If I perish in Bulawayo this year it will be because I looked left first when crossing the street and then got creamed from the right. They drive on the wrong side of the road over here and I just can’t seem to get used to it. I still see cars driving themselves down the street with someone sitting happily in the passenger seat, and when I drove the ancient, rusty GRS (lefty) stick-shift pickup the other day, I drove on the right side of the road until a near head-on woke me up.
Pedestrians here have a serious fear of bicycles. Every single day on my way home from work I weave around pedestrians who are simultaneously scrambling frantically out of the way. Sometimes we both go the same way – great. See, in Zimbabwe, cars, bicycles, vegetable carts, anything wheeled, horses (actually there seem to be no horses – lots of goats and cattle though); basically anything not ambulating on two feet has the right of way. Pedestrians are very flighty and it’s hilarious watching people of all ages dash around downtown Bulawayo…until you see a car come too close. Therefore their fear of my bicycle is perfectly understandable. It’s still hard not to laugh when I come upon pedestrians at dusk and they turn and stare at me as soon as they hear the rattle of my cheap red fenders behind them. Most stop and stand stock still until I pass them, ready to dive out of the way in case I decide to rush them. Meanwhile, I’m swinging much wider than necessary, giving them a good four feet of leeway and still mumbling excuse me. They definitely aren’t used to that.
I met our neighbors tonight. Frisch and I recently moved into a house down the street from the office. It’s a good location in the northend, the real Bulawayo. You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to 6 hour power outages every single night, and I love the smell of trash fires in the morning. Really gets your nose running. Anyways, I was biking out to the main road in the dark, blinding everyone I passed and looking awesome in my headlamp, when I passed a family of around six people (no power…it was really dark) trying to push a car. At least three were small kids just along for the ride in the back seat. I stopped, asking if they needed help, and the heavy-set mother almost collapsed with relief. The father, an adolescent son, and I pushed the car into the driveway and mom said she had been about to faint, good thing I’d come along. I introduced myself as their new neighbor and warned them about my shady roommate. She introduced herself as Ms. Roberts and invited me to tea. Awesome.
Tea is another thing I don’t quite get. I like tea. I’ve been drinking a cup at “tea time” almost every day at the office. But tea time is a funny thing; the actual time is very fluid, though you can count on it to occur some time between breakfast and lunch and usually before noon. It consists of sitting in the kitchen and trying to follow Ndebele conversations while munching on white bread spread with margarine. I started bringing my own snack after three days. I can’t sit there and eat 3 pieces of white bread with margarine every single day. Our co-workers are awesome though, and they don’t actually ignore us during tea time…they just switch to Ndebele when they want to make fun of us. They speak a lot of Ndelebe during tea.