Well it’s been 2 weeks since we have returned to Canada and between an out of town wedding, reuniting with friends and family and going back to work (or for Chris, starting work), that we haven’t really even had time to fully process and reflect on the time we had in Africa.
The last few days of our trip went by really quickly. We were still busy working, Chris worked through the weekend and we both made some trips to the new hospital to bring back donated canes and crutches for the rehab facility and other equipment for the new physio department (which is now fully completed and in use. From the 7-9 of September, 25 mothers who have children with developmental delays from Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities came for the CP Village. Everyone was very thankful for the extra space to meet, learn and receive therapy). We hiked with Howard and Dan, two of the other volunteers. We also spent time with Forbes, Gladys and the kids,
trying to delay our goodbyes as long as possible. It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends and even more so when you know it will likely be a few years before you’re reunited. We had our last traditional African meal and we had Gladys and the kids over (Forbes was out of town) on Sunday for one last dinner of chicken and veggies. On Monday we went back down to the school, one last 4 km roundtrip walk that we had done more than a dozen times over the past 5 weeks, to say bye to our friends who by now felt like our Zimbabwean family.
It’s funny how that happens. That you arrive in one place a visitor, a tourist, and you leave feeling like you’re leaving home. You can’t truly say that you’re a “local” because it wouldn’t be fair. Even in our 250 sq foot bachelor apartment on the Howard compound where the power goes out several times a day, where you have to boil the water before you drink it, where you have to walk 2 km to get water when the taps run dry, where you have to boil water (or bring it from a working tap) to draw a bath to get clean, without a tv or a radio or a reliable internet connection, we were still living a cushy life.
We had the luxury of a indoor plumbing, a sink with running water and a flush toilet, something even middle class Zimbabweans don’t have. We didn’t have to walk 5-7 km to school, staying overnight to study because we didn’t have electricity at home. We don’t have to struggle when the rains don’t come or grow our own vegetables because the 20 dollars a month we are paid isn’t enough to feed our family. We definitely weren’t there in 2008 when people had to leave their homes because of violence around the hospital, people being shot, wives being raped in front of their husbands, children tortured in front of their parents. Some of the things we heard about the events surrounding the last election made us feel like we didn’t know Zimbabwe at all. No, it wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s truly our home, only to say that we truly felt at home there.
Part of the reason we felt so at home was because from the very first day we were
welcomed with open arms by some of the kindest people we’ve ever met. Each of the staff members took time to learn about us, introduced us to others, patiently translated for us and taught us bits of shona. The hospital sees so many volunteers it would be understandable if they felt a bit patronized. Like “the white people were here again, swooping in to do things their way for a bit and then leave”. But if that was the way they felt they never showed it.
They were genuinely eager to learn about how things are done in Canada and wanted to learn new skills or ways of treating. They thanked us for coming, and most of all for telling others about Howard. We also saw elders treated with so much respect by the children and young adults. Every man was sekuru (older man or grandfather) and every woman was ambuya or gogo (older woman or grandmother) and each was greeted bringing the hands together in a clapping gesture and for the women with a small curtsy. We learned of so many different ways to say how are you and thank you. The number of times you answered “how are you” and said “hello” on a quick walk to the shops was enough to make your head spin.
In the Therapeutic Feeding Ward I met a half dozen mothers who would eventually lose their children, all under the age of 2, to malnutrition and complications from HIV/AIDS. Yet in that same ward I heard so much laughter and felt so much love. It was the same thing everywhere you went. SO much laughter, SO much kindness, SO much love. Yes we have a lot to learn.
In fact, 98.5% of the population of Zimbabwe is black). We also had a local number, which made us feel more grounded and the snippets of language and culture that we were picking up made it easier to connect with the people we were working with and serving.
So, did we find tariro in Africa? In short, yes, we found tariro everywhere, in every country we visited, even amidst some sadness and suffering. And we found tariro within ourselves. That we have the power to make a difference, if only in the life of one patient or one staff member or one stranger that we will never even meet.
So thank you, tatenda, mazviita, maita basa, for reading our blog and sharing our journey with us. If you are interested in seeing more pictures from our time at Howard there is a link to a photo album is below.