Earlier this year we – Benbo Productions, Sorcha Fox and Donal O’Kelly – were invited to take our show The Cambria to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (called HIFA) in Zimbabwe, with the support of Culture Ireland, and in the International American School in Lusaka, at the invitation of the Irish Embassy, Zambia. The tour was also supported by Afri.
Monday 30 April
We meet our technical manager Ronan Fingleton at Dublin Airport and we pool luggage to get the combined weight under the limit. Our luggage includes the backdrop, floorcloth, costumes and props for our show The Cambria, about US anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass’s journey to Ireland in 1845 on the steamer Cambria. We fly on Emirates Airline direct to Dubai, arriving there late evening. In the windowseat, I witness an incredible electric storm over the eastern Mediterranean, and a gigantic oil flare-off in the Arabian desert. Luckily, Sorcha has found a way to get us accommodated for free in a Dubai hotel, because we have a 9-hour wait before flying on to Harare.
Tuesday 1 May
The flight to Harare has quite a few musicians on board, trying to fit their instrument cases into the overhead lockers. The vertical camera facility on the video screen shows amazing images of East Africa from 50,000 feet. The airport at Harare has a 1970s feel, queues forming for immigration booths with early 1990s computers. We queue up with our $55 entry fees, and get our passports stamped. A HIFA minibus is outside to take us all to the Rainbow Towers Hotel, formerly the Sheraton who pulled out of Zimbabwe a few years ago. We meet the HIFA people and they give us HIFA brochures. HIFA is an enormous festival, with bands and acts from all over the world taking part. The theme this year is “A Show Of Spirit”. We’re glad to bring a little of Frederick Douglass’s resilient spirit to Africa, the homeland his ancestors were forcibly torn from by the slave trade.