1.30am is not a great time to get out of bed.
The best flights based on cost & changes to Zimbabwe were with KLM from Birmingham airport, and we just didn't worry at that stage that departure time was 6am. So we needed minimum 2 ½ hours pre-check in time, allow 20min transit from carpark to terminal, just over an hour to drive to the airport, 30min to dress and leave.
1.30am it was then.
I'd checked in online the night before, not realising until I'd printed the e-tickets that it was possible, and we just managed to get seats together on both flights. The flight to Amsterdam was fine, not too busy and nicely on time. The second stage flight does a loop, starting at Schipol going to Harare, then Lusaka and then back to Schipol. This was full of volunteers, and we saw groups from the US, Italy and the UK, including some doctors from Oxford going to teach trauma management in a hospital in Harare, and we were well packed in, but not too uncomfy.
We were more than a little apprehensive about the immigration process on arrival. One develops an impression of what a country is like after talking to ex-pats, and our impression was not a good one regarding administration. We had already filled in our applications for a visa before landing (very like the one required for entry to the US) and although the process was slow, it was uneventful. The one concern we had was that a street address was required, and there was some slightly panicky texting going on while queueing but our friendsboth local and in the UK came through for us.
Seeing Mike & Marleen again in the airport was fantastic. We'd not had a great deal of contact for about 2 years, and although facebook provides a form of communication, it's not at all like really talking and people do change (I'm more serious than ever before) but it was good to be together again, and little had altered in our relationship. Mike especially had put a huge amount of effort into organising stuff for us, and we'd not realised quite the level of detail of careful planning until 5min before a skype call to ask some questions that we hadn't realised he'd already answered, just from looking at the summary sheet. They hadn't seemed to have changed at all, at least on the outside. In a way, this trip was as much about seeing them again as anything else and it was a faith project that we really felt we needed to do.
First impressions outside the airport then.
Harare doesn't smell particularly different from so many other places we've been. It was about 9.15pm when we left the buildings, cool and pleasant, slightly humid and with a faint scent of dew on warm grass, fresh tarmac and wood smoke, but that was all. It seems as though woodsmoke is the chief smell of Africa, especially near meal times, though there are times when plant scents take over. Roads weren't completely terrible, but not good either, and with an almost total absence of markings, making driving after dark require a certain amount of guesswork. Some drivers were also not as careful as they might be (especially those who came screaming past in new and expensive cars) and I was therefore very glad to be driven than be driving myself that first night. M&M had made a plan (one hears that phrase often – it means to make it up as one goes along, instead of following a plan, and I'm guilty of teasing excessively about it) and instead of the 2 hour drive to Chinhoyi where they live, they had kindly arranged for us to spend our first night in Harare.
The house for that night lay in the Dandara community, which is a little piece of England with high walls around it. We talked until late, then slept in a bed so wide that we couldn't touch.
A little taste of what's coming.