Return to Zimbabwe

16 years is a long time in our speed oriented world when so much happens in our lives in just a week! Going back to this other home, which I have missed deeply since I lived there for a year in 1991, has proven to be another hugely significant experience. Many of you would know about the email we received from Jenny N. telling us that her husband John, and 2 neighbours, had been arrested and faced the penalty of death by hanging. This email set a chain of amazing events into being, which resulted in me flying to Harare on the 27th May.

After many delays, and an aborted South African Airways flight, that turned back to Johannesburg at the Zimbabwe border because of engine trouble(!!!) (many of you know how much I enjoy flying!!!!), I finally walked through Harare immigration, after buying my 30 day visa in US dollars, and was met by John – a little older, a little thinner, but the same wonderful, exuberant John who was closer than a brother to me and remains so.

16 years! Where do you start?

Seeing Jenny again, the 3 children – Shannon, Kim and Lana – now all married, AND meeting  6 grandchildren, really was like going through a time dimension. I had last played with Lana, now 24, when she was 8.  As we sat at a very large table under a thatched roof, the years literally disappeared and truly I knew I had come home.

In the 2 weeks I was there, there were many conversations about memories and events from so long ago, and all that had happened, especially this year. Can you imagine being wakened at around 2am, with no warning of what was to happen, for your youngest daughter to answer the door and have an AK47 shoved in her face, and then to have military personnel storm your property – over 400 special forces had cordoned off the area surrounding John’s property –  and to see helicopter gunships hovering over your home, as you were thrown into the back of a truck and taken to an unknown destination for questioning?

John described his time in a maximum security prison, in a cholera, HIV, lice infested cell. Around 10 prisoners die a week here, and many times the bodies are left in the cells for several days before they are removed.

Many prisoners were severely beaten, and John told me that he would lie on the cell floor at night waiting for the door to open and for him to be taken out for similar punishment. It didn’t happen. When John became so sick that he was finally allowed to be taken to hospital, he had 5 armed guards accompany and guard him in intensive care, and leg irons chained to him.

His case was brought to the Supreme Court in early March and thrown out by the judge. And it had all started with someone wanting to take over his neighbour’s land!

John and Jenny have established and run for some years now Tree of Life adventure camps. It is an incredible enterprise which I was able to witness in action when I was there. The accusations against John and his 2 neighbours were directly linked with these camps- that instead of adventure, activities of a more subversive kind were taking place.

As John and Jenny reminded me again This is Africa.

The suitcase of medical items I brought with me from Crossroads, Jenny and I were blessed to be able to take to a medical clinic in Harare. Everything Veronica (in our medical department) had given me at the last minute before I left, was not only very useful, but in some cases was miraculous provision of desperately needed equipment, such as catheters and sterile dressings and bandages. Jenny and I spent an hour and a half with these wonderful nurses and staff. One of the most urgently needed items is colostomy bags which are needed for fistula and other patients.

After the medical facility, Jenny drove me to an HIV and Aids clinic, also in Harare, where I was invited to go through the entire process of pre and post counseling and HIV testing as a patient. This was an amazing privilege and one that I certainly did not anticipate. I have never had an HIV test  and never imagined I would experience one in Zimbabwe, where, in the words of a UNICEF spokesperson:“Every day children in Zimbabwe are dying of HIV/AIDS, every day children are becoming infected, orphaned, and forced to leave school to care for sick parents”.

In 2006 a Zimbabwean doctor explained to reporters: “Put simply, people are dying of AIDS before they can starve to death”

At present, the average life expectancy for women, who are particularly affected by Zimbabwe’s AIDS epidemic, is 34 – the lowest anywhere in the world. Officials from the World Health Organisation have admitted that since this figure is based on data collected a few years ago, the real number may be as low as 30.

According to UNICEF, Zimbabwe has a higher number of orphans, in proportion to its population, than any other country in the world. Most of these cases are a result of parents dying from AIDS.

Another highlight of my trip, was visiting a consignee in Bulawayo to whom Crossroads will be sending a container soon. Jenny and I shared the driving between Harare and Bulawayo, approximately 6 hours each way, and were able to visit dear friends in Kadoma, where I had lived and taught in 1991. After a night’s rest in a lodge, Jenny and I visited our consignee, a delightful home where orphaned and abandoned babies are loved and cared for.

This work, overseen by a passionate young guy from Port Macquarie, Australia, has many facets, including a home for street children, a soup kitchen and a medical clinic. To meet a fellow Aussie – and from our home area – was more than a treat.

Before leaving Zimbabwe, John extracted one promise from me – that next time Jim, Isaac and Georgie would come as well.

A particular joy for me was being able to give him and Jenny the 4 albums of songs which have come out of the last 16 years,  beginning with “They Told Me This Is Africa”. There is a line in the last song on that album which says,

‘one day my child will feel my Africa’s embrace’.

Jim and I believe and hope that will be soon!

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