Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bitter Winds in Bulawayo

We be barefootin' in the Skagit Valley now. When it finally gets to be summer here it's really wonderful. Rasberries are ripe. Plums and blackberries will be coming soon. The cold, wet spring slowed all the crops down, but they have recovered nicely. The tourist business is way down on account of high gas prices. Visitors are either not coming to LaConner, or if they do come, they just enjoy the view and buy an ice cream cone and go home without spending money in the gift shops.

Still, Nell Thorn's, the best restaurant in town, is doing a good business -- they get a lot of local business, for one thing. You would give up a lot of other luxuries before you pass up a meal and a drink at Nell Thorn's.

LaConner Mayor Ramon Hayes reports that a high number of houses are on the market in the LaConner area. He said he tracks it on the Internet. A few years ago there was an average of 30 homes for sale, now it is 80. Several LaConner retail businesses are also for sale, but who's buying?

So it's time to bring out the old saying of Louie Nelson, one of our famous oldtimers. He said, "If you live in the Skagit Valley, you're rich."

Ain't that the truth. Life is good here in the abundance of nature. Income tends to be optional.

BITTER WINDS IN BULAWAYO. Time and again, when I was in Zimbabwe ten years ago, I wanted the facts, but I couldn't get any. Africa is the world's largest fact-free zone. Visitors might ask "What time does the bus get here?" And the natives smile and say, "Well it will come today at some time, God willing." But isn't there a schedule?
Yes, there is a printed schedule somewhere, but you really have to let go of your need for information while traveling in Africa.

And then, are they telling me the truth, or what they think I want to hear? Or they might get bored giving the same answer, so they make up a new answer. This can be very creative and highly amusing: "I had a dream last night, and there were two leopards with beaming dark eyes staring at me from deep in the bush. They bounded out into the path, and one of them seized my leg. But then the leopards turned into friendly dogs, and I began to pet them. The next day I realized that the leopards represented the Leopard Bus Company, and so it is highly doubtful that the bus will be punctual today."

Okay, I have to work with this. They do have leopards in Zimbabwe. They are rarely seen, but ever present. And the saying is, "You don't see the leopard, but the leopard sees you." And also, one of the major private bus companies paints a leopard logo on their bus to symbolize speed and power.

But the man who told me that story was probably just making it all up. Or I might be making it all up. Maybe it was my dream.

So how can you tell what is really going on in Zimbabwe right now? I got an email from an American friend, a nurse, who has lived in Zimbabwe for many years. Her message was of common daily activities with no hint of danger or troubles or hardship. So, perhaps, the troubles have not touched her community. Or perhaps she is constant danger, but she doesn't want to talk about it. Or maybe she is afraid that someone from the government is intercepting her emails and she had better be very careful about what she writes.

I can't tell. How can I know for sure?

So I can only say one thing with certainty. It is cold in Zimbabwe right now, and bitter winds are blowing in Bulawayo, the southern capital. July is the Southern Winter. Bulawayo sits on a semi-tropical plateau, at an elevation of over 4,000 feet. And every year at this time, they get six weeks of winter with overcast skies and raw winds. It's flu season, down to 50 degrees and lower at night. A frost can be expected. No one has any heat. Most people just bundle up in every available sweater or jacket.

More prosperous people will use a working fireplace indoors, or else an electric space heater. But the average folks just stamp their feet and hope the cold weather won't last long.

Harare is equally chilly. The deciduous trees are bare of leaves. But the people of Zimbabwe have visions of hell fire and Robert Mugabe consigned to the flames. And this dream will keep them warm at night.

MEETING, NOT MEETING. ARMED, NOT ARMED. The MDC denies that they are negotiation with Robert Mugabe's people, but they are talking to each other, trying to find a way out. I discovered the first rumors of MDC militants seeking to arm themselves and take to the bush. This may be just talk -- but I have not heard this talk before.

They are meeting and not meeting. They are armed and not armed. Anything can happen, but the doom is not sealed.

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