Wow, it’s been so long since I last blogged – something to do with being very busy in the run-up to Christmas (more about that later), and then my partner and I taking a long holiday to visit my mother in my beautiful home country – Zimbabwe. So, before I go any further let me start by saying that I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!
So, Christmas in Zimbabwe. It is the time of year when the African bush is peppered with the reds and yellows of the Christmas or flame lilies (Gloriosa superba), Zimbabwe’s national flower.
Christmas itself was spent on the shores of Lake Mutirikwe, famous for the Great Zimbabwe Ruins – a UNESCO World Heritage Site of a ruined city that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which existed from 1100 to 1450 AD. Great Zimbabwe acted as a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and would have been used as the seat of their political power. One of its most prominent features are its walls, some of which were over five metres high and which were constructed without mortar. Wandering through this abandoned city is an ethereal experience.
New Year was spent out in the bush with our friends Mark and Laura Albertyn who have recently moved back to Zimbabwe. I have previously blogged about the wonderful work that they are doing out there with their charity, Makomborero. It was such a wonderful experience to wake up on the first day of 2011 and, in the pre-dawn light, to see a group of giraffe and wildebeest at the salt lick outside their house, which more than made up for the lack of electricity the previous evening (a common occurrence in Zimbabwe these days)!
Then it was up to Lake Kariba, which is, by volume, is the largest artificial lake and reservoir in the world. The lake was filled between 1958 and 1963 following the completion of the Kariba Dam at its northeastern end, flooding the Kariba Gorge on the Zambezi River. It is now a wild and bird life paradise, and our days there involved a lot of time out on the water fishing, game viewing and bird watching, and most important of all relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery and spectacular sunsets.
Our final excursion was to the Bvumba Mountains, part of the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe bordering Mozambique. Referred to as the “Mountains of the Mist”, (Bvumba is the Shona name for “mist”), the area certainly lived up to its reputation making driving to the restaurant in the evenings very hard work indeed. However, with daybreak each morning the mists cleared to reveal stunning vistas. The big attraction for us, apart from the views, is that these mountains are rich in rare bird life – and lots of sunbirds!
All in all it was a wonderful and much needed holiday, but also an opportunity to explore the world of Interior Design in Zimbabwe as the country starts picking itself up from the economic disaster that has gripped it for the past decade. When I was last in Zimbabwe, exactly three years ago, there was very little food on the shelves and cash was in very short supply. Credit cards could not be used due to the discrepancy in exchange rates between the banks (Z$30,000 to the US$) and the black market (Z$2,000,000 to the US$). Changing £85 made us instant millionaires with a box of Z$340,000,000! These factors made that trip to Zimbabwe a very frustrating one.
This time, though, things were very different. The shelves were full of every food imaginable, and frequented by customers with spending power. There is still a way for the country to go to get back to the glory days of the 1990s. The roads in the cities are badly pot-holed and most street lamps (and quite a few of the traffic lights) don’t work as the electrical wire has been stolen and sold in order to feed starving families. And, country wide, the budget for ‘maintenance’ is still to be resurrected leaving a lot of places feeling somewhat rundown.
But, saying that, my heart is still very much in Zimbabwe because it is filled with such wonderful, cheerful, optimistic people who, whatever the man at the top throws at them, ‘make a plan’!!
If you are tempted to a visit to this wonderful country then for your interiors shopping I would recommend Doon Estate, old railway workers’ houses converted into shops in Msasa’s industrial area, which offers a wide selection of quality crafts, jewellery, pottery and artwork including The Lucky Bean Art Gallery, Kudhinda (fabrics, pottery and basket wear and teak furniture), Art Mart, Burnt Earth tiles and ceramics, and The Emma French Collection. There are also two coffee shops, one of which sells proper Belgian chocolate!