You Must Head to Cargo
“You must head to cargo” the information desk clerk told me, so Chris Ferguson and I drove down the road a ways to the old airport terminal, which is nothing more than a few hangers and an old air strip. I asked for the name I had been given, and was led down a hallway into an office with two aloof officials (a man and a woman). I said hello and received no reply. I produced my paperwork and the woman told me to take a seat. After pouring over the receipt and my newly acquired license, she says to me, “the government was very interested in your drone.” Of course they were, I thought, it shoots 4K baby!
After about twenty minutes they tell me that they do not currently have the keys for the cargo hold where my drone is located and I must return to the airport terminal to speak with officials from “The Office of the President.” I return and of course no one knows what I’m talking about. The poor man at the information desk was simply trying to help, and this American was asking questions way above his pay grade. How was he supposed to know the mobile number for CIO agents high up in the government? He told me to wait, so I did. About twenty minutes pass in an uncomfortable plastic chair, and two young men arrive in plain clothes. Mr. Information Desk points me in their direction. I’m a bit confused because these gents look to be younger than me and much less serious than I had expected. I knew something was different when they opened their mouths and both spoke the King’s English. I’ve misplaced their names at this point, but they were both very pleasant and seemingly relatable. They asked me a few questions about where I was intending to fly my the drone, and when I told them I simply brought the drone as a way to document our family holiday, they commiserated with my situation and we shared a laugh about the unorganized nature of Zimbabwe. Another 15 minutes pass and the keys have magically been found but there is now a flight inbound and all the officials from “Cargo” are coming to the main terminal in order to assist in the disembarking effort. A nice lady informs me it would most likely be another hour or so and I would have to come back. At this point all I could do was sit and wait, wait for what I wasn’t really sure, but if I’ve learned anything about Zimbabwe after all this time, it’s that getting frustrated about “your situation” is folly; the entire country is frustrated, get in line.
Eventually the two aloof cargo officials came strolling in, and after a few minutes the man (whom at this point, I had yet to hear utter a syllable) caught my eye, but sticking to his script he said nothing. I thought it best to just keep my distance and wait. Eventually the man from cargo and the two young CIO officials looked to be chatting, and one of them motioned at me. Upon his beckoning I got up with sweaty palms and walked in their direction. During the next 10 minutes, I stand on the outside of these three men chatting, trying to translate the combination of Shona and English they were speaking. Feeling a bit like the unpopular kid at recess, I figure out that the man from cargo is in fact the boss and he seems to be discussing my fate with the two young government men.
I began thinking about sitting down again when the boss finally addressed me; he was sweating from the heat of the day and said, “how do you intend to pay your rent?”(After confiscating items from travelers, the Customs Department charges a daily fee of 16 Bond in order to hold ones items safely until he or she can collect. My rent was about 100 Bond for five nights, about 10 US Dollars)
“In cash” I said, “in Bond notes.”
“Do you have it?” He replied.
“Yes! Of course.” I said, trying not to get my hopes up.
“Meet me back at cargo in ten minutes.” He said.
So off we went, back to the old air strip. Chris Ferguson, as he does so naturally, found ways to keep things light and funny, instead of frustrating. It’s a trait of most Africans I’ve met that I truly admire. It’s the “don’t sweat the small stuff” mentality that keeps Zimbabweans going, keeps them hopeful for the future. It was a lesson that I was learning in real time. The boss emerged from the shadow of the hanger doors and led me back into the office. Everything looked the same, except for my drone sitting in plain view on his desk. He asked me to sit, so I did. Again, we went over my paperwork, I signed a few things and then the deal was done. I gave him my Bond notes and he passed me my drone. It was everything I could do not to run out of the office once I had it in my hands, but I thanked him for his time and gathered my receipt. “Did you get it Christo?!” Chris Ferguson asked me as I briskly walked back to the car. I lifted up the case and gave him a thumbs up…
As we drove away from the airport, again we laughed and shook our heads over this place we love so much.
Though the saga described above prevented us from aerial documentation of our week at Morning Star, we made up for lost time during the remaining two weeks of our stay in Zimbabwe. The video footage included below represents some highlights from our visit to the Eastern Highlands; Chimanimani and Honde Valley. Enjoy!