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Pole to Pole

Day 121: Bulawayo

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThis being Zimbabwe one cannot climb up to it without some official instruction. 'No one is allowed to take alcoholic stuff up to the grave. No radios. No noise. No domestic animals', reads the sign.

The view out across a rich and irregular landscape of rock-stacks, rounded hills and long smooth ridges shaded by woodland is very fine, and at sunset the dying light on the red and yellow lichen of the rocks creates a warm luminous glow.

In order to balance something against the pervasive influence of white culture I spend the evening in the Umtshitshimbo Beer Garden at the back of the Waverley Hotel where a band called Southern Freeway are playing live.

The Umtshitshimbo Beer Garden is not the sort of garden that Vita Sackville-West would recognize. The concrete tables and chairs are mounted on breeze blocks and the only greenery is on the wall in a series of ruggedly painted murals depicting scenes of African village life - cooking fires, drinking hooch, baboons scratching their bottoms. Around the front of the stage a crowd has already assembled. They sit right up close, beers lined up on the stage itself. Recorded music is blaring out and people are dancing.

Every now and then the music is interrupted for a long and explicit public service warning about the danger of AIDS, to which no one listens. The beer - Black Label, drunk from the bottle, or Castle - is often augmented with spirits. Quarts of gin seem to be the popular choice. By the time Steve Dyer and his band mount the stage, the crowd are restless and beginning to stagger a little. Looking around, I see no white faces apart from ourselves, one older man, a thin blond boy and Steve Dyer himself, who seems rather low-key and apologetic for the occasion. Once the band gets going there is an infectious and generous response, especially when an impressive diva by the name of Thandeka Ngoro takes the stage. She has a dramatic presence and a powerful voice which she may feel is more suited to La Scala in Milan than the Umtshitshimbo Beer Garden.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 121
  • Country/sea: Zimbabwe
  • Place: Bulawayo
  • Book page no: 271

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