My two expressed goals for this trip were seeing Z’s family and friends and seeing elephants. We’ve done a decent job on both fronts, though there might be two elephants I didn’t get to see, and there are definitely some family members we missed on this pass, which makes me feel a little forlorn.
Growing up as an only child in a single-parent home, I had a lot of big family fantasies, many of which were spurred on by shows like The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, and Eight is Enough. More just seemed better to me. Happier. Safer. Plus, with my fantasy family, I never imagined how much siblings or an extra parent or ill-behaved dog would work my solitary nerves. Even so, I was surprised to discover that one of the perks of getting married was that I got this whole set of extra people in my life. Because bad in-law stories are so much more entertaining than good ones, I’d kind of always assumed that in-laws would just be something to endure. But now, three and a half years into this marriage experiment, I realize that it isn’t this contentious “my family vs. your family” scenario every rom-com I’ve ever watched has set up for me. It turns out I actually like these people. It turns out, they don’t feel like Z’s family. They just feel like family. Period. Who knew?
The downside to this is that though I will be happy to get back to reliable lights and water, I am not happy to be saying goodbye. Surely we just got here.
Z packed our bags the night before (we’re down one and much lighter, and this makes me feel more satisfaction than I should given that we’ve still got three checked bags and two carry-ons), which frees me up to walk around Z-ma’s doing a rendition of Goodnight, Moon to the house. Goodbye excellent shower room where no shower curtain grabs me. Goodbye mozzie net. Goodbye, you gecko that barely made yourself known this trip. Goodbye bedside rose. Goodbye bookshelf with Z’s childhood books on it. Goodbye writing desk and stone tortoises. Goodbye cozy lounge with sofa I find it impossible to get off of. Goodbye dining room with dual tables. Goodbye cleverly designed kitchen with half-wall that hides dirty dishes. Goodbye Eunice. Goodbye real tortoises. Goodbye horrible blue-headed lizard. Goodbye annoying neighbor rooster. Goodbye flowers. Goodbye Skampy.
It helps a little that our flight is not until the evening and so Z, Z-ma, and I are headed off to have lunch in Harare and a visit with Z’s brother. We still have time.
First, however, we stop at the shops to check on Z’s shoes. Z wants to get on the road and has given up the hope of collecting them, but the women in his life insist he check. He shakes his head and leaves us to wait in the truck. I look back at Z-ma and confess that though I’d be happy for the shoes not to be there so he’s forced to buy a new pair, he’s so certain we’re wrong and this stop is pointless that I want the cobbler and his shoes to be waiting on him, so there will be proof that he should listen to his wife and mother.
He’s back in what seems like seconds without the shoes. There’s no sign of the cobbler, who apparently really is in the rural area, cobbling his heart out. Either that or he’s wearing Z’s shoes on some new adventure.
Goodbye Z’s hometown. Goodbye makeshift car wash that is just a bucket and rag in the middle of a field. Goodbye old man by the highway who makes sitting in tires look better than a barcolounger. Goodbye airtime seller shouting, “Gogo! Gogo!” as we pass. I’m sorry; we don’t need airtime today.
We drive up the dual carriageway and are mostly quiet. We check the hills to see how much damage the fire we saw the other day did. The entire hill has been burned, but already you can see sprigs of green poking through and Z assures me the trees are hearty. It seems a little like a metaphor for Zimbabwe, always making a plan to recover.
The drive is too quick and I don’t have the heart to snap the photos I’ve been planning. There are images I want to capture to show people at home, but instead they’ll just have to imagine the crowded mini-buses, the people—usually women—carrying impossibly huge loads on their heads (including suitcases), the hilariously named Snake Park Service Station and Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church: Snake Park, the insane roundabout that follows no rules of roundabout driving, the jacaranda trees that are just starting to sprout purple, the house that looks like Z-ma’s with cattle grazing in the yard, the Thingz sellers.
We coerce Z’s niece to have lunch with us. She’s home from college in South Africa, and today she has already eaten lunch, but she manages to eat a slice of carrot cake, while we eat at Spring Fever, a restaurant off of a very English looking Rowland Square. Even the light posts look like they belong in London. She’s happy to be home and we’re happy that we’ve gotten to see her on this visit. It seems impossible to me that the girl who announced she would be a bridesmaid in our wedding and she would wear a blue dress, is all grown-up now. While we’re eating lunch, chatting with her and with Z-ma in this lovely courtyard with a fountain and flowers, it’s easy to pretend we aren’t going anywhere.
After lunch we head back to Z’s brother’s, where we are happy to see the nephew has gotten home from school sooner than we imagined so we get to see him before our departure. We thought we might miss him. He looks impossibly tall in his school uniform, and again, I’m reminded of how much time has passed since I met him right before the wedding and had to keep him supplied in quarters so he could grab a stuffed bear out of a claw machine. (He was victorious, offered it to me, and then decided to take it home and use it for target practice with his bow.)
And then it’s time for the hard goodbye to Z-ma, who has to drive off to her teaching job. I like this goodbye the least, though none are my favorite. (Well, maybe the blue-headed lizard. I really did not enjoy it.) Z’s family aren’t weepers and so, though I want to, I force myself not to. “Talk to you soon,” we say. And she drives off.
Goodbye excellent mother-in-law.
We spend the afternoon in the lush garden, where, again, I’ve had to resort to soaking my mosquito-tortured feet in a bucket of ice-cold water. That’s what this trip has done to me: turned me into a woman who has to soak her feet. My brain, which is slightly agitated from the itching, is already trying to negotiate with imaginary flight attendants about why I must have a bucket of water for the entire flight. I’m pretty sure there is a pout on my face while I sit there, soaking, and I’m pleased when Jack the German Shepherd comes out and sits beside me.
And then we’re loading Z’s brother’s truck with our stuff, hugging everyone, patting six dog heads, and we’re off. Goodbye beautiful garden. Goodbye Devil Dogs. Goodbye lovely house. Goodbye Master Chef South Africa—I wonder who will win you in my absence? Goodbye sister-in-law. Goodbye nephew.
The drive to the airport takes awhile. I sit in the backseat with my niece while the Z brothers sit up front and do their last bit of talking. The roads are congested and the traffic erratic. At a traffic robot, a vendor walks buy selling bags of Thingz, and I have an urge to give him all the money in my wallet so I can have Thingz to last me until Christmas. I feel pleased with myself when we get to a particular neighborhood that I am able to identify as the area where Z-ma grew up.
The road to the airport is one of the best in the country. We zoom along it and I almost feel like I’m back home. It’s smooth and pothole free. The downside to this is that too soon we are at the airport, unloading our bags, saying our final goodbyes. Goodbye brother-in-law. Goodbye niece.
Like most things in Zimbabwe, the queue to check-in seems inefficient. There are six agents, but only one of them seems to be working and he is not really committed to getting us through the line. We’re glad we’ve come extra early. A Dutchman stands behind us and tries to engage us about how little luggage he has and how much luggage “they” (the people in front of us) have. Though I have no idea if the people in front of us are from Zimbabwe, I feel protective of them and their need to travel with so many bags. Plus, they’ve only got a few more than we do. So I ice out the Dutchman and stare straight ahead. The president’s photo looks down on us as we wait.
Eventually, the other five gate agents snap to attention and we’re quickly processed. We go to security and the place is nearly deserted. One man stands at the desk to check our passports, and confesses that he was about to go on break, which will leave the line of people behind us, including the Dutchman, to stand around waiting for him to return while we’ve scoped out a primo spot in the waiting area.
We buy one last bag of Thingz and two Cokes and begin the waiting. I prop my feet up on our carry-on luggage and try not to scratch, while Z peppers me with questions about what my favorite thing was and what I’m looking forward to about going home. We play this game with each other whenever we travel, sorting our memories into piles, holding them up to the light, and picking our favorites.
Our flight begins to board, but we stand back as long as we can. Above us is the glassed-in arrivals walkway for all inbound flights, and though we’re almost certain we won’t get to see the friends who are returning from the medical tests in Johannesburg, we sure would like to. As soon as the first class passengers start to board our plane, the passengers from the Johannesburg flight start shuffling out the doors. We look at each other, cross our fingers, peer at the deplaning strangers for signs of Z’s friends. The elite members of our flight board, and still more Johannesburg passengers deplane with no sign of our friends. Maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe this is not their flight. The rows just ahead of us start to board our plane as the last de-planing passengers above us make their way towards the doors that lead to immigration, the doors we were entering three weeks ago. We sigh. Our rows are called. And then, the door above us swings open and a man is pushing a wheel chair with a woman in it and behind him is another, younger woman. We start waving and shouting like maniacs. The wheelchair pusher sees us and starts waving enthusiastically and then indicates to his passenger that she has fans. Her daughter sees us. We’re all, the five us, waving and shouting, “Welcome home,” and “Have a good trip!” They go through the big doors to immigration and we join the dwindling line of passengers boarding our flight to Amsterdam. It is, perhaps, the best departure I’ve ever had.
Goodbye friends. Goodbye Zimbabwe.