Zimbabwe: We celebrate with you but now we hold our breath….

With so much happening in the world this year, it takes something really special to break through the Trump/Brexit/EU/Germany/Syria/North Korea bubble. But something did and it dominated the news here in the UK for days this week: Zimbabwe.

We in the UK are probably seeing more of it than elsewhere because Zim is a Commonwealth country and one we have always had an interest in. But also I think it was so high up the news agenda simply because, for once, it was good news. Good news that was reflected in the cheering and dancing and smiles and partying of what looked like the entire nation. It was hard not to cheer and dance along with them, and who didn’t wish they could have been on the streets of Harare last night (21st November) for what looked like the party of the century?

But as the dancing slows and the clean-up begins, as people start to go back to work, get on with the normal day-to-day life of living in a country that has been bankrupted by corruption, the big question on everyones minds is: what happens now?

I of course have a special interest in Zimbabwe because as well as meeting lots of Zimbabweans living in South Africa, I have relatives living there – who I was lucky enough to visit earlier this year. It was a very special visit, different from all our other adventures in Southern Africa, and one I will always remember. Because I was staying with my relatives I was able to really experience life as a local (locals who are better off than most in that country but nevertheless living with the same shortages as everyone, the same questionable future, the same problems getting money from the bank or finding work). It was only a short stay but I really felt like I was able to get under the skin of the country and the one thing I understood, loud and clear, was how desperately the people of Zimbabwe, whatever their background, wanted change.

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Here I am trying not to get crushed in Zimbabwe earlier this year

And now it seems change is coming. I am sure that the euphoria of the last few days will soon give way to something more reflective, as people start to wonder who will replace Mugabe in both the short and the longer term. Will something better come in his place? Will the elections next year be free and fair? Will the much-needed investment in the country come?

All they – and I – can hope is that at last the time has come for the people of Zimbabwe to be able to hope again. Hope for a better future. Hope that democracy can be replaced. That the land can flourish again. Tourism can return. It’s a big hope in this day and age where everywhere we look things fall apart. But right now we all need some hope.

Zimbabwe, for the sake of us all: rise again.

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Learning to live with the New Normal.

Phew! What a week. I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson over these past few days, with news coming at me from every direction. There was the travel ban in America, the huge protests against Trump being invited on a state visit in the UK, and then there was the Brexit debates and vote in London. It just seems like every time I check the news something else has happened….

But somehow, with all this going on, we have to learn to carry on.

In all honesty, I am finding it inceasingly difficult to focus on anything. I have plenty of work and am in the middle of an essay-writing course with a view to increasing the amount of freelance work I do. I also have this blog to keep up! Never mind all the normal, daily routine work like shopping and dog-walking that you can’t just forget about. But on the other hand there is Facebook and Twitter and another check of the latest news and before I know it half the day has gone. I also find my mood swings all over the place with the increasingly worrying information we are getting on a daily, nay hourly, basis.

But I know it’s just going to keep on coming so somehow we have to find a way to live with this new normal. And one of the ways I have been doing it is talking to people who have been surviving for years, decades even, in the sort of uncertain political environment that we in the UK and the US (and other stable democracies) perhaps haven’t ever had to contemplate. In particular, I spent last weekend in Harare visiting with relatives.

For those that don’t know (which hopefully is few of you!), Zimbabwe has been living under Robert Mugabe for more than 35 years. I am not about to go into a plotted history of the country and its politics – especially as, to my shame, I am actually pretty ignorant as to exactly what is happening in that country despite living righ next door and having relatives there. But if you are interested to learn more, here is a link.

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Trying not to get crushed in Zimbabwe

However, what is true is that life in Zimbabwe has become increasingly difficult for many of its nationals and change still seems elusive. It is that lack of WHEN things will improve that I think is the hardest to deal with – many people can cope with difficulties if they know it is for a limited time. If nothing else, contigency planning is easier when you have an idea how many months, years or even decades you are planning for.

It obviously isn’t easy and there aren’t any simple rules but it certainly seems that trying to get involved, in one way or another, in any opposition to the ruling government can make you feel a lot more positive. Just to feel like you are DOING something can certainly lift your spirits. How much you are actually able to do will of course depend on where you are and your particular situation – but in the UK and the US we are still in a position to be able to petition, march, write, donate and share information pretty widely. Hopefully all of those things will continue.

Otherwise, distraction is a great way to deal wth whatever is going on around you – epecially when you feel so helpless to change it. Change does and will come – we only have to look at history to know that we won’t stagnate in this situation forever. But it may be slow, a lot slower than we would want – so in the meantime we need to find ways to cope with the wait. Whether that be writing or crafting or sewing or baking or even burying yourself in work, it is always going to be healthy to take your minds off things for periods of times.

Getting together with like-minded friends is another thing that can really help when you are feeling despondent. As an expat I do sometimes feel quite isolated from everything going on in my home country, especially as I am surrounded by American expats so the news of Trump does tend to dominate. But every so often I get together with another sympathetic British friend who reassures me that no, I am not alone in feeling like this (I know the internet and Facebook in particular is another way to bring people together but there is nothing like a proper, face-to-face get together).

Finally the other thing that really helps me is what this blog is really all about – which is that many people, in many countries have been living with these uncertainties for years and whatever happens we will still almost certainly remain some of the most privileged people in the world just by dint of our passports. Although I speak about Zimbabwe, South Africa also has been going through interesting political times with a difficult and unpopular government, student riots, allegations of corruption right to the top of government…..

But I look around me and people are getting on with their lives. They are shopping and cooking and drinking wine and selling mobile phone cases at traffic lights and sweeping leaves and walking dogs and going to business meetings….in other words, life goes on. It is frustrating, incredibly frustrating, when you feel that you can’t do anything to bring about the immediate change that you crave but actually what you do need to be doing is living.

Now I am going to take my own advice and go and make a cup of tea. Please let me know your thoughts – these are interesting times.