After twenty-two hours’ worth of travelling in taxis, coaches and planes before finally touching down in Harare, anything goes. That sentiment hasn’t worn off even – or, especially – after three weeks settling into Zimbabwean life.
Out of the airport’s arrival hall and stepping into one of the famous commuter minibuses, or ‘combis,’ for the first time, we were naïve in being amazed at how spacious it was as we bounced through the dusty countryside. Africa has so far met expectations, and so much more.
If you can’t find inspiration to write a blog on an ICS placement you probably shouldn’t consider a career in writing, let alone international development. Fortunately, that worry has been extremely short lived. The words ‘cold’ and ‘Africa’ are not usually ones that go together suitably, however, strangely the words ‘fridge,’ ‘rodent,’ ‘planning’ and ‘ceiling,’ for various reasons, will also never mean the same again. These words have been the focal point of most discussions and meetings over the past two to three weeks, a time period in which, we have unanimously discovered the fast learning curve which takes place in international volunteering.
Nevertheless, laughter has often echoed around our delightfully large house in Bulawayo. All of us being well under the age of thirty, and very much aware that we have no idea what we’re doing, there is consolation in the fact that we’re all in the same boat. Luckily, our team leaders and especially the national volunteers have it all worked out for us, otherwise it would almost become a live comedy sketch show. That is not to say, of course, that things haven’t been taken seriously.
Ever since being accepted onto Progressio’s ICS scheme we have committed hours and hours to ambitious fundraising schemes – often sacrificing days at work and weekends – grinned and bared the needle for relentless courses of vaccines and stuffed immense rucksacks full of literally anything we might (but probably won’t) need for ten weeks overseas, until they can be feasibly used as ship anchors.
Most of us have never been to southern Africa, let alone Zimbabwe, so it is reassuring that our UK team leader was born in Harare, and if that isn’t enough comfort, we have each been paired with national volunteers of similar ages and their team leader. On meeting them for the first time in Mutare during in-country orientation, the national’s irresistible enthusiasm and vigour definitely helped to balance out our inherently-reserved Britishness.
After two days travelling to Bulawayo in mid-July we have had a dramatic and unforgettable introduction to Zimbabwean culture leaving our delivery of our own cultural-exchange ambitions rather anti-climactic. A UK commuter train ride is nothing on a combi ride through central Bulawayo in rush hour, if anything because there are guaranteed seats (if small), and they’re dependable without fail.
Our partner organisation, Restoration of Hope, a non-profit based in Zimbabwe’s second city and our temporary new home of Bulawayo, has bravely decided to take on fourteen ICS volunteers for its projects working with local schools, including pre-schools, and orphaned and vulnerable children. With a small permanent staff roster and a usually spacious office, our July to September 2014 cycle is leading the pilot Progressio ICS volunteer programme for the organisation, making the office cosy but efficient – not requiring the use of telephones at all. After relentless tapping for hours a day on our own laptop keyboards, starting mostly totally from scratch and often faced with persistently changing plans (which is now an expectation) eventually Progressio ICS will help to deliver Restoration of Hope’s objectives. One thing we have in common is our ambition, an unyielding ambition, even in the face of some peculiar adversities.
Receiving a rigorous work-out via hand-washing clothes also helps you to reconsider your life values. Tailoring never-ending plans for and working with ‘Africa-time’ on a daily basis leaves some of the more laid-back ones of us feeling like we were meant to live in Zimbabwe. Ignoring the advice of our parents by bringing only two or three hoodies, not considering Zimbabwe’s flatlands suburban winter nights, makes us reconsider plenty of other African stereotypes. During the day: short shorts, three-quarter leggings, t-shirts and barrels of sun cream all round. At night, especially in a house where a majority of the rooms lack ceilings: it can be cold in Africa.
Written by ICS volunteers in Zimbabwe