So, when you first arrive, particularly if it’s your first trip to Africa, everything is very different. The roads, the heat, the people, the environment and general ambience is a sense sensation. I felt quite disarmed being in Zimbabwe initially. I felt very different and a little disconcerted at the daunting venture that lay ahead.
One week in and I’d had a baptism of fire… I’d had a whistle-stop tour of Harare, courtesy of Wesley and I’d seen some of the issues – social and economic – that affect Zimbabwe. Wesley took me on a road trip, north of Mutare where I got to see some stunning scenery, experience scorching temperatures and walk on toasted earth. I met a village elder and his family and was welcomed into their home before being given the largest, most enormous watermelon from their garden. I loved the diversity of the country and the friendliness of its people. How charming and welcoming they are. I’d been taken on a “low-medium” impact walk in the nearby countryside and experienced a humiliating few hours in the blistering heat at the hands of the Harare Mountaineering Club – thanks Wes!
I’ve attended meetings in the Ministry of Health, experiencing Zimbabwe’s bureaucracy and administration; and I’ve spent time in both the northern and southern suburbs of Harare, learning that there is a huge disparity in wealth and lifestyle. At all times I have felt very safe. Initially I felt uncomfortable with having a maid clean after me and remove my laundry, bring it back clean, ironed and beautifully folded; and that’s another aspect you learn is part of life here.
I’ve watched polo with the British Ambassador in attendance and seen her work out with AfroFit. I’ve seen dozens of youngsters’ ballroom dance and watched African dance to the beat of the drums. I’ve eaten at family meals and braais and I’ve been emotional at the welcome and friendship demonstrated towards me.
I’ve felt angry at the corruption and inequality of access to services and education. I’ve questioned the disparity of wages, expectations and living environments. I’ve been saddened at the decline of an obviously once beautiful city, and I’ve been shamed by my lack of knowledge of the colonisation of this proud country and its people.
Zimbabwe has given me so much more than a volunteering exercise, its broadened my horizons and taught me so much about the human spirit and … oh! Along the way I’ve worked with some inspirational people with a vision to have addiction treatment delivered in this country. So I have to come back, again and again to see this vision and dream realised.
I can’t wait!