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Zimbabweans dream of a rainy Christmas

Images of Santa mix with tropical thunderstorms and visits to rural Africa.

For those heading home the Christmas burden is formidable.

“There is no escape,” said Freddy Tafara from Harare’s Mabvuku township. “If I want to go home I have to go equipped.” He will be carrying maize-meal, sugar, cooking oil and candy for his army of brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. The journey home will last a day and some of the night. The 50-pound bags of maize-meal will find space on the roof of the bus, alongside the tethered goats.

Back home, no matter how impecunious, the menfolk of the townships will find a beer outlet and enjoy themselves as the hot afternoon wears on.

Mabvuku is located on the main road east of Harare that heads off  to the border town of Mutare and beyond that into Mozambique. For better-off Zimbabweans that means a one-day journey to the coast — to the pristine beaches of Villanculos and the islands off the coast. There is a distinctly Latin feel to these resorts where baracuda steaks, prawns and cashew nuts are common fare all year round.

Travelers may want to stop a while in Zimbabwe’s Bvumba mountains where five-star hotels occupy commanding positions looking out over the plains of Mozambique thousands of feet below.

As the political negotiations drag on in Harare, Zimbabweans can at least dream of Christmas past when travel was cheap and horizons distant.

The economy stabilized this year — largely thanks to the U.S. dollar and the demise of the Zimbabwe currency — making it possible for people to plan ahead.

Tafara bought 50 baby chicks before he left, which one of his Harare-based brothers will look after.

“These chicks will be one-year-old next Christmas so at least I can buy my family something nice when I sell them,” he said wistfully.

The year 2009 was a distinct improvement on the shortages and horrors of last year. President Robert Mugabe, 85, may still be in office but the brutal system over which he presides is palpably disintegrating — which gives many something to smile about.

The president’s recommended reading over the holiday should be something to encourage him to reform his ways. Something salutary by Charles Dickens: “A Christmas Carol” perhaps?