Jill's African Adventure
* The Problems of Zimbabwe
* Visiting Isabel
* A Day by the River
* Practical Stuff (But please read!)
* The Elephants Don't Want Me to Eat
* Its a Small World (Blantyre and Beyond)
* The Night Bus: From Nkhata Bay to Zomba
* Lake Malawi
* Reflections on East Africa
* The Long Road to Malawi: Part 2
* The Long Road to Malawi: Part 1
* Parc National des Volcans
* Kibale Forest
* Back and Forth from Kampala
* Rafting the Nile
* Murchison Falls
* A Day in The Life
* Hell's Gate
September 13, 2005
A few years ago I started sponsoring two children who live in Africa: Chantal in Rwanda and Isabel in Zimbabwe. Given the political situation in those two countries, I wasn't sure that I wanted to go visit them, but eventually decided that I did want to. Unfortunately, a lack of communication made it impossible to visit Chantal, but a million e-mails and an international fax later I was finally able to visit Isabel in late August.
It was an amazing experience. The day started with lots of meetings. The previous day I had met many of the workers in Harare office of the organization through which I sponsor Isabel and was then driven out to an area near where Isabel lives. Having met almost everyone who worked for the organization in Harare, I had to spend the next morning seemingly meeting all of the field workers for the organization as well as a number of the government officials in the district Isabel lives in. I was beginning to feel like I would never actually make it out to the village. Having a sponsor come from abroad is a really big deal and I was treated like a dignitary, which was nice on the one hand, but very annoying on the other. I just wanted to get out and meet Isabel!
Eventually we began the half-hour ride out to Isabel's village. The village is in a very hot and dry area called Mudzi in the East of Zimbabwe, about 20km from the Mozambican border. The last four years have brought drought to the area, so I don't know how it normally is, but the landscape was all yellow and browns and everything looked dead and dry. The villages were different from those I have seen in other parts of Africa. Usually, homes are clustered together, but in Mudzi they all seemed very spread apart. Many people seemed not to live within shouting distance of their nearest neighbors.
Upon arrival at Isabel's home I was welcomed by about twenty to thirty children singing for me and a number of adults coming to greet me and shake my hand. With the children still singing and leading the way, I was brought over to sit in a chair underneath the shade of a tree. Isabel's uncle (in place of her father who had died last year) and my "translator" from the organization were also seated in chairs. Isabel was brought a water jug to sit on and her mother, Rosemary, and younger brother also sat up in the front with us. (Well, Isabel brother is about two, so he didn't sit as much as toddle around and cling to Isabel's mom, to Isabel, and to me in an attempt to play with my camera.) The men mostly sat off to the side on logs in the shade and the women and children sat facing me on a tarp that had been laid out, children in front, women in the back.
When the children stopped singing, the speeches began. It seemed that all of the adults in the village had to welcome me, thank me, and tell me about all the good things the organization had done in the community. Many pictures of me with various people in the village also had to be taken. I felt very welcomed and honored, but I could really have done with a few less speeches, which tended to be rather repetitive. I also found it rather difficult to manage to say something nice, relevant, and different to everyone who spoke.
After all the speeches had been concluded Isabel and Rosemary showed me where their home which consisted of two huts: a bedroom hut and a kitchen hut. (The kitchen hut had been largely cleared out to accommodate some guest who had come for my visit. Isabel's uncle, the head of the family, had apparently travelled about 200km to meet me.) It was at this time that Isabel discovered the candy that was in the small backpack I had given her. After the very short tour, Isabel, her Mom, brother, sister, uncle, all the organization staff present, various other relatives, and I piled into a pickup truck and went to visit the secondary school that was being built by the organization. It was truly Isabel's day -- she got to sit up in the front with me rather than in the back seat or the truck bed. The wasn't much to see at the school, but this is where the candy was finished.
After visiting the school, we went to a see a vegetable garden that belonged to Isabel's extended family. It was a fairly typical vegetable garden the highlight of my visit at the garden was that Isabel got around to naming her new stuffed bear. (Actually, it is a slightly "previoulsy-loved" stuffed bear. Not too much choice in the Lusaka markets.) Its name is now Alisa.
Our return to Isabel's home was welcomed with singing children again and I was then brought for a visit of Isabel's immediate family's garden. All the children and adults came with us. The garden had probably never had a quarter as many people in it before. Isabel watered some of the plants for a photo-op. A small water jug was used as a watering can and the water was collected from a very muddy watering hole on the property.
When I got back to my chair under the shade I was presented with gifts. It never fails to amaze me how generous people who have essentially nothing can be. Rosemary presented me with some carved wooden zebras and birds as well as two baskets she had made herself: one for me and one for my mom. The village head presented me with some carved wooden birds. They are gorgeous and I know that I will always treasure the gifts. (The carvings were all made locally. If Zimbabwe had more tourism at present, there would be a market for the villagers to sell them, but, unfortunately, the political situation in the country is currently driving foreigners away.)
After the gift giving it was time to eat. All the children lined up in a very orderly manner to have their hands washed and to get their juice, cookies, and cheese puffs. (The cheese puffs were initially limited to two per child. Amazingly, none of the kids - except Isabel who was milking the day for all it was worth - even tried to sneak an extra one.) Once all the kids had eaten, they went off to play. (Again except for Isabel who my translater told me wanted to stay me.) The adults then got to eat. We had chicken, sadza (maize-meal porridge), and greens. The men and women did not eat together. The men ate where we had been sitting and the women (who weren't too busy serving) ate under the shade of another tree. Traditionally, men and women only eat together if they are married. This, of course, created a bit of a weird situation for me. As the guest of honor I, of course ate with the men. I think that it would have been nice to sit with the women, but, strangely enough I think that would have been inappropriate. Plus, my translator was male, so I wouldn't have been able to talk to anyone if I had eaten with the women.
It became clear to me during my visit that I wasn't just visiting Isabel and her family. My coming was a big event for the whole community. The headman was there, Isabel's uncle had travelled very far to come and meet me, and everyone wanted to talk with me. Some of the children had probably never seen a white person before, and none of them had ever before been visited by a sponsor. Although I had come to visit Isabel, I was, in fact, an important visitor to the whole community. Even now, it is difficult to understand why my coming meant so much to everyone in the village, but it was very clear that it did.
Soon however, it was time for me to leave. I had had a wonderful time and as I sat in the car waving good-bye to everyone I had a smile on my face and the sound of the kids singing in my ears.
Posted by Jillian on September 13, 2005 06:32 AM
Category: Southern Africa
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