From the village to Colombia

Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
Back in the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve, national duty sometimes forces one to leave behind his kith and kin, his valued donkeys and cattle, women and children and travel to the world yonder, far and wide.

But one thing every villager certainly wants is to eventually come back home and tell the story. Yes, the story! No one wants to come back in a coffin.

Early this moon, this villager found himself travelling to unknown territory — yonder in South America — called Colombia, itself famed for ashes (dota) or powdered drugs as others put it. Does the name Pablo Escobar ring a bell?

Unlike back in the village where seasons are clearly defined, there, it rains every day. It blows hot, cold and wet!

It was a long journey past picturesque mountains, past hard crusted earth, past angry deserts seething with conspiring sand, past boggy marshes, past silver-lined crowds and, indeed, past deep seas, and past big and small cities.

To this villager, it was like a journey into an abyss, until the plane touched down with screeching brakes at Jose Marie Cordova in Medellin City, Colombia. Imagine 25 hours of flight broken into 1hr and 45 min Harare-Johannesburg, 11 hours — Johannesburg to Frankfurt, 11hrs and 30 mins Frankfurt to Bogota, then finally an hour from Bogota to Jose Marie Cordova?

That is far. Then a lot of transit time.

Colombia is not an English-speaking country and therein lay this villager’s first problem. Organisers of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly tried their best to post at each and every hotel, one or two youths who spoke English.

I found myself at Hotel Tryp in the middle of somewhere that looked like nowhere, having arrived at night, almost midnight. I had gone alone, others having gone much earlier and I needed to join with them. But I needed somewhere to sleep after those two days of travelling.

The huge man at the hotel front could do nothing but smile. It was already 1am that side and Zimbabwe being seven hours ahead it was 7am. I had murdered sleep for two nights, it was time for revenge. My eye lids refused to remain open. I forced them hard and harder.

The huge man had a cynical mouth and well developed beard that left a heavy pattern of his swarthy face. We quickly misunderstood each other as he spoke strictly Spanish. “Ëspanyol?” he asked. “No, English!”. He fumbled on the room keys and gave me one. My understanding was someone would unlock the communication the following day, as long as I have slept, the much-needed sleep.

Almost on time, a young man appeared clad in a blue shirt and khaki trousers inscribed UNWTO. He spoke English of course with Spanish accent. He told me to sleep and pay later then moved away. The huge man laughed a short, sharp and mirthless sound that was more like a grunt. I went to sleep in this huge cold room, eight floors up.

It seemed a short deep slumber and soon I was up. The sun rose from the wrong direction and I quickly realigned myself with the directions and accepted that it never rose from anywhere but the East.

Soon I managed to locate my colleagues, Sugar Chagonda, Wisdom Mdzungairi and Christopher Goko — all very senior journalists. They were also looking for better accommodation, having stayed at some place just for the convenience of the night.

Trouble started when we got a better place — the Hotel Leperc. I now had checked out of d Hotel Tryp and was with my luggage. My colleagues also needed to check out from their temporary shelter, so we went there in a taxi. The taxis there are too small, the size of a match box. So we needed two taxis.

Soon after taking our luggage into the taxis we set off. There was sudden sporadic exchange of gunfire. We were caught in between. The other guys were on motorbikes and one or two others were in a car. It was a jam-packed road, congested by the peak hour.

Our drivers could not move an inch, neither did they speak English. The bullets hit the ground near us, ricocheting and hitting cars. Sugar opened the door and tried to hide underneath the small car (soldier instinct). Pot-bellied and huge as he is, Sugar could not fit. I tried to pull him back into the car but he dashed back, realising he would not fit underneath.

Mdzungairi and Goko had apparently retreated into the hotel lobby. The gunfire persisted and Sugar ran back into the car. I sat in the back, face in my hands, expecting a bullet to disembowel me or rip me open.

A police helicopter suddenly hovered. The bikes took off in unprecedented speed. There was silence. Deathly silence. And we were left sulking. Colombia!