Seven weeks in the ‘States isn’t nearly enough time to get all we wanted done, but it was certainly enough time to visit with a bunch of family and friends, be a substantial part of American consumerism, and figure out just why our country is such a pleasure to call home.
The days leading up to our departure were hectic to be sure, filled with last minute errands, quality time with family and friends, and pet shipping SNAFUs. We longingly looked forward to the serenity a new post and house of our own would bring, still it was with some regret that we hugged our final good-byes and jetted out of Dulles International on the morning of the 26th. Jhili Mili took an alternate routing (thanks for dropping her off, Kathy!) on Ethiopian Airlines through Addis to Harare, to avoid South Africa’s ridiculous transit process and fees. United Airlines, as helpful as ever, offered to charge not only for the excess weight, but also for our second bag per person, something AFSA has long contended foreign service people shouldn’t have to pay for, and United representatives have also agreed upon…until actually declaring the opposite to hapless travelers.
A short hop to JFK, and then we were off to Jo’burg on a 15 hour flight in which we and the children took in multiple movies, slept, ate way to much, and generally lived it up. Near to 8:00 in the morning, the hazy skies gave way to a scrubby dusty landscape below, with patches of verdant green around waterways….AFRICA!
Another short while in the airport and we boarded our final flight to Harare, Zimbabwe, just another hour and a half. Our plane descended into Harare, the sparse landscape dotted by all manner of trees; short and scrubby, tall and leafy, brushy conifers.
Our immigration line, as slow as molasses, finally stamped our entries, and we picked up our luggage, all ten pieces of it, including my bike, and met our pickup, a very helpful AID employee.
The airport was even more deserted than Kathmandu’s, and the roads were nearly empty as we traversed them to the cargo terminal to pick up Jhili.
The checkout process took forever as each employee involved pulled out seldom-used stamps or learned new tribal knowledge from other employees who had performed this mysterious pet import process. Finally, a forklift driver brought over Jhili’s crate and deposited her at our feet. A more bedraggled cat we had not seen! Her water and food were empty, some food having been mushed into the bottom of the crate. Her food dish had broken from the door grate and the duct tape with which I’d secured it to said grate had attached itself rather securely to her hind quarters, effectively making her drag her food bowl around. At least she was still alive and kicking!
Family, Luggage and cat secured, our caravan zoomed through the roads of Harare, the purple Jacaranda trees shedding blossoms and shading our way. The red soil of the landscape provided for the sometimes brushy, sometimes lush plants that partially hid Zebras just off the roadside.
In stark contrast to the over-populated roadsides of Kathmandu, the shoulders here played host to just a few scores of people on our ride. Some corners were dotted by beautiful stone Shona sculptures.
We entered more shaded roads in upscale neighborhoods and passed large compounds with well-maintained frontage high walls. We finally came to our own compound. The electric gate slid open to reveal an enormous compound of a few acres. The bricked entry drive wound around behind the mansion revealing a large garage, entry way, and massive pitch. The staff quarters was nestled behind a hedge. Further around the house, back around to the front, an outdoor entertaining area with indoor room, and bathroom, built-in charcoal grill with adjustable grate, swimming pool.
The house is insanely over the top for us, we clearly will not have a place like this ever again in our lives. Everything is enormous and well-made.
We’ve now been here just over two days, and have been welcomed into the community with open arms. Our graceful colleagues have taken us shopping, shown us around and gone out of their way to make us feel at home. We’ve reconnected with old friends and are generally amazed at the modern marvel of Harare. Even with politics as they are, infrastructure seems to function relatively well. There are modern shopping centers with stores that have western-grade goods and functionality.
Last night we enjoyed a “braai” (South African term for BBQ) of boerewos sausage and fresh chicken and salad, outside on the veranda.
The kids start school Monday.
We are going to love these next two years…