To Zimbabwe and back
…so, here I am, seated in a plane returning to Tanzanian via transit through Ethiopia. Short of a wallet and digital camera. That’s right, I left Zimbabwe not quite as I entered, guess I should give you the backstory, here goes…
My journey beginnings at the Julius Nyerere International Airport as I queued in line to check-in for my flight with Ethiopian Airways to Zimbabwe. Armed with the only identification I could muster, due to my passport being expired…an Emergency Travel Document (ETD). With little resistance from passport control, I made my way to the waiting lounge, and did just that…waited. I plugged my earphones into my phone as I had a craving for country music. Selection: Dobie Grey. Title: Drift Away, to which I did as the title said, maxing out the volume on full blast.
Almost missing my flight, as I was alerted by the airport intercom stating:
THIS IS THE FINAL CALL FOR PASSENGER WILSON RUMISHA, ON FLIGHT 286 TO ETHIOPIA, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE DELAYING THE FLIGHT. PLEASE REPORT TO GATE 5 IMMEDIATELY!
As I reported to the gate, I was met by one displeased and very disgruntled airport attendee, who felt the need to lecture me about utilizing my electrical appliance in the airport. I think he was just angry that they were kept waiting, why he took it so personally I didn’t understand, it’s not like we were flying together. After about 15 seconds of trying to explain, I thought…why am I explaining myself to this unknown man!? To which I left him mid tantrum to walk into the terminal and board the plane. I was welcomed by two beauties, of the Middle Eastern kind. They pointed me to my seat, which was at the back. As I walked down the aisle, I felt the animosity in the air instantly from the waiting passengers. The stares that I received were of many sorts. Some looked at me with anger, some of frustration and some of lust, but mostly anger and frustration. With my head held high, I recited an old saying of courage: As I walk through the valley of the shadow of these stares, I will fear NO passenger…because we all paid the same price for the flight, well, except business class.
So there I was onward bound for Zimbabwe, Harare. Pit stopped in Addis Ababa to change flights. I queued in line, reached the ticket officer and with a look of my ticket and flick of his wrist, I was officially on my way to Zimbabwe. OH! Excuse my manners; I did not mention the reason for my voyage. Well, for the past 3 years I have been a judge at the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF), which is organized by the Women’s Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ), but this year it was slightly different. As the Kijiweni Productions (KP) produced bongo feature film AISHA” was selected to play in addition was also in competition. Do not get ahead of yourselves, please note, I was not part of the jury under AISHA, which would cause a conflict of interests. My objectives were to judge the short films and represent AISHA at the festival…Well, now that’s out the way.
So I land in Harare, AKA…H-Town, process my documents, explain my ETD situation to the immigration officer and with the hammer of a stamp, I am cleared and walk through the arrival section doors to a crowd of unknowns, drivers with signs and friends and family awaiting to collect their loved ones. I instantly caught the attention of a young woman in a green shirt. With green being the color of the festival, immediately I knew without a shout of a doubt, she was there for me, no second guessing needed…well, she also did have a sign saying IIFF2016, so that helped. I walked up and introduced myself, as did she, but being a long time and fully blown victim of “Namenesia”, her name did not pass go, did not collect 200, it when straight out my other ear and into the nothingness. She had a rock star haircut which prompted me to secretly name her “Rockstar”, while I found out her name. As soon as she was nicked named from the corner of my ear I hear a familiar greeting. “Bra Widza, You made it”…I turn and see none other but the Hospitality Coordinator Charmaine, still rocking her longtime dreadlocks. Smiles and hugs are passed around and jokes are thrown back and forth of deportation had my ETD not worked. To which Charmaine looks at Rockstar and says, he the one, this is Mr. ETD. Unknown to me I had already been nicknamed, my how the universe works in mysterious ways, ever heard that before about some ancient magician…but that’s a story for another day. She was with two other Judges, both from South Africa, Viola and Beschara. Beschara unfortunately was a victim of the dreaded but South African Airways tradition, your luggage is missing conundrum. We headed to the van and meet our transport officer, we both remembered each other but I did not remember his name as much. As a victim of Chronic Namnesia, one must always have various ways of greeting in order to not give off the impression, names have been forgotten. Being as I was in Zimbabwe, I had to use a greeting that is customary to its environment. As he came round to assist me with my luggage I greeted him like we just saw each other yesterday…”Aaah, SHAMWARI! URIBO!” This sparked his funny bone. “Mr. Will” he said, “You still remember some Shona”, “You know it brother” as I responded. YES! I thought to myself, it worked. I took a mental note to find out both this and Rockstars names, while there.
We all board the van and made our way to our respective hotels, while in en-route I get more acquainted with the South Africans looking for possible avenues of collaborations on future projects, basic networking. The van suddenly pulls over to the side of the road, I looked around and notice so did the other vehicles. I recalled last year, when I attend IIFF 2015 the same incident occurred, and Grace Mugabe was on her way to a pre-determined location with her convoy. Basically the standard protocol when an individual of influence with their motorcade are in transit, you are to stop and/or pull over your vehicle. Pedestrians included have to immediately stop moving, and stand still. It is said to be a sign of respect. I looked into the sky and noticed the birds stopped moving too…in mid-flight, they just seemed hover in one place. Should you choose to be rebellious, you will be tenderly taught a valuable lesson on site by the necessary authorities…if you catch my drift. Now where was I, ah…yes, the van pulls over and low and behold The Man…himself, El Presidente Mr. Robert Mugabe and his motorcade consisting of 4 motor bikes, 3-4 vehicles of which one he was in, 1 ambulance and two vehicles carrying army officials. Armed with AK47’s, side pistols and those are just the weapons I could see, ready at a snap of a finger to put those bullets to use, should someone try to be a hero. Just as swift as they came…they were gone. Then immediately everything went back to the norm, vehicles, pedestrians and birds went back to their usual routine, as if nothing even happen. It’s always an interesting phenomenon to watch.
We arrive in town to drop the South Africans, upon arrival we come to see, people huddled in corners, or running across the streets, empty roads and in the distance something ablaze barricading our path way. As we slowly get closer we come to find, the items alight are your typical “Protest Bonfire Starter Pack Material”. Consisting of tires, pieces of wood and/or wooden crates, garbage bags, you know anything that can cause enough smoke to create attention. Then my first break of operation…”What’s their names” happens. Charmaine says to the driver: “Iwe!” (Zimbabwean slang for Goodness/Eissh/Dhu)…Matambanadzo, find another route to the hotel”. Instantly I knew that was his name. I couldn’t catch the whole of it initially, but got what I needed, and that’s when “Mat” was born. One down one to go, I thought to myself. The South Africans are dropped off first then myself last.
We reach Cresta Hotel, my home for the next couple of days. As the hotel began to book me in, I noticed a gentleman whose hair was cut on both sides, kind of like Rockstars but with dreads on the top, walk through the hotel doors headed in our direction. Something instinctively told me, that he was with the festival. I mean, yeah sure, he was wearing the iconic green festival shirt which was a dead giveaway, but still…
Him and Rockstar start conversing and having laughs in full detail about the situation in town with the police, rioters and the word tear gas was thrown into the conversation a number of times. They both were entwined so deep down in the rabbit-hole of their conversation that my existence was nothing but a mere particle of dust…unacknowledged. Not that I was bothered, I did not want to interrupt. Their story drew me in as it was fascinating hear. I too felt as if I was actually there during the protests that my lungs began to burn with fire and my eyes even watered due to the tear gas in their story. Once they climbed out the hole, Rockstar introduced me the gentleman. Melvin was his name, easy to remember. Eventually as we would get comfortable around each other I would undoubtedly end up calling him by his name but using the Zimbabwean vernacular…Melevini, pronounced as spelt. Charmaine informs me the opening ceremony begins in 3 hours, and they will back to get me in 2 hours 30 minutes sharp, typical coordinators, breaking everything down to the minute. I was put in room 227, which gave me a couple of hours and some change to rest and prepare for the show. I spent what time i had unpacking my clothes and getting acquainted with my room. Placing my valuables in the safe that was in my wardrobe. I noticed how everything in the room, from the closet to the paintings, was all screwed in the walls. In what I can only presume to be in an effort to hinder guests or staff who have “Sticky Finger Tendencies” and feel they need to leave with a parting gift. In addition to being screwed in the wall, each and every item had one those QR Barcodes attached to it…stock taking purposes I guess.
I took a hot shower, got dressed and before I knew it, the hotel phone rang and I was told to come down to the reception as it was time to head out. I drown myself in cologne, not too much to suffocate in, but just enough so that the person next to me catches its whiff. I find Charmaine down stairs dressed to impress, looking like Zimbabwe’s next top model. I met the rest of the international jurors who were staying in the same hotel as myself and got acquainted. Two were from Malawi, one male and female named Shadreck and Joyce respectively. Shadreck is a renowned novelist and Joyce a film maker who too had her film playing at the festival. The other was Kudzai, a Zimbabwean actress based in Sweden. We arrive at the Complex located in an area known as Borrowable. Where I meet Tsitsi, the founder and reason I have being attending IIFF. A quick meet and greet, as she had a considerable amount of people to welcome, naturally I knew we would make time for our usual sit downs, so I left her to go get her “Host” on. IIFF held nothing back, we were welcomed with the red carpet and complimentary wine treatment. In addition raffles to win various electrical goods to a couple of lucky individuals. Charmaine as always was the chief executive distributor of the wine, which I change with her help, from complimentary to very complimentary. The ceremony opened with a screening of a superb film entitled Black, from Belgium. If you haven’t seen it, go out and look for it, but wait…go out and look for AISHA, first. After the screening we were off to second stage of the opening ceremony…the stage were the real socializing begins, at O’Hagans, a Pub and Grill, which was walking distance from the cinema. We arrive and are treated with tickets for dinner and most importantly, libations. I bump into an old friend, Blessing and his beautiful wife, for the second time running at the exact same place a year later, what are the odds. We ate, we drank, we danced and were merry, for tomorrow the real work would begin.
The next day marked the begging of our purposes of the invite to the festival. We were all picked up on time, but unfortunately spent some time waiting for one of the jurors who missed their flight and arrived early morning. After what felt like an eternity of waiting, out she came. Wearing a black and white striped shirt and a red skirt. I mention the color red as that would be her color pallet for the entire festival. She was a young Kenyan filmmaker and founder of the Udada Film Festival. As she got in the van, she received those very eyes I received when I boarded my plane to Ethiopia, receiving the very same mixed emotions I did. Her name: Matrid, but I would end up referring to her as “Kenya” for the duration of the festival. We arrived at the National Art Gallery which was marked as the jury base camp for meetings. We were all sat down with our respective jury members and the judging and grading process of the films in competition were broken down to us. Once done after large amounts of non-stop word of mouth, publicizing of AISHA by yours truly, it was the first film to be watched and judged that day. It drew in an exceptional crowd, which also sparked a heated debated during the Q&A session after the film.
Having been blessed to have the opportunity to stay in various different African countries I had a wide array of friends from a good portion of the continent. Which brings me to introduce my good buddy and university roommate: Garikai, AKA “Gaz”. We studied together in Namibia, once done he returned home to make a life for himself including marrying his university sweet heart. Naturally I informed him I was in his neck of the woods. I notified my caretakers that I will find my own way back to the hotel as I was going on a “Boomer” (Fun Time) with my buddy. I found him outside the Art Gallery waiting for me and in traditional ritualistic manner we began the process of greeting each other which consists of a pre-warm up stretch, while simultaneously, having a polite conversation, before building up and breaking into a very aggressive embrace. The boomer of a night ended with the poor guy losing his phone. At the time it happened, I couldn’t feel bad because, well…I couldn’t feel anything at all. The next morning I did, because his first night out with me after a good year, he ends up donating his phone to charity.
The entire week consisted of my fellow short film jury member Bescharan, the South African having to return home due to being ill. Kenya and I schemed on possible East Africa collaborations between Kenya and Tanzanian (Bongo) forming the “Kebongo Konnection”. In addition with the assistance of Kenya I finally learned Rockstar’s government name…Trish. I found it fitting with her persona and hair-style, I had grown so fond of the Rockstar name I decided to keep it going. Nights were spent enjoying all that Zimbabwe had to offer thanks to the wonderful work of the hospitality department. Entering karaoke competitions and Kenya and Melevini coming out on top winning complimentary meal tickets and bottles of Jameson respectively. Attending meetings and workshops with the aim of starting film funding partnership programs.
Fast forward to the Big Night, the Award Ceremonies which took place at the National Art Gallery. The accumulative efforts of the entire festival and jurors included had been building up to this one night. We reach the entrance and are guided by the ushers to our respective seats. We were entertained with a live band performance of a Zimbabwean artist and her soulful music before the introduction to the awards commenced. It was brought to my attention that AISHA was up for numerous nominations, which brought delight to my face. As they began handing out awards, I crossed every finger and any limbs that could possibly be crossed, toes included, in the hope AISHA would come out victorious. My hopes dwindled with each and every nomination that went to another film. Then came the Audience Award, which recognizes the film that created the most talked about buzz at the festival. And the winner is….AISHA! Naturally my anxiousness turned into joy and excitement and then immediately seconds later into nervousness, as I went up to collect the award and give out a little speech. Till today, I honestly do not know what I said, but they all clapped, so I assume it must have been something emotionally appealing…I hope. Never the less we managed to not come out empty handed, which is always a good thing. We at KP pride ourselves in your humbleness, and due to that we see the recognition as its own award…but the trophy would be a nice collection to our cabinet.
Being that it was my last night in Harare, my normal modus operandi would consist of myself turning the town upside down one last night, but alas as we get older we change and so do our habits. I said my fair well, took photo snaps for social media and retired to my hotel, like the old man I thought myself to be. Woke up the next morning, suitcase packed the night before to avoid anything being left behind, only to find out my wallet, mysteriously grew legs and left me. I search and searched to no avail, eventually I wrote it off. Luckily enough nothing crucial except monetary bills were inside. Fast forward to the lobby and the only remaining guests are I, Kenya and the two Malawians. Team IIFF: Charmaine, Rockstar, Melevini and Mat escort us to the airport, to make sure we leave the country safely. We arrive at the airport, say our good byes to the team, and head in to check-in for our flights. I was received the VIP treatment once reaching the immigration section at the airport due to my ETD status, which consisted of thorough questioning of my stay and whether or not I committed any crimes whilst there. Eventually I was cleared and was soon off. Kenya and Malawi’s flight left before mine giving me time to wait and relax knowing everything was going to be fine. Until the announcement of my plane boarding and me double checking my personal effects, only to realize my camera was no-where to be found. With my plane boarding and my camera missing, my heart began pounding and blood started racing. I had grown quite attached to the camera as it was a gift and I take free gifts VERY seriously. Eventually it dawned on me, I had left it in the van that brought us to the airport, I asked the assistance of one of the passengers on my flight to use their phones and call Charmaine and let them know. Due to obvious reasons I was not going to get my camera back as i was already boarding the plane. Fast forward to me landing in Addis Abba and coming across a stall that offered Wi-Fi to paying customers, I made the $5 payment and made contact with the team who found my camera and made arrangement for its safe return.
My biggest surprise was when I landed back home, in Dar es Salaam. As I collected my luggage and walked through the sliding doors to exit the arrivals section. As the doors slid open I was met with flashing lights and camera’s flickering, various unknown faces calling my name from different directions, I was left in shock. Bearing in mind I arrived around 2am and found reporters from numerous newspapers who were there to be the first to try get the exclusive on the AISHA’s success story in Zimbabwe…before you get ahead yourselves, this was all a joke. I walked through those sliding doors to nothing, no reporters, no flash photography just unknowns waiting to collect their loved ones and guests. I hopped in a cab went home, exhausted and ready to reconnect with my bed.
The entire experience as always is something for the history books and I personally would like to thank the entire organization for the hard work and dedication put into the festival. In the two years I have been there, I am still yet to be let down, and know that will never be the case. I wish IIFF, WFOZ and the Institute for Creative Arts for Progress in Africa (ICAPA) all the best in their future endeavors. Looking forward to seeing you all again in the near future with all we have planned together.
By WILSON RUMISHA – Kijiweni Productions | Production Manager