Unlike our rocky Rowa roads, the Rowa Runners cycle 3 was a smooth ride to success. Those of you who follow our blogs will know about the various differences between the UK and Zimbabwean cultures. Shira and Ela showed the world how Zimbabweans were weird to the UK volunteers, and Ronnie explained what makes the UK volunteers weird to us Zimbabweans. If you’re not from Zimbabwe or the UK, you might find us all weird. Intrigue and amusement came from these blogs for most people but for me, I was left worried, almost scared, of the unknown because I feared that these differences would make the placement difficult.

However, these differences made us work well as a team because we often complimented each other. For instance, us nationals think it’s strange that the UK volunteers bathe at night because we bathe in the morning, but this stops bathroom queues and everyone smells fresh at work, which is always a bonus.

Of course there were some language barriers in sessions since the team worked only in the Rural Rowa, but the UK volunteers definitely gave Shona a good try. This amused the families, I mean, who would expect a “makadini” from a murungu. Attempting and sometimes getting it wrong made our workshops really interesting and our participants more engaged following Shira’s “pepeta” and a commanding “endai uko” (go there) by James. We certainly learnt some British slang, although I don’t think other Zimbabweans will ever understand it.

It was amusing to talk about how western Zimbabwe is because the UK volunteers were surprised by this. I think maybe they were expecting some kind of tribal culture, maybe with the odd Flintstone cars. They were probably expecting us to be overwhelmed by technology, but things like Whatsapp, music and Wi-Fi are such big things here. By the sound of things, I think the UK volunteers were expecting to be contacting their parents via letter or carrier pigeon. Although Whatsapp has come in handy for all of us, I guess they were right in assuming the postal system here is definitely different from theirs.

Obviously, growing up in Zimbabwe, if I need anything from the shops, I wouldn’t think twice, I would just go. Well the UK volunteers initially didn’t seem to share the same mentality. Becca, the Rowa Power pack, likes to run and exercise in general, crazy lady! But she was apprehensive about going running on her own because of potential safety issues. She took the plunge and went, since no one had enough energy to join her. She noticed someone running with her and not knowing who it was she picked up the pace, and so did he. Was he following her, will she be ok? I’m sure these questions were running swiftly through Becca’s head. After almost a sprint she realised he was just running with her. They then ran together and Becca learned some new running routes, so smiles all around.

We were open minded about the UK volunteers and their unusual culture, but we were warned before we began. At first we were unsure of how the communities would react and even accept the UK volunteers, especially because of the histories between the countries. As we expected, they were warmly welcomed by the communities, often taking the leading roles in the successful meetings we held. For example, we helped open bank accounts for our beneficiaries and created market linkages, which we are very proud of. 

As impressive working cross culturally is, we also learned how wrong we can be about our communities. For example, the UK volunteers went to Sakubva on their own. This, if you know Zimbabwe, is not advisable. We were all expecting them to come back either hurt or without some of their belongings, so it was to our surprise that they came back all in one piece with all their belongings in tack and a happy story of how they got lost on their way. They also returned with a bunch of lovely items from the market.

Wait up, my blog is about me wondering where the fights were. Well there have obviously been issues with us working together cross-culturally. Most of them are not really worth mentioning as they are normal collisions between colleagues and cultures. Things like the UK volunteers walking to the kitchen 15 minutes into the break time to find all two loaves of bread finished. This was a sensitive issue (Grace can be a witness) but the national volunteers argued that bread is often left behind and assumed the UK volunteers did not want any carbs that day, as this is often the case. However, this issue was quickly resolved through dialogue and no one missed bread again. Ronnie managed to cut down his bread intake to three pieces of bread a day, which is almost like having that small communion bread for my friend Ronnie who deems himself the typical African man.

Our learning workshops became a marvel because of our cultural differences. The UK volunteers introduced learning workshop schedules to help workshops run more smoothly. This would include the general set up of the day, as well as the information and times. This was a struggle for the national volunteers because, as you may now know, us Zimbabwean’s do not work well within a time frame. Although sticking to a written programme was foreign to me, I would always make sure that everything on the programme was completed. Given this difference, there was bound to be conflicts between the national and the UK volunteers. An example of this is that during our last workshop the programme got slightly changed and my fellow UK friends were infuriated as a result. But like the Rowa Runners always do, despite maybe not really liking each other for the day, we stuck together and got the work done and the workshop was a success! On our way back to Mutare in our lovely Ebenezer, we bonded again and all was well. From then on, the national volunteers learnt that we should follow the written programme, and the UK volunteers also learnt that they should be flexible, especially when working with grannies and kids.

At the end of our journey, we have realised one thing was commonly foreign to both of us during our placement, the fights. If Rowa Runners were a place, I would call it ‘Paradise’. A place where happiness makes fighting and quarrelling impossible or extinct. I wouldn’t mind staying with my team for the rest of my remaining life.

Written by ICS volunteer Tafadzwa Monalisa Gora (January - March 2016 cycle, Simukai Rowa Runners)