baboons are not afraid of sticks. About Elephants I have no idea what to do. I don't even know if there are Lions here, I have no idea.


Found the place. Its cheap, I have a whole chalet to myself with a kitchen, swimming pool and electrified fence. The other chalets have people with 4 wheelers who probably come here often to fish. I walk back to the road to shop for food, but my way is blocked by baboons and they clearly don't give a fuck. I try just shuffling along and they clear a path, but then I make eye contact and 4 very large very fast adults chase me screaming down the road. They are screaming, I am screaming. I try the other road but the pack moved over there and are waiting for me.


I meet Biggie, one of the boat drivers and he offers to take me out walking. He's from down south on the Mozambique border and with him I'm no longer scared walking out in the bush. We find fresh elephant shit and then finally we find the elephants. African elephants ain't shit to fuck with, they kill. We stand on a hill and he tells me which way to run if the elephant decides to run up the hill. We find some bones of one who did kill somebody up by the store. The humans tracked him down and shot him. Humans ain't shit to fuck with.



Biggie and his brother Talent invite me to go out for a beer later. His wife tut tuts us and asks me if I'm not afraid of the animals. The hippos come out at nights, so this is actually the point. Just one beer.


Five beers or so later, we've visited Baghdad and hit the local club which is called Offroad. Baghdad is shacks and some basic government facilities. Probably refugees who tried to get out of Zimbabwe during the financial collapse. People give some friendly hellos and somebody says something like "Wow, there's a Murungu (white guy) in Baghdad"


In Offroad there is sweet Zimbabwe guitar music playing then some Kwaito/House. Bayern is on the TV. Manchester United are GODS in Africa. People play pool, watch the football, dance or come over to ask the white guy what New York is like.


I would imagine that a Zimbo doesn't get the same friendly attention if he drops by a quiet pub in southern Germany.


But then the other reason Zimbos are so happy to chat is that their tourist industry got destroyed and they really are proud of their country and want people to get the word out and start coming back again. They know what people's perception of the country is, and they treat their guests with genuine warmth. Its the touristed countries like South Africa and India that are annoying and dangerous.


One other thing about traveling in Africa is that you start to pick up on ethnicities (language, body type, characteristic features, social styles) and not just what country somebody is from. One thing about Biggie and his brother Talent is that they aren't that big. 50kg or so, 5' tall. 5 beers is quite a few, eh ?


Five of us walk back to the camp in the dark (9pm). He had already warned me not to wear white. Elephants are blocking the road. There's a young one too. Everybody is concerned—I couldn't be more pleased. I am not going to try a flash photo though. We trek through the back trails, get everybody home and since my luck is so perfect we also catch a hippo lumbering down the street like a world war one tank. Hippos are more dangerous actually. The flash didn't go off, I missed the shot. Mission accomplished, off to Harare. I leave the rest of the rice and some money for Biggie for taking me out to find the Elephants though he never asked for any money. He's got 3 kids (2 from his brother who died).


  1. 1 Eduardo says...

    Hey Felix you back home yet? Pretty crazy with the elephants, hippos and baboons. Too bad those punks took your cash and credit/atm cards and I hope that's not the reason you haven't updated in a while.

    You sticking around South Africa for the world cup. That should be really sweet with the games and nightlife. Especially with people coming in from all over the world.

    Have fun and be safe. Happy travels!
    Eduardo

  2. 2 timeblind says...

    Hey – yeah, I promised I wouldn't promise to update every little thing. Didn't even see your comment until just now. I guess I was still in Harare at that point.

    Never mind the pick pockets, I don't even want to mention them. people remember that, and it wasn't what zimbabwe was about for me.

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