Monday, March 05, 2007

Memories of Zimbabwe

I have decided to continue the process of recalling our sabbatical, June to December 2003. I say "our" (although it was technically "mine") because this was a last intentional family trip: Vaughn (then 21) and Nevin (then 17) joined us in a trip back to south and south-central Africa, so formative a part of my own growing up, as well as for our family.

While we were in Bulawayo we stayed at the Guest House, where years before there had been a children's hostel. It was both a delight and a bit surreal to live where I had lived in the 1960s.

While we were there we learned to know Mrs. Shumba. She had lost her home -- evicted for not paying the last $100 or so on her mortgage. She had cataracts and was almost blind, and had ignored the warning notices. (Long story: that's the short version.) She stayed at the Guest House while looking for a new home, and she and Lois became fast friends. Here she is singing with her children (who were part of a group called "Divine Appointment"): "Thula Sizwe" -- a song by Freedom Sengwayo, to comfort the Ndebele people.

We drove out to Matopo Secondary School, where I had lived and taught in the early 1970s, and where our family lived in the late 1950s. Matopo is deep in my consciousness: the place where I used to climb rocks, teach school, try to understand what it is to become an adult.
Elephant Rock is on the way to Matopo. Remarkable rock with remarkable resemblance to the elephant. Ndlovu. Over half of the 3000 acres of Matopo Mission is granite rock above the ground. This is just one of the rocks, so engraved in my memory.

We drove to get around. We bought a Mercedes Benz for what we could afford: wrong car for driving around Africa! Here a someone who worked for a local businessman siphons petrol into the car -- the only reliable source of fuel in a country where the economy had once been so strong. You could still get what you need in 2003, but foreign exchange helped. I could write many stories about this car, and may yet. But here the petrol is the problem, not the car. It managed its way out to Matopo and back, although the roads were so much worse than they had once been. In the late 1980s we could drive out easily. in 2003, the 30 miles took about two hours of careful driving around potholes and following the occasional tire tracks beside the road instead of in it.
We also re-connected with Mike and Lyn Burgess (third generation Zimbabweans). Mike and I taught together at the Theological College of Zimbabwe (1988 to 1992). He and I are age mates. We turned 40 together in 1990, just a few months apart.

Here he is 53, as am I in the picture below. Life in Zimbabwe is hard. Combined with health problems, it makes Mike look so much older. I noticed that many of my friends in their 40s and 50s had grey hair. Had I seen one or two like that, I would put it down to their genes. But so many: life in Zimbabwe today is hard.
Kyle is standing with them in the picture -- 16 years old. Now four years later he lives with us in Manitoba, going to school at Providence. A small chance to find a life beyond the loss of opportunity in Bulawayo.

I'm standing beside my house, or what was once my house. Two pictures from 30 years apart. Left: during our visit in 2003. Below: when I taught at Matopo in 1974. The house has changed a bit, but not as much as I have. Except that I don't feel all that different: married, children, a whole different life; but the same essential person inside.
It was so good to be in Bulawayo and to visit the Matopos. The beauty remains; the people are wonderful, amazingly strong and resilient. Click here for the sound of the region beyond the pain, or here for a website maintained by the Ndebele people in exile. But the country is also full of pain. After six weeks, knowing we had only a week left, I told Lois I didn't know if I could stand another week. And our friends there have endured almost four more years. Some wounds are too deep to talk about.

1 comment:

KGMom said...

Thanks so much for the photo of Elephant Rock. Dad has written about it in his memoirs, but I frankly don't recall it. Strange for a major landmark!
I love the "then and now" photos of you. So that's where your boys get the example of long hair! I do note that THEN the decoration in front was a football. And NOW there are flower pots!
This must be Africa remembrance week--can't wait to see what Denise will write.