Saturday Night in the Sunshine City

Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
Trip End Nov 17, 2005

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Harare used to be a magnificent African city, tall, wealthy and proud. Once a rival of Nairobi and Johannesburg, these days a pall hangs over the city; a grim sense of despair and decay. Garbage and detritus clutters previously immaculate streets as municipal services fail. After all, how can a city that relies on a private postal services maintain public ones?

But even in a city as seemingly destitute as Harare has become there's random adventure to be had. At a roadside ice cream shop I meet ________, and her friend ________, and we arrange to catch up later for drinks on the town. It's Saturday night and I'm itching to check out the scene. No matter how badly off things are in Harare and Zimbabwe as a whole it must still be a better party than Lusaka.

We meet at the posh Bronte hotel in the Avenues, one of the fine old neighbourhoods in the city. The president's palace, State House, is in the area, and many of the apartments and houses are pleasant and colonial, though these days a most of the whites or more affluent residents have moved to the suburbs.

Along with the girls I'm joined by their friend ________, a guy my age in Harare on business. ________ has a car, and besides the transportation I'm happy to have him with us. Whether it's the political situation or not, I feel less comfortable touring around Harare than I do in Lusaka. The Lonely Planet guide describes Zimbabweans as "friendly and remarkably stoic", and I'm sure they are.

But tonight I feel like I'm being watched, sized up for what foreign currency I might be carrying. Maybe it's just that I know Lusaka better, or that I'm with friends or family when I'm there. This night in Harare I feel people's desperation, and it's comforting to have another guy around as we bar-hop.

The first bar we hit is dimly lit joint playing Zimbabwean pop music. The tunes are great, but the girls are the only females in the place, and ________ and I feel on guard. After a quick beer and some discussion about where to go next, we bolt.

It seems that things here aren't that different from Lusaka, where going out involves a fair amount of driving and disappointment. The next place we hit is closed, though up the way is a happening little bar with braiis (BBQs) in full flame. Inside, workmen are still putting in a sidebar and flooring, and the smell of construction rises over the beer and cigarette smoke.

Back in the car, we cruise downtown in search of a decent place to settle in. I suggest the bar across the street from my hotel, which the night before was packed and kept me awake into the night. The girls are a little wary, mostly because the place is a notorious front for prostitution. But it's the only place we've found with a good crowd and decent patio, so we order a round.

Somehow ________ and I get talking about religion. They say you should never talk politics or religion in polite conversation, but in Zimbabwe neither topic is in short supply of pundits. ________ says I'm testing her faith, and I'm hard-pressed to disagree.

It must take a lot of faith to live--and party--in Harare these days. And how easy it is for me, with foreign cash and passport, to walk in on the scene and pass judgement, religious or otherwise. While I'm here my bed is made for me, and when I'm gone I can look on with the satisfaction of not being there.

Who am I to test any Zimbabwean's faith? Still, call me a hedonist, but even if the bars didn't rock there is the satisfaction of partying in the capital city of one of the world's most repressive regimes.
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