Day 26 – August 8
(SAM) We woke up early and washed up. Paul and I drove to St. Mary’s in the center of Bulawayo in plenty of time for 8:30 Mass. At one point in the sermon, the priest spoke of a woman who had received Last Rites and died the night before. He asked if we were all ready to walk down that path. At the time, I did not know how close to reality this situation was for the T-weeds.
After Mass, we were driving to a Spar to pick-up groceries. We were in the right lane going 25 km/hr straight through an intersection. Then, out of nowhere, we felt a bump on the right side of our jeep and then I saw a car spinning very fast, out of control through the intersection. There were many people along the sides of the streets and the car was headed for a crowded corner.
I saw the car smash into the curb, a flash of orange as an orange cart spilled and then a crowd of people closed in around the car so I could not see anything else. I was sure someone must have been hurt. Our jeep was only knocked a few feet to the left in the intersection. The car was a white Toyota Carrola and it tried to speed past us on the right side even though we were in the right lane. There was a median but not enough room for the car to pass, especially at a high rate of speed.
I got out the passenger door, trying to see if everyone was OK. Paul had to climb out the passenger side also because the door on the driver side is broken. By this time, people had started to mill around our car also and we were asking them if anyone was hurt. I don’t remember getting an answer but one person pointed to a male teenager who was talking on a cell phone while looking at our jeep. He was the driver of the other car. He did not talk to us or even look at us. Later, we would find out that his name was Atwell.
The crowds of onlookers were swelling and some people were saying things to us but we did not understand their language. I did hear one Zimbabwe boy, about 15 y.o. say to me in English, “You are going to jail!.”
There were easily 200 Zimbabwe people loitering around. I was happy when the police showed up. One police man marked where our tires were by scratching the pavement with a rock. He then waved his baton and drove all the onlookers back so we could park the jeep on the side of the street. The whole time Atwell was either talking on his cell phone or to the police in their native language. By this time, I was able to discover that amazingly no pedestrian was struck by the speeding out of control Toyota. The car had hit the curb and a pole before it was able to strike any people. Thank God no one was hurt.
The car was pretty badly damaged on its back side and corner. Our Asia only had the side fender over the right front tire scuffed. Paul and I had to wait until a Zimbabwe officer came up to us and asked in broken English who was driving. He then asked for Paul’s driver’s license and looked us over when he saw that we were from the U.S.A. The police man then took Paul across the intersection to where the accident took place. He told me to stay with the Jeep because people might steal. I stayed realizing that if all those people wanted to vandalize the jeep, there would be nothing I could do about it. There were no problems with the crowds, however, and I listened as the local experts on traffic accidents explained and debated in their own language, all the while pointing to me, the jeep, or in the direction of Paul and the police man.
(PAUL) I walked over with the policeman to the intersection where our car had rested after impact. He asked me a series of questions about the accident: where we were, how fast was I going, exactly which lane I was driving in, and where was Antwell. He jotted down notes in his booklet and drew a diagram. He asked me to read it and then sign, which I did.
People were everywhere, especially surrounding Sam and me and our Jeep. At one point, Antwell came up and accused me of not driving – that Sam was the driver. I told him to “go get Sam and that we’d clean this up.” I emphatically told the officer that I was driving. When Sam arrived at the intersection, the officer asked if he was driving and Sam said that I was. I promised them that I was driving (although I wish I wasn’t) and tried to explain that Artwell was probably confused because I had to climb out the passenger side as a driver’s side door was broken.
The officer seemed satisfied but Artwell wasn’t – he was convinced Sam drove. It took Sam showing his driver’s license to the officer to get himself “off the hook.” Then Sam went back to prevent crime from occurring 10 feet from a police car (ie – Bulawayians “helping themselves” to our rooftop camping equipment. Sam fended them off easily. I spoke with the officer some more and then we both walked back to our Jeep. People were “buzzing” about the 2 American adventurers who provided some Sunday morning excitement in the city square. This was like their own version of a U.S. spectator sport: Zim local boy vs. the American out-of-towners. Zim police vs. U.S. lawyer. A Japanese Corolla vs a Korean Jeep. Let’s get ready to rumble.
Sam and I were never in fear of our lives, but we were very concerned about the looming mob of people. Who knows what could have happened. It was intense, noisy, confusing, and somewhat intimidating. But we never lost our cool nor did any of the locals. The police officer was fair and I felt comfortable with him. He kept saying, “we have a problem.” The “problem” was that the mother of the driver was pressuring the officer to keep us in Bulawayo because she feared we’d be a flight risk. He said that we should pay for the damage in cash, to the mother on the spot.
I protested that we can’t do that with our insurance policy and that we have to follow procedures. I said I needed a police report for insurance purposes. The officer kept pushing for us to pay cash. Sam and I never gave in. Then the officer presented an option that was probably illegal. He said, “Give me your passport.” I said, “What?” He said he did not want us leaving the country and that we could either leave the car with the police or surrender my passport. Sam and I discussed our best option. Against all better judgement, we decided to give up the passport. We needed the Jeep for transportation and we put a lot (maybe too much) trust in the police officer. This was a Catch 22: without a Jeep you can’t leave and without my passport I couldn’t leave. We needed a third option but none was coming to mind.
The officer said that we needed to come to the station at 8am Monday morning for a “determination of who was at fault.” Then we could get a police report and my passport – or so we thought. Sam and I following the officer about 3 km out of the area to the police station. He did this so we knew exactly where to go tomorrow morning. He also explain the procedure: each side tells his story to an officer who makes a finding as to who was at fault. We can also go to court in a few weeks to a month. If found at fault, we’d have to pay a fine of $6 US.
Sam and I had no illusions as to how this “kangaroo” court proceeding would turn out. I know, because I’ve seen some of the same things in some small towns in Kentucky. Sam and I then drove slow and steady back to Caravan Park to tell Chris the bad news.
(CHRIS) I figured something bad must have happened. Even the most austere Mass could not have gone 4 hours. I had to call Lynda and possibly the embassy, but we decided to eat first. After getting gas, we got some Pizza Inn pizza – very similar to Pizza Hut. I could not get the phone to work with my AT+T number so we decided to call later from camp. In the meantime, Lonely Planet had few interesting suggestions as to what to do in Bulawayo. The only one partially attractive was Old Bulawayo and Jesuit Mission Ruins.
18 km from town we found a primitive wooden wall around huts and ruins. The guide explained that they were trying to preserve Mabete culture for the future. This was their old homebase. He showed us traditional hut re-creations as well as the original floors, etc. Somewhat interesting. Before pointing us to the Jesuit (1879) ruins 500 meters away, he reminded us that they only made 1 convert here in 2 years time. Then they moved to a different base.
The Jesuit ruins were more substantial than the village ones. It had been a house for a Greek trader before the RC’s showed up and most of the walls of rock were still there. We found an altar erected in 1979 in honor of the establishment of the RC Church in this country 100 years before. Very nice. Sam was drooling at the thought of stumbling upon an old chalice in the dirt and hitting PAYDIRT, so we dragged him away and back to camp.
(SAM) Our guide at the Mabete was very informative. He and a team of archeologists discovered the old floors and refabricated bee-hive huts over them. Our guide was very excited about the operation, but I think he may have been setting himself up for a disappointment. The master plan was to find the blood line of the long lost king of the Mabete. The closest ancestor would then be identified and he would come and live in the re-created village just as before. Don’t get me wrong. I think the village when it is finished with all its grass bee-hive huts will be very nice, but the long lost prince may be living in a penthouse in New York City and may not be too keen on the idea. We suggested Jon D-Orleans.
Back at camp, Chris called Linda. Linda said she would fax all the information we needed. Paul found out that the receptionist (Hazel) was a witness and that she agreed with out version of the story. Chris and I started to go back to the tent but stayed to ask Hazel if she would be willing to make a statement. Chris and I stopped to look at some curios layed out on a carpet just inside the camping park. There was a beautiful girl there also and she asked us where we were from. He name was Alana and she was beautiful. We talked with her for about 40 minutes, but all I remember is that she was from Australia and she was beautiful.
Back at the tent, me and Alana, I mean me and Chris wrote post cards. The funniest one was to Tom McGrubber. Quote, “McGraw family, Help, Chris is so enamored with Hippos that he became a vestal virgin in the temple of hippo. I tried to reason with him but all he wants to do is put two pieces of fat chalk in his mouth and sit in the river up to his eye balls. – Chris – Sam died moments after he inscribed this post card. He died doing what he always wanted to do, swimming free with the hippos. P.S. Hippos are surprisingly agile volleyball players.”
We prepared dinner in the tent when Paul arrived with his own tales about the beautiful Alana.
(PAUL) Oh yes, Alana was beautiful. While Chris and Sam held down the fort, I tried to get Hazel to write her story of the accident on my legal pad. I also was waiting for Lynda to call back or fax me info on the insurance policy. Hazel was a sweet girl and her memory of the accident totally supported us. She said Artwell was speeding while trying to run a yellow light. But Hazel wouldn’t agree to officially be our witness. I tried all sorts of schmoozing to no avail.
I went back to the tent and Sam and Chris told me about the beautiful Aussie named Alana. I just had to meet her. I met her and we became fast friends. She even knew Hazel and her brother. Them she tried to help us by acting as a liaison to Hazel. She also queried some Zimbabweans on her tour group about the intricacies of Zim law. They did not paint a pretty picture of the Zimbabwean criminal justice system. They recommended I get the heck out of Dodge fast.
But who cares about possibly getting railroaded and thrown in jail when the beautiful Alana was staying in our Caravan park. Alana was vivacious, adventurous, and she had a great Aussie accent. Eventually, I had to get back to Sam and Chris – but not without getting Alana’s email address and the faxed info from Lynda.
(SAM) After getting some advice to get out of town, we said our prayers and went to sleep.