Monday, 20 November 2017

Mugabe: why he was never going to go willingly

It was the taxi driver who gave us his opinions once we told him where we were from. 'I can't believe Mrs Thatcher would go voluntarily. No post-independence African leader would do that.' It was early December 1990 and our prime minister had just been ousted by her party. Our arrival into Harare seemed to send out cabbie into a tailspin. 


Harare market, harmony in a park, young musicians and hotel staff on Xmas day 1990

I'm not sure about about other post-independence leaders and maybe our driver was too nervous to talk specifically about the situation in his own country - and simply say the word 'Mugabe'. But what happened last night makes our driver's words seem prophetic. Yesterday, twenty-seven years after we were there, and with his party and country finally turning against him, Robert Mugabe still tried to hang on

People say that it's been 37 years of turmoil. For us in 1990 it didn't seem too bad. After 2000 the whole world suddenly saw Zimbabwe explode in violence. But before then, tyrannical rule must have been simmering below the surface. We could walk down the street in Harare of Bulawayo at One am without a hint of danger. 

Looking back I wonder if tourists had this incredible ring of steel around them. If you attacked a tourist, the authorities would be onto you. And we gave a lift to a woman who was hitch-hiking, only for us to be pulled over by the police. They told us our tyres were bald - no lie; the car hire place was a rent-a-wreck - and that they'd let us off the fine if we gave two policemen a lift. They got in either side of this poor woman. In the driver's mirror I saw nothing but pure, 100% terror on her face. 

But at least when we were there in 1990 the country was functional, you could visit as a tourist and the people were unbelievably friendly (when not squashed in against two fierce-looking policemen). 

Let's hope, despite the fact that the 'coup' is a Zanu-PF internal fight, Zimbabwe can at least be more outward-facing and the people of that country, including the hitch-hiker and our astute taxi driver, have a better time. 

Listen to Taxi Driver by Zimbabwe's Jonah Moyo 


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Better on a camel: Sue and Steve’s BOAC adventures

A colleague at work – Sue - was one of 100 female baby 'orphans' (a word used in the past) flown from Hong Kong to the UK in the 1960s and early 1970s, cradled apparently by airline staff. It was courtesy of the magnificent-sounding International Social Services UK Hong Kong Adoption Project. 

Sue is the poster-girl for the project
Sue regularly meets up with others who had come over here at the same time, to start new lives with their adopted families. And the project, encouraged by the United Nations World Refugee Year 1959-1960, was backed up, not only by cuddling air crew, but by the airline that Sue and her friends travelled on: BOAC. 

It seems that Sue and I have more in common than mere banter around the water cooler. We both flew across the world on BOAC - British Overseas Airways Corporation - and the precursor to British Airways. 
The Palmers in Singapore sometime in the 1970s. 

An up-and-down-experience

These days Sue might be called a ‘child in care’. She was flown from Hong Kong to be adopted. And I was in ‘posh care’. When my sister and I were kids we went to boarding school. From 1971 to 1975 our parents lived in Singapore and we visited in the holidays. So, like Sue as a baby, I was suddenly, aged eight, flown across the world to a new life. But in the opposite direction to Sue. And before that first flight no one had told me what turbulence was and there I was, with my sister, bouncing around with me shouting: “We’re going to crash.” I still hate turbulence today.

Brings back the memories 
BOAC was cruelly renamed by some ‘Better on a Camel’ and I've told Sue about my BOAC 'Junior Jet Club' log book, which the captains signed, my BOAC badge, which is attached the log book and my BOAC tin sweet box. These souvenirs in my loft are physical signs that my sister and I used to do the journey to and from the Far East. But in those years that we ‘commuted’ to Singapore, my sister and I often travelled solo. At Bahrain airport, where we normally transitted,we used to leave each other letters behind the cardboard advert of a woman, in a bikini, advertising Kodak. 
Sue and Steve 2017
It's strange to think that Sue and I flew off in different directions to young lives that have surely shaped us. And perhaps, from now on, when we meet at the water cooler, we'll give each other a knowing look; knowing, in that Sue and I had some pretty life-changing experiences, courtesy of BOAC. 

Better on a camel?