Can you remember what you were doing on 14th November 2017 at around 12 noon? Don’t go back to the calendar and see it was a Tuesday and say “duhh it was a weekday, of course, I was in the office.” Nope. That doesn’t cut it. I mean, what were you doing exactly? or was it who you were doing? What were you wearing? or not wearing? Who were you talking to? What were you talking about? Listen. If you won a lottery or something really traumatizing happened to you on that day because you chose to forget your girlfriend’s birthday or your marriage anniversary, then it’s difficult to remember the exact details. I remember 14th November 2017 vividly. Some people tend to remember exactly what happened on a certain date if something really good or bad happened on that day. Well, I remember 14th November 2017 vividly . It was the day that I would witness a coup for the first time in my life. If you ask me what I was wearing two days ago, I will have a hard time trying to recall but not 14th November 2017? My hair was styled in faux locs, I was wearing a denim overall, a grey shirt and maroon flat shoes.
It all started when Tatenda of Free Walking Tour Harare came to show me around. Tatenda does this service free of charge and if you are ever in Harare, contact her for a free city tour.
I found Harare to be particularly gorgeous because of the flamboyant trees lining the wide boulevards bloom, splashing the city with dashes of flaming red. Tatenda mentioned that Harare is strikingly beautiful in September because of Jacaranda trees that also splash the city with dashes of royal purple. It is no wonder that Harare was once known as the “city of flowering trees”. Harare will surprise many. As you can imagine, I was having the most fun getting content for this little travel blog.
A few hours later, Tendai, Tatenda’s friend joined us. Don’t you just love Zimbabweans’ names? Anyway, we decided to grab lunch at Chicken inn and in typical tourist style I said “YOU GUYS HAVE CHICKEN INN TOO?” Tendai responded as a matter of factly “What do you mean us too? Chicken inn is a Zimbabwean franchise under Innscor Africa.“
Kenyans, at this point I would like to break it to you that Tendai was actually right. I do not know why I always assumed that chicken inn is a Kenyan brand. Oh yeah, Pizza inn and Creamy inn too. All Zimbabwean. All this time I had been living a lie.
Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:
After this shocking revelation, we continued eating. The chicken did not taste the same after that. okay. I lie. I am still a regular at chicken inn. I remember asking various questions about Zim like why their carnivore has giraffe meat on the menu. How do you even slaughter a giraffe surely?
All this time, while I was busy getting familiar with the culture, a whole freaking military take over had already happened. Imagine that. And I had no idea. (insert clapping emoji here)
People went on with their business as usual or they seemed to. I swear. Nothing tipped me off that something was amiss. It was until I got to where I was staying and my WiFi connected
when I got 100 WhatsApp messages, 20 twitter Dms and Instagram messages all bearing the same message “RIOBA. GET OUT OF HARARE. NOW. THERE’S BEEN A COUP!!!!” Okay, maybe the messages were not that many, who do you think I am, Queen of the North? I don’t even have that many friends but nevertheless the messages obviously startled me. I was there thinking maybe these people reaching out had the wrong country because a coup? in Zim? How? I had been in Harare the whole damn day and I saw no damn coup. Never mind the fact that I have no clue how I coup is supposed to look like.
I would not have believed the messages until I switched on the TV and saw a guy in military uniform speaking on TV. Guys, I may not know how a coup looks like but I know that no military man is responsible for broadcasting the news.
Hell broke loose.
He was saying something in either Shona or was it Ndebele? Whatever it was, it sent me straight to the capital of panic nation. And those who know Rioba, also know that once she panics, she will wear that feeling elegantly and I suited up completely with a matching headband.
I didn’t even know what that army guy was saying, I had never witnessed a coup in my entire life so I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I was travelling alone in a foreign country, and there was a military dude on TV talking about an apparent coup that had happened. The flamboyant trees that I had earlier found beautiful? They made me feel dizzy. I felt sick. I was nauseous and I no longer had the energy to talk to anyone on phone. I had travelled through 5 countries and until then I had never questioned my decision to travel solo until this very moment.
My panic took me to the owner of the place, a tall gentle man who saw the terror written on my face and asked one of the workers to bring me a Zambezi. How dare he? Its like he had heard that to calm this girl down you have to get her a beer. And What do you know? It worked! He sat down and he asked why I was worried. WAU!! I gave him the are you serious though look and sipped my beer. He asked me where I was from and after saying Kenya, he laughed and said, “Don’t worry. We Zims are very peaceful people. You won’t fall into any harm. ”
I was about to say, “What’s that supposed to mean? Kenyans are peaceful!” Then I remembered how horrible and messy things were back home due to the elections and I kept my parrot pie shut. This was not a fight I wanted to engage in. And anyway maybe he didn’t mean any harm, right? I was just being sensitive, right? Maybe he honestly meant they are a peaceful country, right?
It got worse because we had made plans with Tatenda to explore the outskirts of Harare then her text came in, ”Rioba.. Can’t make it tomorrow. I don’t think it will be safe to walk around freely.”
People should stop misusing the statement ”I almost peed myself” or “I peed myself a little..” because you don’t know what that shit feels like. My panic level was not only red, it was blood curdling red. Truth be told, I contemplated reaching out to the Kenyan embassy in Zimbabwe but I didn’t. Want to know why?
Because as much as the next day there was a military equipment in the middle of the street with the army literally on every street corner. Nothing was blown out of proportion.
There were no gunshots, no fire, no war, nothing! It was the same old Harare I met the very first time. Busy capital city, quiet neighbourhood surrounded by red flamboyant trees. The flamboyant trees no longer made me dizzy.
Regardless I had to leave, and it was sad to leave Harare because I was only getting to love this city. What did this experience teach me? That traveling, especially traveling alone, may put you in tricky situations. I am happy that my situation was not bad at all.
Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:
On my way to the airport, I saw the army lying in grass hiding with guns pointed out. Well camouflaged with the airport grass. Which begs the question,Who were they camouflaging from if I could see them?
It was like watching a scene from the film ,soldier boyz but now in real life. Also, if you do not know soldier boyz , wakanda video tapes did you guys have at home in the 90s?
One of the guards asked for my passport as some sort of security measure then he said in broken Swahili ”Mtoto ya Kenyatta, mbona toroka? Sisi watu ya amani.” “What the hell mtoto ya Mugabe. First of all, we are going to have two presidents, if you are going to address me as a president’s daughter, recognize both presidents. Secondly, I love peace.”
Is what I should have said but I laughed it off and went on thinking that this can’t be a coincidence that someone different brought up the peace issue. Is that how we Kenyans are seen as? We can’t settle issues amicably? That we love conflict? I mean the first time could have been a coincidence but this second time? I think not. My dear Kenyans, that’s a message being sent. Let’s listen.
This experiencing highlights that travel pictures lie. Actually, all pictures lie. There is usually so much more going on behind the beauty and smile in pictures. Traveling is a great experience but you can find yourself in a tricky situation especially if you are alone. I am glad my situation was not bad because things were normal. Lesson of the day, always be connected to data so to get information in real time. Do not be like me. Buy a sim card or roam. If shit goes completely south, go to the Embassy, it’s practically your country. Communicate with your family members every step of the way and you will be fine.
Dear mom, I know you will read this. Sorry you only just found out about this. Love you!