Zimbabwe snapshot

Bulawayo 1I’m sitting in the shade, taking a break from the heat. It’s Saturday morning and I’m simply watching the world go by on the dusty pavements of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe.

The streets are as busy as they’re ever likely to be. Shop doors are flung wide open but customers are scarce. The only real business taking place is in the food market. Times are tough and Saturday morning in town is more a social event than a consumer affair. 

A man comes sauntering along the street carrying a small blue sports bag. He’s wearing a tattered jacket over a frayed shirt with threadbare trousers and battered shoes. This is practically uniform for most men in this poverty ridden town. The big difference about this particular fellow is that he has a gleaming SLR camera with zoom lens draped around his neck, its silver metal body sparkling in the sun.

I’m surprised to see it and I note it’s a film camera, thinking it can’t be easy getting 35mm film processed in Zimbabwe. And boldly showing off such a camera seems ostentatious given the impoverished surroundings. Regrettably, that’s why I’ve chosen not to bring mine into town today.

IMG_0409The man stops near me, gently puts his sports bag down and takes up position outside the Jairos Jiri charity shop. He gazes up, down and across the street. I can’t resist. I have to ask.

We make our greetings. He says his name is Enoch and I pop my question about his camera and film. Enoch laughs out loud, clapping hands with glee. “Ha! That’s just to attract attention … and it works!”

He trusts one hand into his jacket pocket and, with a flourish, produces a compact digital point-and-shoot and says triumphantly,  “I’m a one-stop instant photo shop!”

Bulawayo 3His PR savvy and positive attitude soon pays dividends. The shiny, expensive-looking camera around his neck catches the eye of two jaunty young dudes dressed in their Saturday best. They stop and greet us both, shaking hands in the rhythmic African way. Enoch soon has them posing and photos are quickly taken.

Rummaging in his sports bag Enoch then pulls out a compact photo printer. It’s no bigger than a paperback book and is attached by two slender wires to a battery in the bag.

He slots in the photo card from his compact camera, presses buttons and the printer starts to whirr. The four of us stand transfixed while the tiny machine does its magic, the paper popping in and out three times, each time changing colour. More people gather round.

Finally the machine spits out a pretty slick colour photo of the two guys in their pork pie hats, smiles beaming, thumbs up. People peer curiously over our shoulders. There’s much laughter, money is exchanged and another customer strikes a pose. Enoch’s portable photo booth is an instant hit! Informality and ingenuity are winners on the streets of Bulawayo.


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