Looking forward to looking back

HARARE – The Christmas lights have been lit in Harare's main mall, I've spotted two rather skinny Santas, and the stores are again playing those corny Boney M carols. So, yes, it does appear that Christmas is on schedule, even in our beloved Zimbabwe.

I can hardly wait to leave the grime of Harare, to spend the holidays smelling the fresh air of my quaint little hometown — far, far from the capital. Guaranteed, we will braai and drink and talk politics. We will look back at "the worst year since our independence", as described by none other than the Dear Leader himself.

The election campaign. March 29. Those hours in the immediate aftermath, in which we dared to hope. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. The speculation, rumours, claims.

April 18, Independence Day. Still no full results. How we waited for The Leader to show the way for us, the confused masses, only to hear him weigh in on the crucial issues of our time: women’s fashions and castrating perverts. Oh, yes, and remember the An Yue Jiang, her deadly cargo and the gunboat diplomacy that trailed her?

I will recall the burial of the charred remains of activist Joshua Bakacheza. And the young nurse with the burnt-off skin I interviewed in Highfields township. I got my story. I wonder whether he ever got his life back.

The June 27 run-off. The speedy inauguration, described as a "miraculous day, a divine day" by the pro-Mugabe Anglican priest who presided over the ceremony, praying for our leader’s long life. July 21, and the first handshake between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe in 10 years.

The long nights camped out at the Rainbow Towers in Harare, waiting less for a mere story than for history. The crushing disappointment that followed. And Morgan’s passport.

Then we will regale each other with tall tales of what has become of our urban lives. Candlelit baths and miracle dinners. The joy of watching suburban women carrying pails of water on their expensive hairdos. The squeals of horror as religiously manicured suburban nails break in fire-lighting lessons

We will chat about the queues. Will they get out of hand? A local hip-hop artiste has called it the "frozen revolution" — large, static crowds of angry Zimbos massed on the streets.

My wheeler-dealer cousin, Cyrus the Virus, will laugh at that. He will tutor us on how to turn one million Zimdollars in hand into one quintillion Zimdollars in the bank. He will boast no end about what he calls his conglomerate: borehole drilling, beer, seed, fertiliser, Bibles.

Our poor environment minister was on television the other night moaning about how the energy crisis is decimating 400 000 hectares of woodland each year. There will be more destruction, guaranteed.

I know for a fact, as we do this every year, we will collect our braai firewood from what remains of the nearby Westhuizens’ farm. We will chase down a pig, slaughter it, chuck the whole thing on the fire and clog our arteries.

We will unveil the Christmas presents: Aquatab tablets, all sorts of containers for all sorts of things, the Liverpool replica jersey, reluctantly bought for my nephew who has no sense whatsoever of what that does to our anti-imperialist credentials, and loads of shopping from China. Yes, shopping has moved to China. Johannesburg, my sister says, is so last year.

We will ignore the TV news channels. In the pressure cooker that is Zimbabwe, we’ve grown cynical. Look at them. The know-it-all talking heads, peering into our misery from behind a tangle of microphones. Odinga. Tutu. Brown. Bush. Condi. Sarkozy. The other night, we were informed we had now resorted to eating cow poop.

The voice-over, breathless, excitedly brings us "images smuggled in from inside Moogarby’s dying Zimbabwe". They will interview those sweaty We-are-the-World types, describing what great work they are doing.

You watch too much of that and you only get bitter. So, no, not this Christmas.

I will say a prayer for the evangelical geography teacher I found lying on a stretcher at a cholera treatment centre. How he hated having his picture taken. "We are not animals," he lashed out at a camera crew. I will pray for just a morsel of his faith. "We will rise," he preached to me. I will wonder whether he ever did.

We will count those who threw it in and left the country this year. Bloody cowards, we will lie to ourselves for comfort.

As the clock strikes midnight, we will wonder just how 2009 could possibly ever be worse than 2008. We will laugh, because we will remember that this is exactly the same question we asked last year.

Then, at dawn on January 1, as we have done for years, we will sit on the roof and watch in silence as the sun rises to a brand-new year. We will say we are heroes to have outlived a terrible year. We will raise our glasses and say to 2009: "Bring it on." SOURCE: The Mail & Guardian