As I fly over the vast parched wilderness that makes up Zimbabwe I’m struck once again by how this fractured country feels achingly like home; I wasn’t born here, but it occupies a corner of my heart, like a bot fly larva under the skin. It looks so serene from the sky – quiet, untouched, the same. My grandpa creeps into my mind as I touch down in Harare – it would have been his 90th birthday, and I always promised him a massive party to celebrate. He was a pilot and a pioneer, a farmer and lover of the African bush. Of umbrella trees, self-sufficiency, hard work and whiskey. Of the generation that simply got on with it. I miss his gnarled calloused fingers and his eyes that crinkled even when his mouth didn’t smile.
Oh Zimbabwe, what a strange place you are. The juxtaposition between the haves and have nots is as stark here as it is at home. There’s also a prevailing spirit of entrepreneurship that gives me hope. As we drive, I see a tire seller on one side, a forest of stone sculptures on the other, followed by plants in makeshift pots, kid’s playgrounds, furniture upholsterers, more sandstone men… the diverse talent and industrial spirit of the Zimbabweans is laid bare and triumphant around every corner.
Then on to the Brook with its towering half-finished cement mansions and immaculate golfing greens – an oasis of ostentation in the midst of a starving nation. But it’s beautiful, and it’s familiar, safe and welcoming. It’s the home of my family, and of a thriving community, which is close and inclusive, and reminiscent of the Doma farming clan that my grandparents were once a part of.
I’m here for my cousin Chris’s wedding. He’s the last of my cousins to get hitched – it’s just Dave and me left now! The wedding is at the Flying Frog and it’s just perfect. The ceremony is short, sweet and funny, and Chantelle looks radiant in her exquisite white dress matched somewhat unconventionally with All-Star takkies. They couldn’t be better suited and it’s an absolute joy to see how happy Chris is. He gets a bit emotional as Chants walks down the aisle towards him, which starts my mum and me bawling.
The reception takes place under an array of magnificent trees decked out in fairy lights and chandeliers. The dance floor is shaded by a peach tree weighed down by translucent pink blossoms, which change colour subtly as the light fades. I’m seated with my cousins, and it’s not long before the wine is flowing and we’re all cackling away together. The speeches are incredibly moving, especially Chris’s words, which honour Chantelle while also paying tribute to his mom, Sue and darling dad, my uncle Dave – one of the best men ever to walk this Earth.
We drink more, dance really badly, laugh, cry and have an absolute blast. I can’t stop feeling an overwhelming rush of love for these people, my family. I try not to take it for granted how lucky I am.
The next day we head up the hill for lunch at my uncle Ant’s house. It’s one of my favourite places in the world: a red brick house surrounded by trees and flowers and overlooking the valleys beyond. It reminds me of my grandparent’s farm, echoing the same feelings of stability, warmth and nostalgia. Most of us sit in the sunshine nursing hangovers and eating ice cream cones, while the kids scurry around the garden chased by Ula the Great Dane puppy. The sun sinks lower, fanning through the umbrella trees. People start heading home and we stay and listen as twilight creatures start replacing the voices of the day. This country; so familiar and so foreign. So whole but so broken. It’s comforting to know that even dictators can’t silence the voices of the crickets or diminish the radiance of the setting sun.