- Empire, Of Monsters and Men
We are finally back in Zimbabwe! Following six months in the USA we took to the skies in Chicago headed for the deserts of Dubai where we were able to briefly see our dear friend Yanni. The next morning it was time to head south to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Undoubtedly aviation leaves a heavy footprint on our atmosphere but we cannot doubt its benefits of connection, the ability to fly has simultaneously made the world smaller and larger for all of us.
Julious (the Director of PORET) met us at the airport with his usual warmth, optimism and charisma that always refreshes our inspiration. Our next vehicle, the very tired PORET “limousine” (second hand truck), has seen constant abuse from 4 years on the rural Chimanimani roads that to us seem un-drivable. The truck, being a Toyota Hilux, tested to extremes by Top Gear, is still surviving but now needs a warm blanket at night and a cup of Earl Grey in the morning, i.e. a good push to wake it up.
Prior to leaving, Julious had warned us that the rains had once again failed during the wet season. The green paradise of the PORET site that juxtaposes the ongoing desertification of the Lowveld was struggling, the abundant fruit trees were dying and even the ants were coming above ground and eating crops, something Julious hadn’t experienced before. At the end of the day, all life needs water. Thankfully on the first day at PORET, we were relieved to find that most of the trees had been revived by a brief period of rain.
The PORET site is evolving and it is easy to sense the momentum.
We got our first glimpse of the newly updated Kindergarten, which, thanks to the fundraising by Margereth Holzer (a long time supporter of PORET) and funds from Crossing Borders in Austria, takes the unique shape of two huge beehives. Throughout the week there are lessons for young children and also for adults during the weekend. Now the challenge is to pay for the school meals and teachers which are currently being funded by Julious himself.
We arrived into Zimbabwe during its winter season which means fleeces and blankets. It is strange to think of being cold in an African country, but the big change between day and night temperatures really does shock your system (this is from someone who wrote essays at our flat in Edinburgh whilst in a sleeping bag). Food wise previously we had shared in the staple “sadza”(cornmeal porridge) and vegetable ensemble, this time however we are cooking for ourselves. Therefore, often my days are spent scouring the garden in camouflage preying on grasshoppers and enjoying rare delicacies in the evening like fire roasted snake and baboon eggs. Yes, I’m pulling your leg, we actually cook each day over open fire whilst fending off the chickens and socialising with the cats. As a result we constantly smell of smoke and have already trekked around the area to find fire wood and carry it back. In Zimbabwe, women are expected to be able to fetch large bundles of firewood, but I felt I should be a gentleman and help Sarah a little so I carried a few twigs back as well.
Sarah’s love affair with lentils and grains is still ripe (I enjoy grains but am not yet emotionally involved with them despite their spirited conversation) so we stocked up in Harare and so far have been successful in cooking grains with local vegetables that Julious picked up for us. For $20 he was able to get peanut butter, toilet roll, more bananas, oranges, tomatoes, squash, sweet potato and yams than you can shake a stick at and a watermelon so large you could comfortably live in it. Obviously I snuck a packet of digestive biscuits in cart in Harare…
In terms of drinking water, the community storage tank that draws water from the mountain to irrigate the PORET site has always been full. We use a device called a Steripen which uses UV to kill any nasty stuff in the water, which is essential since we have a limited supply of toilet roll and therefore don’t want to be dashing to the bathroom every 5 minutes. We shower outside in the sun and frequently do small amounts of laundry to the point where I actually have more clean underwear than I usually do at home.
So what have we been up to?
The first few days we admittedly lazy as we recovered from our travels; I courageously tackled a cold by regularly lying down and complaining. We had spent a few days in the mountains of Chikukwa where we visited Julious’s farming experiment and were hoping to get internet which was out of service for the majority of our stay. On returning to PORET, we sat in on a meeting with the parents of the children that attend the kindergarten to find a community solution to help pay for food and to keep the teachers at the site. The community offered to pay $9 per child per term (9 weeks) which falls far short of what Julious currently spends, Julious informs us that early childhood education is not always as highly valued by the community as it should be. We have also started our own Permaculture study group with a few community members who want to become certified in Permaculture design. We meet twice a week hoping to eventually develop group designs to the benefit of the community and Sarah and I as we are are yearning for practical experience.
Lots more adventures to come…
Heavy stones fear no weather.
After a year apart from Julious and PORET, Sarah and I needed to realign with PORET’s mission. Julious explained that PORET’s purpose is “to support inspirational and well thought out projects that contribute to the development of Chaseyama and Chimanimani District as a sustainable and resilient community”. The aim is to empower all age groups with the relevant tools to improve their livelihoods, regenerate their landscape and adapt to their changing climate - to create heavy stones.
The Lowveld is a harsh environment to inhabit, but the PORET demonstration site exemplifies that life can exist in abundance even in adversity. It demonstrates a design which rhymes with its community and surroundings, has been weathered by the infrequent rains and yet has cultivated diversity through regeneration. PORET is germinating as a centre for knowledge and ideas, its primary goal is extending this knowledge to the surrounding communities who are ready to learn and are ready for change.