August 9th, 2016
Reflections of Zimbabwe
The world likes to put Africa in a box. It’s poor, it’s corrupt, it’s wild and beautiful. One of the most common things I’ve heard from people returning from mission trips is “It’s so amazing how thankful they were when we gave them _________. They were so happy”. But the thing is, they aren’t all happy, and they certainly aren’t all thankful. They steal each other’s husbands, envy each other’s belongings, lie, gossip, and suffer from addictions. Sound familiar? Its because they are humans. People are people. We all want to feel love, we all want community, purpose, security, happiness.
Watching the events of the Matopos community unfold over the last six months has been eye opening to say the least. Experiencing the epidemic of humanity in its most basic form can be startling. The idyllic african scene gives way to all the hurt and betrayal and devastation that has overcome the country in the past few decades. As a white person, you are viewed as a dollar sign. How am I to know if I am entering into a friendship or merely a banking relationship? How are we to know if the technologies and ideas we’ve brought to the table will actually be implemented in the community? What if they don’t care enough about the preschool to maintain it? It’s amidst these types of questions when I come to the conclusion that I absolutely cannot be doing this for myself, or recognition, or good stories, or dramatic photos. I can’t even be doing it for the people of Zimbabwe, because chances are, they may not even care. Seeing cycles of white faces come and go can have a draining affect on the locals. There is only One who any of this can be for, because His command was simple. Love Him and love others.
For all their human faults, this community has a leg up on us in a lot of ways. They could tell you how much water they consume in one day because they carry it on their heads from the nearest pond or spring. It probably equates to the amount of water we use to flush toilets daily. They wake up with the sun and go to bed with the sun - any electricity they use comes from the sun. They walk (or bike) everywhere. And we are talking miles and miles on the worst roads you’ve even seen. While they are walking, they are talking. They spend time with each other, they build relationships. They don’t waste anything, especially not food, because once they have taken 6 months to grow the corn, they pick it, they dry it, they husk it, they take it to the grinding mill on a donkey cart, they bring back 50 kg sacks of ground maize and then repeat. All things considered, we have a lot to learn.
Being out in the African Bush is isolating. Its the kind of isolation that can hurt at first, absolute quiet with none of the usual distractions to drown out your thoughts. No cell phones, no internet, no tv, no radio. The only options are hiking, running, climbing, swimming, reading, and thinking. It’s without the inundation of media that we’ve been able to realize how we are so steeped in it on a daily basis. The noise provides comfort, the silence is frightening. No public affirmation from Facebook or Instagram at a moments notice, no binge watching Netflix to veg out from a long day. Time to process, time to talk, time to focus on what’s happening in this world and what we’re doing and who we are. Getting out is hard, but getting out is so necessary. It’s not until we sit in solitude that we can even begin to ask ourselves the important questions. Getting out doesn’t have to mean going to Africa. It can mean going for a walk after work, or sitting on the beach, or going camping. It’s allowing your mind to have space to breathe. Because that’s where you can be honest with yourself about why it all matters anyway.
***over our six months in Zimbabwe Chris shot 18 rolls of black and white film on his Nikon f3. We just got his film scans back a week ago and had a wonderful wander down memory lane, reviewing our whole trip through film. All the photos in this blog post were shot on 35mm film by Chris.