I jump awake at 5 a.m., worried about the photos I can’t find, the ones of Ken, my brother. In my dream the photos were in a box on my desk in the office. In reality everything I have of him can fit in this box on my desk in the office. They’re not there. In one of them, I remember, he was dressed in drag.  On the back he wrote: Halloween 1996. Don’t worry, I don’t dress like this every day.  Not like when I was a kid.


By Matthew Aquilone


I had the chance to kick Gregory Corso to the curb. Could you blame me for mistaking him for a homeless man who had wandered into the gallery that afternoon? He had on a more than well-loved down jacket, one side hopelessly stained with what I hoped was coffee, and beneath it the left pocket had been completely torn away, exposing the white stuffing inside. He had barely a tooth in his head by that time, and his hair was matted as if he had just woken from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. He appeared in my tiny office, mid-sentence. I didn’t hear “hello,” or “what’s your name?”; maybe the world “lunch” was in there somewhere. Standing, I hoped to encourage his departure. I had grown up in Brooklyn and had had my share of experiences with street people. No direct eye contact was an important dictum, one that applied equally to madmen as it did to babies and dogs. Be firm and say little. Shut it down, and fast.

The last time I drove past the apartments on North 5th, their efficient practicality had been scrubbed up a bit. A nice little fence marked the front entrance. The sidewalk that led into the U-shaped courtyard had healthy plants on both sides. The casement windows had been replaced. Someone had finally taken pride in the boxy old place, built in 1948 to provide post-war housing.

I would like to proactively begin this essay with Supplemental Materials to this essay:


Jackson Pollack was less an artist than a psychic predicting the Exxon Valdez disaster. Or the captain of that ship, Joseph Hazelwood, drinking all night, wanted to pay tribute to his favorite painter, getting loaded and crashing his vehicle bigger that same way.

This Christmas, pretend you care about the health of your loved ones by buying them an exotic gift from a country they know nothing about.

Avoid dying in your sleep

Fan Death is supposedly a common cause of death in South Korea. It works like this: You fall asleep with a fan whirring in your room. The fan slices the oxygen particles in the air and you slowly suffocate.

You might have heard of this and dismissed it as silly gibberish. Nobody, you say, is stupid enough to believe in fan death. But that sadly isn’t true. The Korean government believes in fan death and legally requires all fans sold in Korea to come equipped with timers.

So this Christmas buy your loved ones a Korean fan. Make sure they never die a fictional death.

Gwenn and Shawn Decker. Photo by Jeffrey Pillow

Two years ago, I walked into Shenandoah Joe’s on Preston Ave. in Charlottesville. Postured on a tall-legged, wooden barstool, a young man in his early 30’s busily dashed off letters on the keys of his laptop. White steam swayed side to side from the rim of his coffee mug, and then cut capers skyward. The vapors vanished but the rich, warm aroma of the roasting coffee beans lingered.

We just got back from a trip to Zimbabwe. When the country was called Rhodesia, it was referred to as the breadbasket of all of southern Africa. Think about it. They were so prosperous that they not only could feed everyone in their own country, but all the countries in Southern Africa. Obviously, Rhodesia had enormous social problems, but everyone could eat.

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, so Tourism is just about all it has left. Victoria Falls is there, which is the biggest and most delightful waterfall I have ever seen. Here is a photo of it from my brave friend Mary’s camera. She took the helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.

This is one of the photos I took standing safely on mother earth.

The Zambezi River is lovely. Animals abound. There are hippos, elephants, crocodiles, alligators, warthogs, baboons, giraffes, lions and zebras in and around the Zambezi River.  I’ll show you just a sampling.

This is the Water Treatment Plant:

We were prepared ahead of time to bring as much in the way of school supplies as we could for the school we were slated to visit. Almost every one of us had at least half a suitcase full of pens and pencils and markers and notebooks, etc. One couple chose to bring Obama stickers. They had a massive roll of them that they peeled off and stuck on just about everyone’s shirt.

The teachers were on strike because they were not getting paid, so the Principal of the school, which was officially closed, gathered together a group of AIDS orphans for us to meet. A good percentage of these children are HIV positive. They were sweet as can be and sang and danced for us and had smiles that warmed your heart. Here are some photos of their beautiful faces.

We were told that in terms of AIDS, Zimbabwe is the world’s most infected country. Statistics vary, but about a quarter of the adult population is HIV positive. In urban areas the rate jumps to 40%. In the army, the rate is 80%.

Life expectancy at birth is now 38 years.

The country is rife with problems of other kinds also. The stores have nothing to sell. There is literally nothing on the shelves of the stores, so they are all closed. There is no gas to run a car or motor scooter. The roads are virtually empty.

In the tourist hotels there are signs like these:

This is because the money in Zimbabwe is worthless. Mugabe just keeps printing money. (Sounds familiar, eh?)  Inflation is a major problem. Take a gander at the denominations of the Zimbabwean currency, (look closely, many bills have expiration dates!):

These two are my personal favorites:

People in Zimbabwe carve animals out of wood and sell them in the market. They will only take dollars or euros in exchange for their art. Also, people in the tourist industry are paid in foreign currency. Since there is nothing on the shelves and nothing is growing on the farms, this is what a family has to do to get food:

They get together as much foreign currency as they can. One member of the family WALKS to the nearest country that is rich enough to have food to sell, pays a bribe to get in, buys a quarter kilo of sugar, bribes their way back into Zimbabwe and walks home.


There is no electricity. There are no jobs. There is no education, and no medical care. Cholera is rampant in Zimbabwe. There is no medicine to treat this treatable illness. Mugabe’s army was starving and the army is what keeps Mugabe in power. The army is now eating the elephants.

Given the state of the country, you would think that it’s President, Mugabe, would be doing something. Well he is. He just had a bash of a birthday party for himself. $300,000 American dollars were spent on this party. The destitute citizens of Zimbabwe were required to donate money or food to the party. For the one-day party, over 100 cattle, goats and sheep were slaughtered. He had pounds and pounds of caviar shipped in. Champagne. You name it.

Mugabe’s wife, Grace, is called “The First Shopper of Zimbabwe.” She just returned from a lavish trip to Hong Kong, costing $92,000. She was photographed with a Jimmy Choo bag, which was estimated to cost about 2,000 English Pounds. Her entourage spent over 2,000 English pounds a day at the Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong.

There is little hope. Unless a miracle happens, the only question for these Zimbabweans is what will kill them first: Cholera, AIDS or starvation.


Comment by George |Edit This
2009-05-01 07:45:00

It takes years for any country to climb up the economic ladder. Sadly, any corrupt government can destroy a county’s economy much faster than a competent government can rebuild it. One wonders if the “The First Shopper of Zimbabwe” had her conscience amputated during one of her foreign jaunts.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 08:07:56

Well, George, it certainly didn’t take long for it to fall off the economic ladder!
The country is virtually destroyed and its people are sick and starving. It’s terrifying!
Mugabe and his wife, I think, never had a conscience. Psychopaths. How else to explain this?

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-05-01 08:39:08

this is very sad. it’s also sad that the people on your trip thought that Obama stickers would be more valuable to starving children than school supplies or canned food. perhaps they need to be told to push their agenda only when appropriate.

how Mugabe felt comfortable in throwing himself a party like he did is a mystery. does this man not care at all about public opinion? his wife sounds like a cunt.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 09:12:54

You know, Lenore, we were only told to bring school supplies. If we had known ahead of time how hungry they were we could have packed food also.

Listen to this:

When we flew into Zimbabwe, our tour guide asked us to please take the box lunch on the plane whether we wanted it or not. To eat it if we chose to, but otherwise to save it to give to him when we landed in Zimbabwe. Obviously we all saved our box lunches, but had no idea how bad it had become. When the guide got the boxes, he opened them up and divvied up the sandwiches and granola bars and chocolate, etc. to all the people working in the arrival lounge. He gave one worker a sandwich and she would jump up and hug him! To another guard he gave a granola bar and the guard would shake his hand and thank him effusively. Everyone in the arrivals lounge got something from the food boxes. Each person was delighted and relieved to have something to eat. Until that moment, we did not understand how bad the hunger was in Zimbabwe.

There was plenty after that to reinforce the realization of their hunger. It was heartbreaking!

These Obama people meant well. They thought that Africans would be so proud to see a black man running for president of the USA. What they didn’t get was that most of these people couldn’t think of politics in the USA. Their immediate concern was when they would eat next, if they would catch cholera, how long they would live with AIDS and HIV. Those are the thoughts that pretty much filled up their minds.

Mugabe and his wife are monsters. Monsters.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-05-01 08:40:21

Perhaps the people with the stickers (affectionately known as the “Obamas” can gather up all the children in the country, have them all hold hands, and sing cum bay yah (ok I have no idea how to spell that). Thanks for not showing the 5 legged elephant. Makes me jealous every time I see it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 09:16:29

Oh ksw,

I don’t know how to spell it either. I’m sure they would think that that were a great idea, though. Totally clueless, they were.

I can do a whole post on “the five legged elephant” and other wild animal penis-related African stories. I’ll let you know if I do one!

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-05-01 09:50:06

Beautiful pictures, beautiful people.

Mother, you teach us.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 10:14:50

James Michael,

This was a hard lesson.

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-05-01 09:56:23

Intellectually, we know this sort of poverty exists. But to see it up close… It makes one both infinitely grateful and infinitely guilty.

Thank you for the wake-up call.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:38:07

It was a wake-up call to me also. I was just thinking of a safari trip, seeing fabulous animals in the wild, and BOOM! There was a reality I did not earlier know about. (I probably did not want to know about.)
These Zimbabweans are so gentle, so sweet. Completely disarming. Their fate is so devastating as to be hard to fathom.

I am so guilty that I did not know that they were close to starvation. I would have brought food, for chrissake, as well as school supplies. But I was ignorant and I didn’t know that things were so desperately bad.

Comment by Debby |Edit This
2009-05-01 09:59:12

Beautiful pictures. When we went to Victoria Falls we stayed on the Zambia side since as a rampant and unrepentant Liberal I couldn’t go to Zimbabwe. However, thanks for reporting on what you saw.

The Falls are magnificent from both sides.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:43:07

Oh Debby,
They are amazingly beautiful, but contrasted with the plight of the Zimbabweans, it pales.
The orphans were so upbeat. So positive. We had no idea that we weren’t going to a regular school. AIDS orphans? A high percentage of HIV infected? Give me strength.
NO. Give THEM strength.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-05-01 10:05:05

I sure am glad I was born here. That place is a shithole. I’m not interested in animals. I’d like to see the waterfall, I guess.

I wonder how much the last Wednesday night soiree set us back.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:49:18

Tim, It was absolutely a shithole for the people. The animals and the scenery were astounding, though.
But, I can’t believe you wouldn’t have been blown away by the sight of wild African animals just going about their usual business right in front of you!
You would prefer the waterfall?

(Just what exactly are you talking about with this “Wednesday Night Soiree?” I am afraid I am totally ignorant of whatever Bacchanal you attended and with whom you were. I WILL find out, though. You KNOW I will.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-05-04 07:28:50

I like dogs and cats. Who gives a shit about the less-important animals?

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Comment by Tiny Warthog Reno |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:15:15

nice pictures. horrible story! thanks, irene, now i’m in a category 1 depression! and i just back from my job when usually after i’m done feel good, ready to kick some ass.

but now: category 1.


wish i could have been there. i would have jumped on that warthog! i would have calmed the lion and brushed her teeth!i would have painted zebra stripes on me and ran with them! you bet!

but, irene. what’s a travel post w/ no pics of victor sleeping while standing up? puleez. more sleeping victor pics!

who agrees?

tiny warthog reno

Comment by Tiny Warthog Reno |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:16:36

got back from my JOG! my JOG! my job never makes me feel better!


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 17:26:22


I thought you meant that your job always made you feel great,
THEN you read about Zimbabwe and you got depressed,
THEN you went out for a jog,
THEN you felt better.

Now I get it.
I’m sorry this was depressing. I couldn’t think of a single funny thing about Zimbabwe.
Not one.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:56:02

tiny warthog reno,

I know.

I usually write funny stuff. But there is just NOTHING funny about Zimbabwe, and I thought people who didn’t know, should know.
I’m so sorry. I thought a lot about whether to post this or not. I guess I decided to.
(But I’m ambivalent.)

I do have pictures of Victor sleeping in Zimbabwe, though. They didn’t seem appropriate in this instance. (I have pictures of Victor sleeping throughout Southern Africa, for that matter. I could probably do a post on Victor sleeping while wild animals walked up and sniffed him to see if he would be delicious.)

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:40:38

Those children are so beautiful Irene. And what teeth! It’s amazing that Mugabe who was once seen as such a hero and freedom fighter could become so corrupt. And isn’t it interesting how the wives are always complicit? I wonder how many pairs of shoes she could get with that one hundred trillion dollar note?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 12:59:19

One Hundred Trillion dollars is worth NOTHING.
NOTHING at all.
This is why everyone who was once working is on strike. The money they are paid cannot be used. Not at all. (Except, perhaps, selling it to tourists.)
Grace uses alternative currency. Dollars or Euros. She’s evil, but no idiot.

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-05-01 14:11:29

it is true what irene writes. i was there. the faces still are in my mind. i have started conserving water at home now. while i am waiting for the shower to warm up in the mornings, i collect that water to water my plants, or to fill the teapot or anything else i need water for throughout the day. it is a small step, but if we all do something to conserve water, it will amount to a lot. the last wars will be over water, not oil.

but irene, where did you see all the different bills? i brought home a few of the one hundred trillion dollar bills. i want to offer them to the us treasury to help whipe out our debt, but so far no bank will cash them….

mary )

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-01 17:21:08

kayak lady,
You are so GOOD! (You do enough so that I can slack off.)

While I was buying the carved animals in the market, Victor was approached by several men individually and all they had to sell were worthless currency. Naturally, he bought everything they had.

I can’t believe the banks won’t take the trillion dollar zimbos! How dare they be contemptuous of our zimbos!

Comment by sara k |Edit This
2009-05-01 18:30:43

hi irene!

wow, this was so interesting and sad. sometimes i get down/mad when i think about the home situations of some of my 2nd graders. i don’t know how you handled visiting the children out there.


thank you for sending the zimbabwe money to lonny and i. those bills are so cool. also, cant wait to see you and victor later this month!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 03:35:16

Sara k,

When I taught, I had the same feelings. The only parents who came in for Teacher’s Conference were those of the kids who were sailing along famously. I would even call the homes of the kids whose parents whose help I needed and with whom I needed to work. If I got through at all, they, (usually she) would assure me she would come. But they never did.
For me the main problems were two:
one-parent families
parents too busy to pay attention

Occasionally I would get one who would curse me out if I even called and would tell me never to call again. Not so strangely, these were the kids who needed the most attention.
I understand that hearing about the kids in Zimbabwe buts things in perspective, but for your students, the ones who have less than ideal lives at home, the outcome is still going to be unacceptable. It will still eat away at your heart.
Life. Messy.

Comment by Kathy Powell |Edit This
2009-05-02 02:26:54

Thanks for sharing Irene…..beautiful pictures. To see the animals up close would be exciting!

The kids are adorable….so sad…..they never have a chance. You made the right choice to share the pics and story…..we need to be enlightened.


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 03:39:53

Thanks kathy,

I actually have even better pictures from the safaris we went on, but these were the animals in Zimbabwe.

Kathy, the kids were so sweet and gentle. There was no hint of misbehavior at any time. I wish I knew how to use the movie part of my camera, the dancing and singing they did for us was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Beautiful.

I went to Zimbabwe pretty much ignorant. I figured that perhaps I’m not the only one who didn’t know just how bad things are there.

I do hate to bring people down, though.

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-05-02 05:09:08

Such a heartache – these people! The story of the boxed lunches in the airport! Walking to the next country for food! Thank you for this story Irene. This place affected you deeply. Who – in your experience – was doing anything about the food situation? Are there groups over there who are trustworthy?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 06:44:47

Erika Rae,

Unfortunately, nothing is working.

The UN and the Red Cross tried over and over to ship in food to the country, but Mugabe keeps it all for himself.

I really can’t understand how God can create such a man and allow him to thrive.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-05-02 08:04:14

What a depressing story. Your pictures of the children are beautiful, though. You should publish all your pictures of children from around the world. You might need release forms, though… That would be complicated.

I think next summer I may go on a med school trip to somewhere like Uganda for a few weeks. That would be nice and depressing. Maybe I could treat some cholera.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 10:44:17

I know. I worried over it for quite awhile. In the end I thought it needed to be said.

A nephew of a good friend of ours is going to Namibia. That is a much safer place to go. It’s still a place that needs medical care, and its sand dunes are legendary. People are sweet, too.

Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
2009-05-02 08:24:33

I can’t believe Mugabe, either. It’s just mind-boggling to me that a man can do this kind of thing and remain in power without the world community stepping in and putting the hammer down. If we can’t reach a consensus on what a shit-head this guy is, what can we reach a consensus on?

In other news…If you want to read a more heartening Africa-related story, there’s a pretty cool article in the latest New Yorker about Rwanda and the manner in which they have been able to achieve a pretty astounding level of reconciliation in the wake of the terrible genocide of 15 years ago.

Great stuff, Irene. Love the photos.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 10:49:24


Unfortunately, I think the answer is nothing. Honestly if not on THIS ongoing atrocity, what could possibly move people to agree?

I read the article in the New Yorker. I was frankly surprised about the amount of tolerance that was being shown there. It certainly did seem hopeless years ago.

I really did try to gather the pictures side to side so it wouldn’t be so long, but I am unfortunately too much of a clutz to master it. I don’t even know how some of them got that way. A genius with the computer, I’m not.

Comment by Ed |Edit This
2009-05-02 12:35:41

Isn’t it amazing how quickly and completely a prosperous country can be destroyed? Even more amazing is how Mugabe can round up the resources to finance extravagances for himself and his wife. Maybe the population is the most docile in the world.

Comment by Rich Ferguson |Edit This
2009-05-02 13:40:16

Thanks for the tour, Irene. This was amazing.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 13:48:38

Truth be told, Rich, I so much more want to tell everyone about the fabulous places in the world.
Granted this is a fabulous place, but Mugabe has crippled his country for years to come.
I know this is all a downer.
I don’t like being the bearer of bad news. It just isn’t me.
But. There you go.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 13:44:42

We found it to be astonishing also.
We all spoke about why the people put up with this treatment.
Our guide told us that the people are so beaten down, so tired, so hungry, so hopeless that they don’t have the energy to fight Mugabe.
He is so evil. Anyone who publicly questions him just disappears.
These poor people have all they can do to try to just get food for their families each day.
They have no energy for more.

Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
2009-05-02 15:16:22

Oh Mama Zion- I’m very sad. Sad and angry and frustrated and in awe of how beautiful it is, but still angry.

This was wonderful, very educational and a bit soul shattering. Thanks for posting this.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-02 16:36:04

Thanks, Megan,

The country is so beautiful and the people are, as you can see, lovely.

It’s a very jarring disconnect to match this with the conditions under which they live.

Truly, I thought people would come to see it is not a funny piece and turn away before they saw the truth about Zimbabwe today.

I’m glad you stuck through it. I know it wasn’t easy.

Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
2009-05-03 07:04:19

Many of the best things in life are not easy. I’m glad you’re here to share all of your experiences with us, good and bad.

Comment by Stephanie |Edit This
2009-05-02 18:08:06

Your post was truly heart breaking. But what is the most agitating, I’m sure is leave Zimbabwe with a heavy heart, and feeling absolutely help less.

It’s terrible to see a country that looks so beautiful, with its animals and natural resources, but it’s people suffering, starving, and dying.
It truly makes one thankful that we are not in that situation(here in the U.S). But can also cause so much anger, because a political person who can try and make a difference; the fucking president is sitting in his pedestal, eating his caviar and spending ridiculous sums of money on parties and his bitch wife, as his people are dying.

I’m quite sure my comment sounds exactly the same a every one else.

Although this post wasn’t at all hilarious as all the other ones I have read. Thank you so much for putting this up, Irene.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-03 04:17:07

Thanks, Stephanie,

We were left in the position of only being able to leave huge tips to everyone there who was working with us. We were told that handing out money for no reason can turn people into beggars, but we bought tons of carved animals and “jewelry ” consisting of ratty pieces of leather and the nail sloughed by a lion and random animal teeth found on the ground. We were told that buying their work gives them some pride at least that they earned the money. The animals were actually quite amazing. There were also carved stone pieces and the like, but we had a 44 pound limit on our baggage, so that was out.
If we had been told to bring food, we at least could have fed a few people for a day. I so wish we had known the state of affairs there before we left.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-05-03 08:34:54

You should have brought condoms. Most of them probably don’t even know what the hell a condom is or that it could help keep them alive beyond 40. (If you are allowed to bring candy you should do that, too. You always seem to find children on your trips to the worst places on earth and I bet an airhead or a starburst would make their day.)

Also, are you going to go to Cuba when it opens up? I think it is sort of like this, but 50 miles from you. Dad could get a cigar and not tell Lenore.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-03 12:08:49

The problem with that is that condoms actually are available, but the men refuse to use them and the women don’t actually have a choice in Africa. AIDS is rampant all over Africa. It’s simply the worst in Zimbabwe than anywhere else in the world.
But remember, they are not just dying from AIDS. The cholera is getting them since there are no meds and also people are literally starving to death.

The only way we’d go to Cuba is if Fidel is DEAD and his brother is DEAD and the people hidden rotting in the jails are freed for speaking their minds and the Cubans are finally free. End of story.

Dad will not smoke cigars again until he is 80. He signed a contract. Dad honors his word. However, after 80, our house will stink so badly that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will smell as bad as you kids did when dad used to smoke cigars back when you were little. But you’ll still have to come see us, cause we’ll be old and feeble and you want to be in the will.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-03 12:10:43

Sorry, I forgot this part:

We were actually told by the tour company that we could NOT bring candy. Everywhere we go they make that stipulation. I honestly think it’s a stupid rule and I plan to ignore it in the future. Christ, in this case at least it would have been calories!

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-05-04 11:14:43

Your pictures are beautiful. The children seem happy, or maybe the smile was just there for the camera. They also did not seem malnourished. This school that you were taken to might be the “showpiece” for tourists. Why is the army keeping Mugabe in power, what an obscene human being. What a contrast between the beauty of the country and the misery of the people that inhabit it.

You have done a great job putting into words your experience and impressions.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-05 06:11:45

The school was definitely not a showplace for tourists. The classrooms were virtually empty of any books or any school supplies. Just clean, empty rooms with the chairs and desks piled up in the corners. Remember, school was not in session and had not been for some time. Everyone is on strike because they were being paid with bogus money which no one would accept as valid currency. The kids were from an AIDS orphanage and would normally go to this school.

The smiles were genuine. These kids, in spite of their situation were just kids having fun showing off their good dancing and singing a cappella. They really were happy kids. As far as their bodies, though, we all noticed that their were ribs showing whenever the kids danced and we got a glimpse of either their hip bones or ribs. They were all very thin.

When we were in Burma, now called Myanmar, we were taken to a showplace community. It was ridiculous. The driveway was the only one we had seen in the town that was wide enough for a bus. Also in China, we had the same experience. We were taken to a place that had the only wide enough access for a bus. In both places, what we saw in passing looked remarkably different. A dead giveaway.

I cannot explain the behavior of the army supporting Mugabe. All the Zimbabweans we met were too weak to do anything about their situation. The army is getting plenty of Elephant meat to eat. Maybe getting fed is all it takes to support him, who knows? I have never been starving. Who knows what a person starving wold do in order to be fed on a regular basis?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-05 06:12:22

The school was definitely not a showplace for tourists. The classrooms were virtually empty of any books or any school supplies. Just clean, empty rooms with the chairs and desks piled up in the corners. Remember, school was not in session and had not been for some time. Everyone is on strike because they were being paid with bogus money which no one would accept as valid currency. The kids were from an AIDS orphanage and would normally go to this school.

The smiles were genuine. These kids, in spite of their situation were just kids having fun showing off their good dancing and singing a cappella. They really were happy kids. As far as their bodies, though, we all noticed that their were ribs showing whenever the kids danced and we got a glimpse of either their hip bones or ribs. They were all very thin.

When we were in Burma, now called Myanmar, we were taken to a showplace community. It was ridiculous. The driveway was the only one we had seen in the town that was wide enough for a bus. Also in China, we had the same experience. We were taken to a place that had the only wide enough access for a bus. In both places, what we saw in passing looked remarkably different. A dead giveaway.

I cannot explain the behavior of the army supporting Mugabe. All the Zimbabweans we met were too weak to do anything about their situation. The army is getting plenty of Elephant meat to eat. Maybe getting fed is all it takes to support him, who knows? I have never been starving. Who knows what a person starving would do in order to be fed on a regular basis?

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-05-05 03:05:48

we are all brave about something…………….

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-05 06:18:18

Okay, Kayak lady,
Let me think.
I’m not afraid of mice or rats, in fact I really like them.
I’m not afraid of snakes. I think they are really beautiful.
I have learned to accept cohabitating with cockroaches, although I have a ways to go to accepting hoards of ants.
I don’t like heights one itty bitty bit. (Truth be told, I’m terrified of heights.)
I don’t want to drown.
I don’t want to plummet from the sky to the earth.
I could go on. I think the things I’m afraid of far outweigh the things that I’m brave about.

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2009-05-05 07:09:42

those kids are so beautiful. i still have my 100 trillion dollar bill.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-05 10:39:25

I told you some day you’d be rich!
Didn’t take long, either!

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-05-05 16:29:06

Dear Irene,

The way you put this all together, rolled it out, was perfect. The beauty made it possible to stay with the horrible parts. Really sad, educational, and inspiring.

Regarding Mugabe and how he stays in power I’d imagine he treats those who surround him, and protect him, well enough (money, food and shelter for their families) so that in their desperation they’ve turned corrupt too. Otherwise you can’t imagine why someone who had access wouldn’t take him out. Hope it can get turned around. The pictures of the kids seem to show that you can still have an open and joyous spirit even in the midst of this kind of awful situation. Thank goodness.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-06 10:21:06


Just today in the newspaper I read that people who had been protesting peacefully against Mugabe were all thrown in prison. Some first were put in the hospital to recover from the torture they suffered under Mugabe, when they get better, off to prison they go.

Truly, the kids were jubilant when they were singing and dancing. It was so amazing to see this joy amidst such horror. A real disconnect.

2009-05-06 00:03:35

I’ve heard that Mugabe’s daughter is studying in the US… under an assumed name. Which, really, is just what you’d want to do. Notoriety travels fast…

Great photos, although the ratio of photos:photos of butts is lower than I assumed (hey! I’ve made an ass out of Uma Thurman twice in this post*). And a great post too, if, you know. Confronting and all that.

* – with all credit to Al Franken for inventing that line

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-06 10:25:11

I did not know that, Simon.
It makes sense that she would be using an assumed name. Her parents are monsters, who would want to be connected with that?
I wonder how she really feels about it all. I wonder if she is carefree and untroubled because she is so very rich, or she actually has a conscience.

I have lots more photos, but I figured I’d better not overwhelm you all.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-05-06 08:04:52

happy to see at least a hippo butt in this post. i’m hoping all your travel postings will include bottoms/hineys/fannies. at least those re: trips to africa.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-06 10:28:36


The real reason I have so many butt pictures is that as soon as you raise your camera to take a shot the animal takes off in the other direction. Those are only the prey animals, though.

The predators never take their eyes off you. I found it quite amazing. Even when the lions, for instance, were appearing to sleep, there would always be the reflection of an open eye in the photo you took. Sure wouldn’t want to be a Springbok!

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-05-06 12:37:48

It’s sad to hear about so much corruption in such a beautiful place. I will just never understand it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore Zion’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-06 13:31:48

‘fraid I can’t help you there, Amy. I am clueless as how such things can go on for so long without intervention of some sort.

It is SUCH a beautiful place and the people are so gentle and beautiful. How this monster got power I don’t think I will ever understand.

2009-05-06 16:58:47

Irene, sometimes I get upset that right now I can’t afford to go on a plane to these far-away places with our family of 5, so your travels are very inspiring to me because they remind me that after one’s children have grown and gone off into the world (to mangle themselves on scooters and such, ack!) I will still be able to learn and see so many things, and that not everything must be done while pushing a toddler in a stroller or trying to save money for three college educations, etc..
Unfortunately (or fortunately) your travels also remind me that much of what I will learn and witness is incredibly sad and soul-shattering and makes a person feel very ashamed for the immense luxury in which we live, which makes it so easy for us not to really understand and feel the full impact of words like “poverty” and “starvation” until we see up close the full horror with our own eyes.
I grew up fairly “poor,” but unless you are homeless, being poor in America can usually scarcely compare with poverty in many other parts of the world. We ate gross, cheap food but we ate. We went to a scummy-looking and overcrowded medical clinic, but we were able to obtain the right medicine and the doctors were kind and competent. We had the Chicago Public School System, such as it was, and scholarships and loans for college. When I began to travel and went places like the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, where there were no schools or hospitals and cars could not even reach the towns, and kids were commonly running around missing eyes and such, I woke up to the truth of how privileged one really is to live in this country (or, of course, Europe, Canada, other such places.)
To think a leader could stay in power while starving and killing his people while he lives high on the hog. It’s mind-blowing.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore Zion’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-07 04:19:03


We, as you know, had five kids. We did a few simple things with groups of them, but nothing earth-shattering. When the kids left home, though, we were lucky enough to still be healthy and ready for adventure. That’s when we began to travel. We decided to start with the hardest stuff physically first. Heck, you can go to Europe in a wheelchair, so we can wait for that. The harder it is, the more we want to go. We’re going to keep it up as long as our health allows, and we can find bargain trips. Just the both of you keep in shape and you’ll do it also!

I have to say, Gina, many places in the world things are very bad, but on the other hand although many places are poor, life is really wonderful in most of those places. Poor does not mean unhappy. Most places have a terrific extended family and community around them. Places rich in culture. Life is good, regardless of wealth or lack of.

(And Mugabe should rot in hell.)

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2009-05-06 19:46:42


that was really heavy
quite a bummer for them
them = people, animals, maybe money also

no i dont feel bad for the money
not that i should really

i am glad that i live here and not there

it is sad that they seem unhelpable
but then i think about all the people i cant help right here….
and then i feel just as bad

as long as i have my obama stickers i will be fine
(they came to my house also….)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore Zion’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-07 04:23:52


I think the worst part for us is that we really can’t do anything. Supplies could be sent, but they would be confiscated. Until Mugabe is out of power and hopefully replaced by someone who actually cares about his people, there is really no hope at all.

Zimbabweans are crossing into the countries around them, chiefly South Africa. Unfortunately, they have brought cholera to South Africa. The laws in South Africa are such that no one can be turned away. The major problem is that there is nowhere to put them and no jobs for them, so they go to the shantytowns. Still, their lives are better there than in Zimbabwe.

Comment by Frank |Edit This
2009-05-08 03:50:48


What a gloriously disheartening mourning this morning…

Somehow, I managed to bypass your email notice -perhaps I considered your tag “This One Isn’t Funny” a reverse invitation to humor, whatever, but I failed to read it (and shame on Sally for having read it and not said a word -but then again, she would have thought -no, KNOWN! -that I would have, of course! already read it, so she’s off the hook -as usual) and double shame on me for letting it slide…

You know, Ed & I heard the story from Victor as we thrashed our way around Fairchild a while back after your return, and even received King’s Ransom (a hundred trillion) as a beautiful parting gift, but neither even came close to your account.

Thank you for a real elucidation, and eye-opener extraordinaire, into what just mayturn out to be the true “Heart of Darkness”…


Comment by Irene Zion (who is visiting Illinois) |Edit This
2009-05-08 17:06:14

Victor didn’t have any photos, Frank.
I think the photos force you to see the story more viscerally.
Sort of punches you in the gut.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-05-08 10:18:35

Gorgeous photos, and a beautiful travelogue, in spite of the dire (for Zimbabweans) circumstances.

I lived in Belgrade, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia) a year after it was bombed by NATO and just before and after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic; and from that time, I have a bank note for something like a trillion dinars (the local currency), not unlike the note you reproduce here. The war(s) had obviously hurt the Serbs badly. They’re still struggling, alas. But much the world might see that as their just deserts.

Comment by Irene Zion (who is visiting Illinois) |Edit This
2009-05-08 17:20:30

I think the photos help the medicine go down.
I think in every country where atrocities take place, it is the political leaders who start and promote the violence. The people on both sides are intractably, permanently damaged.

Comment by Formerly Freezing in Illinois |Edit This
2009-05-08 17:35:33

It’s so hard to comprehend how much horror can be caused by just one (or a few) people. IF you count up all of the bad places in the world like this with man-made intentional disasters, it’s heartbreaking.

Comment by Irene Zion (who is visiting Illinois) |Edit This
2009-05-08 18:35:30

You are always right.
As my family says, you are the smartest person in the world.

Comment by Lisa in the Grove |Edit This
2009-05-11 14:30:54

Irene – excellent, pic way of educating us on an impossible situation. Thanks for sending. Lisa.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore Zion’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-05-14 10:27:01

Welcome, Lisa from the Grove! Thanks for reading!

I’m glad to let more people know about the plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I was pretty ignorant about it and now I read everything in the news about Zimbabwe, hoping for change, I guess.