As a photographer with a passion for travelling I had never really considered visiting Zimbabwe, mainly due to all the negative press associated with the country. That is until the chance came to go and see for myself.
It was too good a chance to miss; although when I told friends and contacts their reaction was: "Have you lost your mind? Don’t you know how dangerous the place is? You’ll be robbed or mugged or both."
My first encounter was with the airline staff all of whom were very friendly and helpful. Then it was lift off to Harare and Bulawayo, with all those "be careful warnings" ringing around my head.
As a photographer I tend to head for markets as they are always colourful, the people genuine and interesting. But, was I a crime statistic waiting to happen?
In the capital Harare I first found the flower market. When I produced a camera I was not short of stall-holders wanting to be photographed. Indeed they all seemed keen to give me their address and ask for prints, so a batch was sent over as soon as I was home.
Another day there was a band of cheerleaders rehearsing their steps on the same square. They were also more than happy to be photographed and had no problem coming up with smiles for the camera.
Dangerous? Not that I could see. If anything the opposite. But maybe I’d been very lucky. So, I pondered, let’s see what happens at the next destination, Bulawayo, the second city.
There is a small fruit and vegetable market just off Robert Mugabe Way so I headed there, keeping an eye on the stall-holders for a friendly face or two. In no time I was photographing a couple of the stall-holders, complete with radiant grins and, in one case, their kids.
Next off to have a look around the Old Post Office area, where there was a young lady sitting on the kerb listening to her iPod who saw the camera, smiled and just asked "would you like to take my photograph?" Pretty good for such a "dangerous" place.
The later port of call on the trip was the awesome Victoria Falls, known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders). I went to a large craft market and, while my wife was busy trading our t-shirts for Zimbabwean-made products with a stall-holder, I went photographing and found this guy carving beautiful objects from the local stone.
A polite request and he was happy to be the subject of an impromptu shoot as long as he could be sent the prints – judging by the thank you note I received - he was very pleased with the results.
Just one last stop in Harare for the informative Sanganai World Travel and Tourism Africa Fair to which I was taken by my hosts the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. Afterwards, there were plenty of colourful characters to photograph. Again, no-one declined and even the uniformed police raised a smile!
So after experiencing this "dangerous" place am I mad? Clearly the answer is yes, because I’d go back like a shot – the landscape, the wildlife, the history, the Victoria Falls, and of course the people make this a country well worth visiting over and over again.
Photography: Keith Hern