April 2017: Letters from Zimbabwe to Eleanor Rose – March 1993 to December 1993

28 Cheshire Road, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

 

March 3rd, 1993

 

My dearest Mum,

No longer will you be subjected to my appalling writing.  As you can see my computer arrived safe and sound, as did everything else.  All the stories we heard were only horror stories.  Every item packed in Bishop’s Stortford, arrived six months later in Zimbabwe in perfect order.  I was getting quite nervy about the prospect of having to engage in insurance claims.

Weather here is dull and although not very cold, temperature wise, one tends to feel it.  At night I have taken to sleeping with a slumber down as I awoke several nights feeling cold.  It must be that you adapt to temperature changes.  18 Cheshire Road, looks somewhat more like a home now that the TV, stereo and a few other bits and bobs have arrived.  Some 18 boxes were unpacked yet evidence of this is scarce if one looks around the house.  My clothes (too numerous) are so smart by Zimbabwean standards, I doubt if I will get much wear out of them.  I suppose they were geared towards London City work, not Third World Zimbabwe housewife duties.  What news can I give you?  How are you feeling since Puffie died?  I feel so sorry for you, it is so lonely to lose an animal that you love, particularly one such as Puffie, who had so few people to love him.  Has Gracie started to look healthy once more?

My study looks well now – quite officious actually.  March 1st proved to be a rather lucky day for Joe and myself.  Firstly everything arrived intact, secondly Joe had a meeting with V. Utria, Fleet Utria, Architects which he was not looking forward to and surprisingly, they accepted his revised programme for POSB, and thirdly, his immediate boss, confirmed that within two weeks, he would receive his 2 litre car as promised in his contract of employment.  The Managing Director had approved it that morning.  So far, all is well with Sisks and we have no reason to complain.  Anything we request, like the desk/chair is bought for us and of course there was the unexpected pay increase which just arrived in his monthly salary.  What a change from 1992?  How is work for you?  Hopefully, now the weather will be improving and I am glad to hear you have been out in the garden already.   I am dying to see home again.  I woke up quite disorientated this morning.  I had been dreaming I was back living in 23 Oaklawn, with Marie across the road providing the usual cup of coffee and chat.  When I finally got to grips with where I actually was living i.e. Africa, disappointment set in.  So much for dreaming!!!!

Joe, with the other syndicate members, went to look at the racehorse.  An xray must now be done to ascertain if she has a problem or not.  I must go and see her as Joe says she has a lovely temperament.  Simon went with Joe to the meeting on Sunday and he seems to think that she may be ignored by the trainers in favour of other horses.  I suppose this is a drawback with a syndicate of seven, each thinks the other will show interest and the trainers avail of the confusion.  If all is okay, her first race will be next October.  If you visit next Christmas you may even be able to see her race here at Borrowdale.

Work is the same as ever for Joe – he still operates the book with the loans to various people on site.  Each Friday they pay him back and by Tuesday, the loan is required yet again.  Little Madara John, his 70 year old “maker of tea”, comes to him each Monday, rubbing his tummy, head held low and says “I’m hungry boss”.  It would need to be seen to be believed.  Several weeks ago, one of the more promising of the young indigenous employees came to him and asked him to help him save.  He gave no reason as to what it was all about.  Each week, he lodged with Joe a proportion of his earnings.  Last Friday, he arrived to draw down the money.  Apparently, it was for a lobola, he was to be married that Sunday.  He was short a $100 (£10) so Joe lent it to him.  Needless to say, he was due back Monday morning (no such thing as time off here for these poor people).  Joe enquired about the wedding – it had not gone ahead, his lobola was insufficient.  The parents wanted in addition to the $2,000, 4 cattle, $600 for the Mother, a new suit of clothes for the Father etc.  There was the usual family conference consisting of all the uncles and the girls young brother of 16 who voted that the marriage should not proceed.  Poor old Chisipo – no bride for $2,000 (£200). He only earns $200 (£20) per week, so there is a lot more saving involved.  What a strange custom this is?

Now it is one week later and I resume writing.  I had intended to send off this letter at the weekend but we were in Nyanga.  Sally and Graeme had invited us to make up a group.  What a disaster?   What a propensity to drink these people have?  Not once did they move away from the Bar, everything was drink motivated.  I thought we would never get back to Cheshire Road.  The one redeeming point of the weekend was a horse-riding trek for 1 hour.  How enjoyable?  Pity we did not go riding when you were over.  Next time.  I am now thinking of taking up lessons again and Joe is now keen also.  An ideal opportunity exists to do so.  French classes are going well and other students are friendly.  I suppose we are all in the same boat i.e. we can’t work so we must find ways and means of filling in our time.

Mary and Benson are well.  Benson’s wife reappeared on Monday to find out where her children are?  They are now out in the rural areas with his father’s second wife.  He is becoming more stylish of late, I suspect he is wife hunting.  He sure didn’t look happy when his wife returned on Monday.  Easily known it was the wife and not the mistress.

Mum with your next few letters, can you start enclosing some Surmontil capsules.  I presently have 68 Paristelin so maybe you can send me some more of these also.  The remittance can be done on a gradual basis with your weekly letters.  My dentist phoned me yesterday.  The recommendation is that Paristelin be stopped for 6 weeks or else a full anaesthetic.  I explained as I had no problems since the removal of the crown, maybe we would leave it until I am off the paristelin.  I do not fancy a full anaesthetic over here.

Marcy continues to write and all is well for her and her family.  She sent us two St. Patrick Day badges.  Shane appears well but busy.  Is Conor a red-head?  The last photos show him to be red rather than blond.  He sure is a handsome little fellow for four months.  I am really looking forward to seeing him and all of you.  It can be quite lonely here – I feel so very far away.  I feel a transient, no plans can be made, life is in abeyance until something of reality re-appears.  But then what is reality?  So much for a desire of certainty – this time, the things that have occurred have ensured that there is none.  No job, a rented house, a country that is far removed from what one is used to.  One reassures oneself that the experience is valuable but then who needs two years experience.

What I find so surprising here is the capacity people have for alcohol?  Everyone not only drinks but drinks a lot.  It is very cheap but then surely that should not be a reason.  There is no stability about the place.  Nobody is looking towards a permanent future, it is more a means to an end.  The white population here are so insecure.  They don’t know what the outcome will be for them.  If you work hard, acquire a nice house, a nice car and the usual luxuries, you are unsure that you will be able to maintain it.  The prospect of it being a noose around one’s neck is real.  If one chooses to emigrate, you leave all behind you, so no incentive exists to do anything but to live each day as it comes (the African mentality which is unwittingly superimposed on the Whites).  It is a strange concept coming from our culture.  In so many ways, it is not we who change the African but he who changes us.  Standards which would not be accepted elsewhere, one gives into here and permits them to do things at their pace as opposed to ours.

Shane sent me an account re. Laurel Lodge.  I notice that Mr. Casey has not been paid by me.  I presume you have paid him.  Please let me know how much I owe you.  Thanks for organising everything to do with the house.  It is great it is let and particularly at £320 per month and paid up a year in advance.  Can you believe it?  1993 sure is better than 1992 for me.  When you convert the money to Zim$ – one sure has a lot of purchasing power.  Mind you, there is nothing I want to buy so it is compulsory saving yet again.

Well, I will write again shortly.  Missing you lots.

 

Love as ever

Michelle

Letter No 1



18 Cheshire Road, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe


March 17th, 1993

My dearest Mum,

Well, its your Bank Holiday.  St. Patrick’s Day is a big event in Harare – I don’t know why but I guess there must be a lot of Irish people living here.  There is a Ball in the Monomatapas Hotel tonight and also at the Sheraton.  The Mashonaland Irish Association (much supported by Sisk personnel) have their Ball on Saturday night at the Harare South Club.  It is a black tie affair and needless to say Joe and I are going.  Today, Joe is out playing golf for Sisks in support of their St. Patrick’s Day Golf outing.   Marcy sent me two St. Patrick’s Day badges which were duly noticed by our Church-going Mary.  This led to the questions about St. Patrick and the comment “he is concerned with ‘our’ church”.  I asked her if she would like a badge and the answer was a most definite “yes”, she would wear it to her Church on St. Patrick’s Day as they were all convening for mass.

Mum – have you seen “Fried Green Tomatoes starring Jessica Tandy”.  A crowd of us went last Saturday evening and what a lovely film. I really enjoyed it.  It is sad but it is worth seeing.  It has a happy ending.  You and Marie must go to see it.  I know you would love it.  Probably by now it is out on video in Ireland – we are way behind the times with up-to-date films here.

Still no sign of Joe’s car.  We are promised now that we will have it for the trip to SA at Easter.  Keep your fingers and toes crossed.  I am rather tired of the pick-up now.  It is no longer a novelty as we infrequently travel out of Harare.  At first it was great because it was well able to handle all those dirt track roads seeking out true rural Africa.  The novelty has now worn off.

I had a letter from Kate.  All seems well for her again.  Eastmoreland Court sounds very grand and no rent as well.  Can you believe it?  How do they manage?  Those apartments at Eastmoreland Court were expensive and looked very nice when they were being developed.  Baggot Street is a pleasant area to live in.  I used to love it when I worked in that locality.   About the maintenance for Wellington House – you mentioned that you gave the money to Shane.  However, Shane deducted this amount from rental on Laurel Lodge.  Can you check it out with him.  He has included £100 maintenance on the list of expenses pertaining to Laurel Lodge, deducted from the rent received.

Sounds nice now that Spring has arrived and you are once more out in the garden.  The rain is ending here, the days are not so cloudy and damp.  So much for their summer – now I know what Irene used to be talking about when she said about wet seasons and it being necessary to avoid them.  Yesterday, was a lovely day.  I went to my French classes and then went for coffee with Anise.  Anise is from Kenya.  Her husband is a doctor who did his post-graduate training in Kenya, where she met him and married him.  She is African and I must admit it was enjoyable chatting to her about their culture.  She envies white women – according to her, their husbands marry for love and are committed to them.  Apparently the African man desires children and women can be asked to leave if they do not produce the correct number of male children or no children at all.  She explained that African men are very promiscuous, there are many women in their lives and the right rests with them to ask a wife to leave the home, if they are no longer satisfied with her.  It is strange, the male is totally superior in their culture.  She tells me that her daughter (aged 16) says she will only marry a white man as they know how to respect women.

Benson (being typical of his race) has found a new female companion from Marondera.  Last month it was financial crisis because he could not afford the payment to his father and his second wife to maintain his three abandoned children and this month, he has acquired a new female companion, no doubt with all the expenses associated with dating someone.  We suspect this is the woman he said was his wife many months ago.  His wife also has returned but I think she is out of luck, he has found someone new.  These last few days, there is a real ‘spring in his step’ – must be love.   Life is so simple, they live each day as it comes but then I suppose there is no point in them doing anything else as the system does not permit it.  Doris Lessing has written some interesting books on African culture and life.  Look out for some of her books as they apparently are interesting to read.  One is named “African Tragedy”.  It explains about the African outlook on life, the way men have many wives and children, the reasoning behind it.

I have just received a St. Patrick’s Day card from Maureen Caffrey.  Tell her there is no problem if she overlaps with Shane at Airports.  We are looking forward to having herself and Elinor very much.  She can go ahead with her plans.  Also mention I will write shortly.

Thank you for St. Patrick’s Day card which arrived with Maureen’s.  I spoke to the dentist.  Apparently, I would have to come off the paristelin for 6 weeks so the plan is when I come back from Ireland, I will go to see him then.  Thanks for checking out questions with Dr. Maguire.

How is Conor?  Is he a red head?  I noticed from the last photo that he is leaning more towards red than blond.  Maybe his trip to Portugal with Mella will bleach his hair blond.  It will be nice for Mella, Orla and Una to get a holiday in the sun.  Have you any plans yourself for another holiday?  Maybe we can go for a trip somewhere while I am home.  Let’s wait and see.

==========

Have received at lunch time your letter dated 11th March 1992 and I will now continue with my letter which I started yesterday.  Thanks for checking all out with Dr. Maguire, I am sure I am just being overly sensitive to mood swings.  For peace of mind I am making a greater effort to take the Paristelin at the same time each day.

You seem to have a path worn to Padraic Lynch’s.  His painting for the RHA Exhibition sounds beautiful.  I am looking forward to seeing some more of his work when I come home.  He is such a nice man and his paintings are excellent.  I sincerely hope he gets the recognition he so deserves soon.  It is such fun knowing the artist, it makes such a difference.  I have looked at some paintings here but all are in the shops in town and I have no interest in purchasing now that I have been the benefits of an introduction to a good artist.  Maybe I will find someone here eventually.

Harare is such a small community, for the Whites, being but a Village really.  It is surprising how frequently you bump into people you know, just per chance.  Does Marie G. accompany you on these trips to Ardee?  Tell her I would love her to visit.  She would be so welcome.  I miss my little chats with her.  In fact, I am now looking forward to getting home to see all your friends who were so kind.  Thank Bryde and Jack for the lovely St. Patrick’s Day card.  Cards for Paddy’s Day are a big success now, aren’t they?  I suppose so many people have family away from home that they use it as a handy means of staying in touch.

Joe had an unsuccessful game of golf yesterday – he was quite disappointed with his performance.  I am trying to encourage him to take lessons to “get his swing right” as I am sure (based on my humble knowledge) that it is not right.  I tell him that Nancy Long still takes lessons every so often and if that is the case he sure needs them given that he has just started.  He came home after the game to collect me and take me back for prize giving.  The Irish when away from home sure like to celebrate and boy you should have seen those Catholic priests sing, drink and wear civies.  You would never think of them as being priests – they have the beer bellies just like the rest of the ex-pats.  It is quite shocking really.  Our own boys are paragons of virtue by comparison to these boys over here.

Well, I will write again next week but thanks for all your letters.  Disappointed to hear that your girls did not going into mourning for the loss of their husband but the fact that they have stopped wetting the floor must be an advantage.  Give my love to all.

Lots of love

 

Michelle

Letter No 2



18 Cheshire Road, Mount Pleasant, Harare

 

5th April 1993

 

My dearest Mum,

Many thanks for all the letters particularly those enclosing Surmontil.  I have filled in the notification re. appointment and have sent it to An Roinn Leasa Shoisialaigh explaining that I am on a holiday and that I will be returning in May to visit my psychiatrist who plans at that time to reduce the medication.  I have stated if this causes a problem to cease payments accordingly.  I think the next three monthly certificate is due at the end of April.  Can we suspend same until I return as you will not be able to certify without my presence? I have signed the final cert and if the need arises just send it in on my behalf.  Can you write in the dates?

Great to hear about Aine and the public health nursing.  It will be so much easier for her working 9-5 than shifts.  Stella sounds as if she is going down Irene’s track with all the financial advisors.  Too much advise just bogs you down.  At times you just have to call a halt and rely on your own gut feeling.  You can vouch for that viz a viz Prudential.

I am glad you got back safe and sound from your visit to Clare.  You didn’t take the little man, I heard.  It was one of your whole day flits and it would have been too much for him.  I spoke to Shane the other day.  Apparently he has been trying to phone me for ages but our phone was out of order for 3 weeks so we were totally incommunicado.  It is now back so I phoned Shane.  He sounds in good form.  No sign of the house even being started.  Sounds like it will be at least after their holidays before they move in if not later altogether.  Shane tells me Conor is very big, fitting into the clothes of 1 year olds and more.  I am glad to hear Marcy looks so well.  I am sure having Giolla to help her is great.  She is a regular correspondent and fills me in on all the news.

What have I been up to?  The answer is not really a lot.  Last weekend we went to Gweru and onto Bulawayo with Liz (50 year old) and David (29).  They are ideal together and contrary to what I initially thought, Liz is a lovely person and great fun to be with.  She really is 50 going on 23.  In ways she would remind you of Irene with a great love of young people and a very young outlook on life.  She has a stud farm called Mary Down with some 100 horses.  Presently she is experiencing financial problems as the horse business is on somewhat of a downer here with many of its top people leaving Zimbabwe in favour of South Africa.  Two of the well known trainers from whom Liz gets a lot of business are moving out.  On the subject of race-horses, Joe is no longer in the syndicate.  The horse had chipped knees and Liz found a home for him as a polo horse thereby putting an end to the syndicate.  I must admit I am relieved.  Joe knows nothing about horses nor do I.

We visited the Matopos (David or Liz never having been there) and then we went to Chipengali, a reserve that houses wounded animals and species of animals who are in danger of becoming extinct.  Its patron is the Princess of Wales and much of its support comes from people who left this country at the time of the war and who were unable to take their funds out of the country so instead they donated them to this very worthwhile cause.  You can view all kinds of animals, they had an adorable baby black rhino amongst others.   I told you we no longer have the pick-up, however we have a stop-gap car which misbehaved on its journey to Bulawayo.  Joe luckily managed to juggle around a few wires and we made it back to Harare.  It was quite uncertain at times and this is no country for break-downs, as you well know.  What was even funnier is that Dave’s car gave up the ghost also and again Joe managed to get it going.  What fun it would have been if we phoned them in Sisks and said “both your cars have packed up down in Bulawayo (near 1000 km) – go collect them”.  Our car has had a full service so hopefully it will be okay for the 750 mile drive to Jo’burgh on Thursday morning.  I am looking forward to this trip.  It will be great to see Russell and get to see what South Africa is like.

How is Alice Murnane these days?  Give her our regards – we will be able to have chats when I get home.  On the subject of home, I have yet to book my ticket but will be doing so shortly.  I think it will be a journey via Zambia at this rate.

We went to an interesting dinner on Saturday night.  Whelan Associates are one of the biggest architectural practices in Harare and they support each year the National Theatre Organisation who are trying to promote African theatre.  Brian Whelan had given over his garden to a marquee, invited the 6 sponsors of whom Sisk were one, and we were entertained by this traditional African dance troupe.  They were excellent.  They danced for almost 1½ hours, so energetically.  It was worth seeing.  Thereafter a meal was served to each of the tables and later in the evening we were entertained by a modern dance group.  Liz and David were there, along with another couple from Sisks and we all enjoyed ourselves.

I missed Mother’s Day well and truly this year.  When we received the Irish Times almost a week later we realized our mistake.  Sorry but they must not celebrate it over here.  I am surprised as they celebrate all other major occasions and cards are big business here.  What do you plan for Easter?  Are Shane, Mella and Conor visiting you?  I hope you are not on your own.  I had a letter from Noel Clarke the other day.  All seems well for them.  He is still buying the Guardian and looking for work.  Things seems to be looking up for Tessie as her job is now becoming more administrative as the Nursery she worked at is now becoming a Family Centre.  How are Paddy and Marie?  Busy as ever, no doubt.  It would be great if Jerry came home and whats more for good.  His preference for Meath means he could be spending a lot of time with you, who knows he might even take up golf with his admired friend Mrs. Long.  Too long out in these missionary countries is not good for the priests, they need a return to reality as they approach retirement, in ways particularly before retirement age.

Winter approaches here, you can feel the chill in the mornings and evenings now.  The climate is so different down in Bulawayo, so much warmer and bright.  In fact it is a much nicer city than Harare, people are friendly and there is some life to it.  We visited the department store Haddon and Sly for breakfast and it was another trip to the Museum for me.  I am sure it is not going to be the last either.

I had a letter from Mary Crowley the other day.  Pat has found work but it means he has to take the car so she is on public transport.  The job is not a job related to his law degree but at least it will tide them over until the twins arrive.  They are aclimatizing to the idea now but it will not be easy.  Michael, her brother, gave up his medication again and is back in Blanchardstown so it is not easy for them at this present time.  The babies are due in July so it is not long now.  I had a letter from my friend, Jenny Parker.  At age 43 she is unexpectedly due another child in July.  She gave up work last year and moved to join Hugh in Aberdeen.  From her letter I think she regrets the move, Aberdeen being some different from Thames Ditton in South London.  There is a possibility of them visting later in the year also.

Tell Shane and Mella, I will write when I come back from Jo’burgh.  Give all my love.  Also – thank Margaret for her card and tell her I am so looking forward to seeing her on my return.  The excitement in the Hayes household must be phenomenal.  Can you imagine all the preparations that will be involved in such a large wedding?  Tell Mary I am thinking of her.

Well now its time to say goodbye until next week.

Lots of love

Michelle

Letter No 3



18 Cheshire Road, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

 

 

 

 

 

About michelleclarke2015

Life event that changes all: Horse riding accident in Zimbabwe in 1993, a fractured skull et al including bipolar anxiety, chronic fatigue …. co-morbidities (Nietzche 'He who has the reason why can deal with any how' details my health history from 1993 to date). 17th 2017 August operation for breast cancer (no indications just an appointment came from BreastCheck through the Post). Trinity College Dublin Business Economics and Social Studies (but no degree) 1997-2003; UCD 1997/1998 night classes) essays, projects, writings. Trinity Horizon Programme 1997/98 (Centre for Women Studies Trinity College Dublin/St. Patrick's Foundation (Professor McKeon) EU Horizon funded: research study of 15 women (I was one of this group and it became the cornerstone of my journey to now 2017) over 9 mth period diagnosed with depression and their reintegration into society, with special emphasis on work, arts, further education; Notes from time at Trinity Horizon Project 1997/98; Articles written for Irishhealth.com 2003/2004; St Patricks Foundation monthly lecture notes for a specific period in time; Selection of Poetry including poems written by people I know; Quotations 1998-2017; other writings mainly with theme of social justice under the heading Citizen Journalism Ireland. Letters written to friends about life in Zimbabwe; Family history including Michael Comyn KC, my grandfather, my grandmother's family, the O'Donnellan ffrench Blake-Forsters; Moral wrong: An acrimonious divorce but the real injustice was the Catholic Church granting an annulment – you can read it and make your own judgment, I have mine. Topics I have written about include annual Brain Awareness week, Mashonaland Irish Associataion in Zimbabwe, Suicide (a life sentence to those left behind); Nostalgia: Tara Hill, Co. Meath.
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