JUST THE SAME, ONLY DIFFERENT …..


I’m sure you know what I mean.  When you stroll around your home town after an absence of over 30 years, it’s just the same, only different …. You see familiar buildings, but now they’re shabby with faded paint, peeling fascia boards.  The building that always stood next to them has vanished completely.

Many of the street names have been changed, and where you do find an old, original  street sign, it is rusted and buckled – something heavy having rammed it.

Bulawayo only had two bookstores when I lived there, and here is a pic of the Preece  & McKenzie building, tatty and neglected, and no longer selling books.

Preece & McKenzie bookstore building a shadow of its original beauty

Several of the old stores have closed down, but Bulawayo still has one department store left over from the old days:  Meikles.  We went inside for old  times’ sake. The kids used to love going to tea in Meikles tea-room, where you  could order cream cakes, and listen to a man playing the piano – the height of  luxury in far off 1969.

The lighting inside was dim and it was obvious that the merchandise was geared to a  different market, but the glass counters of the Beauty Department were still in  place, opposite the entrance.  Helen commented that at least, this time, there was some perfume – a few scant bottles – in the display units. On her last visit, many of the shops had been semi-empty with very little goods on sale.

I was relieved to see the solid Bulawayo Public Library building was still there  although we didn’t go inside. The Bulawayo Post Office stood firmly on its  corner, unchanged, but the big bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes, which stood  at this intersection, has been removed. No surprise here. The venerable Bulawayo Club was in its usual place.  I wonder if it still maintains its Edwardian regulation about sending lady visitors through a side door, because women were forbidden to use the steps to the front entrance – men only, don’t y’know.

We strolled around the streets for two hours. I picked my way cautiously over the broken paving slabs, not wishing to fall. During this time, I saw only two other white  people. The streets were busy, people moving purposefully about their business.
I was surprised to see how well dressed the crowds were; not smartly or
fashionably dressed, but neat and clean – after all the negative media
reporting I suppose I had subconsciously expected to see a population in rags,  begging on every corner. This wasn’t the case.

I did notice, however, how thin the people were. No big fat mammas here, no swelling beer guts, common sights on South African streets.  And no groups of men  just hanging around, with vigilant eyes, that are seen in South African suburbs.
In fact, we all agreed, that we did not feel threatened in any way.  We felt perfectly safe as we wandered in the city centre. Perhaps not terribly welcome, but safe nonetheless.

Although there was no rubbish in the streets, they were grimy. At the end of a long, dry winter there is certainly no water to spare for street washing.  The fountain in the much loved Centenary Park was not working either.  However, we saw  a lavish wedding party posing for photos by the dry fountain, framed by the  dusty palm trees and brittle brown grass. Dry, dry, dry.  Including my skin, which turned into crocodile hide, itchy and flaky.

We visited  the Bulawayo Public Swimming Pool, where we had spent so many idyllic afternoons – the facade was dingy and run down, but when we peeped through the gates we were relieved to see the same old magnificent trees in the background, the water was chlorine blue, and people were swimming, so that made us feel better.

Bulawayo Public Swimming Pool

We did a tour of the suburbs visiting the kids’ old schools, some of which were run  down, neglected, no more surroundings gardens – just dust and dry grass.  However Eveline School was neatly painted and a signboard proclaimed its  Centenary Year.

Eveline School (portion of) in all its painted, centennial glory

Milton Junior School wasn’t so fortunate: every window was broken, and to all intents and purposes it appeared to have been abandoned.  Woodville School, where  my Mum taught for over twenty years, wasn’t too bad, all the windows were  intact and there was teaching material stuck up on the walls. It was school  holidays, so we could roam around freely in the school grounds.  The toilets – which we used – were filthy and smelly; no water to flush. We’d have been better off behind a bush!

Helen looks into the classroom where she, Laura and Tony were taught by their Grandmother

We drove past Brady barracks, where I spent three years working for the Rhodesian Army, as a civilian.  I was shocked to see how run down and unkempt the camp looked. In the mid-70s it was spic and span, and anything that didn’t move had been whitewashed! Now the camp appeared deserted, although ragged curtains fluttering at a window indicated some human presence.

On a brighter note we went  to drop off a charity onation in Suburbs, one of the older, posher, long-established residential areas, and found well maintained houses, neatly painted, with handsome stone walls (in bygone days people usually had hedges or diamond mesh fences) and – oh joy – neatly trimmed grass, or a rockery, or a flowerbed flanking the entrance.  What a difference  gardens make to a street – my spirits lifted, after seeing all the  neglected front  gardens reverted to bush, or
filled with the stalks of last year’s mealie planting.

As the poet said : A garden is a lovesome thing  ….  He was so right!

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10 Comments

Filed under TRAVEL, ZIMBABWE

10 responses to “JUST THE SAME, ONLY DIFFERENT …..

  1. Sometimes its better to just keep the memories eh? But glad somethings still worked..Ginny

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  2. Alison Smith

    Despite the somewhat bleak tone of the post above, I enjoyed my visit.

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  3. thea hood

    Enjoyed your post. I’m heading back to Bulawayo in August 2013, after an absence of 13 years. Used to teach there. Wonder what it will look like.

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  4. Hello Allison,

    Feels really odd to address you as that after calling you (and your mother) Mrs Smith. I trust you are well. I enjoyed reading about Bulawayo, as I have never been back, and the likelihood of me doing so are nearly zero, as I now live back in Australia. Please pass on my regards to Helen and Laura.

    All the best
    Chris

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  5. Bomi

    How I have enjoyed reading your post and reading through the comments. I was born in bulawayo but no longer live there, although I was born in 1993 and lived there till 2003 reading and looking at the post brings back the little special memories I have. I have enjoyed getting a glimpse of what Bulawayo was years before I was born.

    Thank you for your post

    Liked by 1 person

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