6 months later, on our first day in Zimbabwe we took a bus from Harare to Bulawayo. The trip took 6 hours through hot, dry land seared by bright, relentless sunshine. Zimbabwe was full of wide dry grasslands and scrubby trees, very different from the vibrant green of Uganda, but just as beautiful. The journey was fascinating and upsetting. Seeing another part of Africa was great; what it revealed of Zimbabwean society was another story. We passed estate after estate after estate with a magnificent house in a big, well-kept garden, bordered on one side by concrete animal housing, and away in the distance a large cluster of mud and straw homes of the farm workers. It reminded us of pictures of the feudal system.
Many villages in Zimbabwe were at that time linked to local farms. In many ways these were lucky ones as they had access to work. They probably also had access to a secure water source, possibly education, a clinic and shops, maybe even electricity. Of course the downside of this was that people lived in constant proximity to unreachable wealth, where even the animal shelters were better than their homes.
Passing through the cities that day we saw suburbs full of beautiful houses with large gardens. Outside were the gardeners in green overalls, sweeping the leaves and dust into piles around the tree trunks, or occasionally resting and sharing a joke with the maids from next door as they came back from an errand.
In the cities, most people have maids/‘house girls’ and gardeners/ ‘garden boys’. They live in a one room shed at the back of the compound where they work, and are assumed to be available 24/7. Any time off is considered a perk, and they are usually not allowed to have guests as this would be considered too great a risk for their employers. Of course, the true life in the sheds on the compound is quite a bit more colourful than their employers ever know, yet always hindered by the restrictions of this particular system.
Work offers the opportunity to send money home to support their family, and to finance the fervent dream of building a better life for their children.