Saturday, 28 June 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Harare'

First light: 0626 hrs
Time start: 0708 hrs
Time finish: 0743 hrs
Weather: 7C
Humidity: 64%
Altitude: 3,000ft
Circumstances: Thursday morning, downtown Harare

Rather later than planned this morning. This owes a great deal to the fine Zimbabwean hospitality and friendship on display at 'Tin Roof' last evening. I'm certainly not a startled gazelle this morning. Please meet 'Lifeline'. He's my guest runner and guide. In fact, he's not exactly looking too spritely either.

We drive from the cottage in Chisipite to downtown, takes 10 mins. Lifeline is based here in Harare. Early disclaimer. The jokes are mine. The factual errors are his - to any Zimbabwean readers.

First up. President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Mention him or not? Elephant in the blog? This is a regime, how can I put this, which doesn't take too kindly to 'publishing false news' (aka criticism). Can be a prisonable offense by all accounts. A mildly funny, non-political blog shouldn't be an issue. Right?

So mention him? Of course. Yes. Probably impossible to leave him out. For better or worse, he is Zimbabwe. Top banana for 34 years. July last year saw him begin his seventh term in office. Say what you like about him, and people say plenty, he’s still there. Seen them all off. An enduring political survivor. He won’t be joining us this morning though. I’ve heard he’s fit and trains regularly. It must work. 90 years old this year. Enjoys an old fashioned exercise regime, similar to Roy Hodgson’s, apparently shaped by his 11 years in prison. Mad Bob that is, not Mad Woy.

In 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Zimba dza mabwe - Houses of Stone. Zimbabwe was colonised by Cecil John Rhodes in the late 1800s. The country was named Southern Rhodesia after him. More on Cecil when I get to Bulawayo.

I’ve been to Zim several times in the past. Longest was 3 months in 1995, a few shorter visits followed, last one in late 1999. Gap of 15 years. It’s wonderful to be back for this eagerly awaited trip.

Zimbabwe is a staggeringly beautiful country of 12 million people. All countries have history. Zim has in abundance, then some. A somewhat tumultuous past doesn't do the story justice.

We arrive and park at Harare Sports Club, the main cricket ground. Zimbabwe achieved test match status in 1992. They played their first match here against India. The past 22 years of cricket politics could fill a blog by itself. A case could be made the politics of the country and cricket are intertwined. Whatever the facts, Zimbabwe is coming back at test level after a self imposed exile, and they still manage to pull off the odd remarkable result in the one day format of the game. I wish them every success.

The cricket ground is beautifully appointed, sat next to the Harare Golf Club. Looks particularly good this morning with the sun rising up over the main stand. We set off at a gentle pace. This is about the sights, the feel, rather than training. Nothing now will make a difference to Sundays half marathon at Victoria Falls.

Begin heading east on Chancellor Ave. The bright sun takes the chill off this rather brisk morning. Compared to Freetown this is freezing. Many of the locals are dressed ready for the Antarctic. An African thing - there's some crazy headwear about. On the opposite side of the road is the President's residence, next door State House. Well armed guards dotted around the perimeter.

Head south along 7th ave. Traffic is fairly sparse and drives on the left. The business district awakes slowly. Downtown Harare is in good shape, a well organised grid system. Town planning at its best, back in the day. Nice looking park on the left. All roads are treelined.

7th Ave is interspersed with smaller roads and numerous crossroads. Most controlled by working robots (local name for traffic lights). Road names are a mixture of traditional colonists and prominent figures representing the struggle for independence. We cross Herbert Chitepo Ave, Livingstone Ave, Selous Ave, before turning right and heading west on Samola Machel Road. Samola Machel was a Mozambican military commander and leader of FRELIMO. He fought against the Portuguese which later lead to independence in 1975. The charismatic leader became Mozambique's first President. His wife Graca is a remarkable woman. 12 years after Samola's death, in a plane crash, she married Nelson Mandela in 1998. She was the first woman in the world to marry 2 Heads of State. She's still going strong, and the first African woman to become a British dame. This post isn't long enough to give justice to this incredible lady's achievements.

Easy pace this morning. A run where can you chat all the way. There's the 100 years old Meikles Hotel set back to the left, the ubiquitous Nandos on my right. Ah, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The bank is one of many impressive buildings in the downtown core. A few short years ago Zimbabwe officially had more millionaires than any other country. In fact, over 90% of the population was a millionaire. Unfortunately Zimbabwe's inflation was running at 231 million per cent in 2008.

The ban on foreign currency trading was lifted in early 2009. The ship stopped sinking. The US$ became, and remains the main currency. This is often referred to as Dollarisation. The problem is there's no change. No cents. Most prices are thus rounded up. Should change be required it's made up with bubblegum or a few sweets, or sometimes in coins of South African Rand. The local guy who made the gum apparently became a genuine millionaire as a result. Dragons Den would have passed on that one.

Talking of cents. Did you know the gangster rapper '50 Cent', or as they call him in Zimbabwe '$4 million dollars' was the country's favourite artist a few years back.

Whatever and wherever blame can be laid, it would seem Zimbabwe is recovering, or at least things have stopped getting worse. The economy remains under strain and money tight, but it's a million miles away from a failed state many might have you believe.

We dawdle west along Samola Machel, before heading north on Julius Nyerere Way. Some impressive buildings in this area. There's the Tourism Authority, which is a major source of foreign revenue. More on this from the Falls. Ahead is the ruling party's headquarters - Zanu pf. We've also seen impressive churches - 85% of Zimbabweans are Christian.

On the left is Harare Gardens, close to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Plenty of greenery in the city. Head east now 4th Ave, before turning north for home. Back to the cricket ground. We walk on the pitch through an open gate for photos. Excellent run and just what the doctor ordered after last nights shenanigans.

Back in the vehicle. Decide to head to the 'Wild Geese' restaurant for breakfast. I know, what a life. 30 mins drive. A beautiful place in the most delightful grounds. Set-up a few years ago by the author of 'The Wild Geese'. Book became a second rate hammy late 70's mercenary movie full of wooden acting held together with a preposterous plot. One of those movies so bad that some consider it good. Even has something of a cult following. The signed photos on the wall evidence the good time the actors had making it - Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore and others. They tried a remake in 2004. Another ridiculous script, 'The Wonga Plot'. This time an old Etonian, together with some South Africans, stop in Harare to buy weapons to overthrow a West African government for oil. Should have called have called it 'Wild Geese 2', perhaps why it ended so disastrously.

To Victoria Falls tomorrow...half marathon Sunday, Bulawayo Monday / Tuesday. 2 new posts coming up. JoBurg at the end of the week before returning to Freetown. See you all again real soon...

Photos and other bits on Twitter: @roadrunnertns