‘The musings of a troubled pantheist’, may accurately describe Cathy Buckle’s bitter-sweet contribution, which this week mingles her evocation of nature with concern for her fellow Zimbabwean professionals. She’s watching thousands of teachers, healthcare workers and firefighters leave Zimbabwe as the crackpot regime (my words not hers), arrests those protesting the crippling drops in the worth of their salaries while labelling them unpatriotic. It is enough to inject bone-marrow despair, yet Cathy takes solace in her country’s abundant natural beauty as she forest-bathes while pondering the painful choices facing her compatriots. It’s a familiar experience for far too many South Africans, perhaps not yet as stark and confrontational. Our life experience colours our views. Not too far from Cathy, some long-standing, highly successful Zimbabwean commercial farmers decry our own beloved country, confident their prospects are better. Each speaks for themselves. Only politicians claim to speak for others. Go figure. – Chris Bateman
By Cathy Buckle*
On a rock on the path the trail marker is painted: a white circle with a green antelope footprint in the centre. Behind the rock is nature’s own trail marker: a low mound of hard anthill carpeted all around by lush green moss and studded with bright orange spikes of Coral fungus. Behind me I have left a small family group of sable, one male, two females and a new calf, perhaps a month old, just starting to get a darkening fringe of raised fur on its neck. As anxious as the mother was to protect her baby, the youngster was curious, looking straight at me for a minute or two, wide eyed and innocent and beautiful.
While I stop and catch my breath and soak in the beauty of the moss and the mushrooms and the sable, I can’t get the teachers out of my mind; fifteen teachers and a journalist arrested and put in leg irons. Arrested for calling for a living wage. Currently earning the equivalent of just US$125 a month the teachers were earning US$540 a month in 2018 but were reduced to paupers when the Minister of Finance converted US dollar to Zimbabwe dollars. “We are being pushed [to protest] by the hunger in our stomachs” a teacher said, now earning a quarter of what he used to earn. 10,000 teachers left the country in 2020 and we wait to hear the toll for 2021; they just cannot afford to stay.
I walk on, my eyes see beauty but my heart is sore for our country. Mushrooms are everywhere, red and ominous, white and dripping, tall and beige, cream and curled. Startling yellow fungus decorates a tree branch on the woodland floor and next to it bright orange mushrooms ooze out of a crack in the wood. In the woodland the sedges are everywhere, covered in flower spikes: beige, golden, cream, white. The ground is soft and springy with thick carpets of sodden brown leaves which muffle my footsteps and those of animals that may be nearby, invisible in the deep green bush. A wild grape with clusters of small green fruits sits low to the ground, not ripe yet but what a treat they will be once they turn deep purple and black.
I stop for a drink of water and the words of a firefighter keep echoing in my head. They are in crisis; 125 firefighters left Harare city council in 2021 and one man also planning to go said: “I want to leave the country. Every one of us wants to leave for other countries. We are all in waiting mode. Once an opportunity presents itself, I am out.” All our skilled, dedicated people are leaving again, four years after the end of Mugabe, the brain drain flood- tide has resumed, they cannot afford to stay.
In the wetland the water is everywhere, trickling, running and pushing through the thick green grass, twisting and turning, making new streams everywhere, all heading to low ground, to the river. Clear pools of water sit in the dips, deep puddles appear from nowhere in the dark black, saturated soil. Flowers are quivering in the newly flooded wetland, tall and white, fragile and purple, delicate red. In every direction the sound of moving water can be heard, dripping, trickling, bubbling and cascading. A grey heron sitting at the top of a tree lifts off and flaps slowly, leisurely across the grassland, its huge wingspan, hooked neck and trailing black legs a sight to behold.
Stopping to watch the heron I think of a friend, recently in hospital with mountains of bills to pay, and I think of the huge crisis unfolding for healthcare workers. Over 2200 healthcare workers left Zimbabwe in 2021, double the number that left in 2020 and three times the number that left in 2019. They currently earn less than US$200 a month and can earn ten times that much abroad and so they go because they have to survive, support their families, build their lives.
I walk on, now climbing up the rocks, watching my footing; it’s wet and slippery here. Water is running down the rocks, seeping out of cracks and crevices and everywhere the rocks are shining and silver. Pools of water have filled dips in the kopjes, a perfect stopping place for antelope and birds, monkeys and baboons to bend and have a quick drink, the blue sky reflected in the clear water. Further along water rushes over the rocks and drops down into the stream. Back down in the grassland one late flame lily, scarlet in the dense green grass, edged with yellow in its centre, tendrils clinging to the bush surrounding it.
This is our beautiful Zimbabwe in January 2022; how can we bear to leave; how can we survive it and stay?
This letter is for my friend, a dedicated educator for forty years who cannot afford to stay anymore, her pension worthless, decimated by the Zimbabwe government. So long we have walked and talked, laughed and cried, watched and waited. Happy trails my friend.
- For information on my books about Zimbabwe go to www.lulu.com/spotlight/
CathyBuckle2018. For archives of Letters From Zimbabwe, to see pictures that accompany these articles and to subscribe/unsubscribe or to contact me please visit my website http://cathybuckle.co.zw.
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