Thursday, June 12, 2008


I think the lawyers at the office quite consciously keep me out of the loop. There's a palpable sense of crisis pretty much all the time, people rushing in and out, clients crowding the waiting room, phones ringing off the hook. Most conversations are conducted in Shona, so I usually have no idea what's happening. I know that at least some of the lawyers have started to bunker down in the office, putting off serving any papers or making any arguments in court until after the run-off, two weeks from Friday. It's an awful situation for them -- there are about ten human rights lawyers left in the country according to my boss, and hundreds of atrocities going on every day in the rural areas. But trying to bring suit at the moment is too dangerous to contemplate, so the lawyers busy themselves with documenting what they can and doing their best to protect colleagues who've garnered unwelcome attention from the government. Or, at least, that's my sense of what's going on, which is, again, sketchy.

It's hard to describe how strange everything feels right now. All day long I research government atrocities, continually discovering that some of them have been directed at my colleagues (rather a presumptuous word, I guess, but anyway people who work a few yards from me) -- harassment, beatings, death threats, you name it. And then I come back to the compound to eat family dinners, watch movies, and so on. It's like some bizarre parody of middle class working life. I guess a lot of things are bizarre parodies here. Louise and I had a rather heated discussion with her dad about the ins and outs of armed robbery here. It's hard to maintain any framework for judging crime here when the government is stealing land as fast as it can and torturing its own citizens, the police are corrupted beyond recognition, people are beginning to starve, prison conditions are unthinkable, and some miniscule portion of the population lives in compounds surrounded by electric fences.

The ZLHR office is just as strange. The other day I was having a funny, bantering conversation with David, the other intern (a student at the U of Zim) about Michael Jackson's merits and demerits, when Alec Muchadehama (the high-profile lawyer with the death threats) came sweeping in with some of our attorneys, who had clearly been up all night. They tossed David a set of car keys, told him to remove all the papers from a purple car on the corner and shred them, and then swept back out again.

My own work is very much unrelated to any of this, though. It's amazing to me how disconnected I feel from the things that I'm researching, even though they seem to be happening all around me. I guess that's just the nature of things here for the time being, as the government does its best to preserve a sense of normalcy in Harare while basically waging war in the countryside. Anyway, things should apparently quiet down shortly as observers start to trickle in from various treaty organizations in the region.

Hm, I seem to have made this sound like a war zone. Rest assured, it's not -- actually, it's eerily routine. I quietly read and write all day, joke around with people in the office (who admittedly have developed a powerful sense of gallows humor), see beautiful sights, meet people -- all that stuff. But at the same time, we all know that there's a crisis washing right past us, hitting everyone poor and black or vocal in dissent. It really is hard to describe.

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