When you know and love a country as I do Zimbabwe, you get to know its moods: when it’s at its best, when you should probably avoid it. For me, Zimbabwe is never more beautiful than it is right now, jacaranda season. You drive under natural arches of vibrant jacaranda, and your tyres squeak and pop as they squash the purple carpet of fallen flowers on the road. Look up, look down, it’s a sea of green and lavender so thick, it blankets the sun. The rains haven’t started yet, but laced through the morning and evening air is that magical scent of it…just on the horizon. When the first fat drops finally fall onto the dry ground, the smell of fresh, earthy African soil, like no other scent on earth, will intoxicate me.
I’ve always said that if someone could find a way to bottle that scent they would become millionaires. And I would buy out the supplies and send them to an elderly couple living on the opposite end of the world, a world so different to Zimbabwe, it may as well be on another planet.
After over 60 years in Africa, the couple sold up an entire life, representing a golden marriage, four children and five grandchildren, and moved to live near their son in the US. At a time when they should be settling into the familiar, they’ve been torn away from everything they know and planted in a foreign world which often mystifies and baffles them.
They are the lucky ones. They once had the means, when things in Zimbabwe were very different, to buy a house and, with the sale of that house, start afresh in another country. Everyone has congratulated them on taking this step, being brave enough to begin anew at their age. Almost everyone they spoke to before they left Zimbabwe told them: “Well done, you’re doing the best thing.” Hardly a single person implored them “No, don’t go, you’re making a mistake!”
Yet they sit in their condo watching a blue sky, but it’s not an African sky, and feeling the warmth of the sun on their skin, but it’s not an African sun. And they search in vain for the simple, modest people and lives which they learnt to love and become a part of for over five decades.
They’ll tell you they had no choice. While still relatively healthy and independent, they were struggling to make ends meets, finding the cost of amenities and the rising prices of local food stuffs almost impossible to keep up with.
There were times when they didn’t know where the money for food was going to come from and were grateful that it was just the two of them to feed nowadays, and they could survive on very little.
They wouldn’t be the first people to leave a place they call home…which had somehow, over the years, become intolerable in one way or another. Others have left under far more traumatic conditions: in the wake of an earthquake, a war, at the risk of their lives.
But, regardless, this couple, like so many Zimbabweans, had to leave a place they loved. People will tell you “home” is not a place, but a feeling, and I’m left wondering how a world without the beauty of the jacaranda and the awe-inspiring crash of the first thunderstorm against a broody African sky can ever feel like home.