With preparation as a key factor to success, I began my research for Zimbabwe pre-departure. One of the things I discovered is that Zimbabwe has an 80 per cent Christian population. I noted this point noticeably as a practicing Muslim and gathered several sources of information to take with me. When I arrived, I realised I would be staying with a Pastor in a Baptist Church and upfront with a statistic I had read. When we arrived in Gweru, we were introduced to all our host parents straight away and then driven to our homes.
Upon arrival we were given a tour of the church. I remember the twinkle in my host father’s eyes as he mentioned the baptism pool, apprehensive thoughts submerged my mind with me thinking ‘does he want to convert me?’. After a meal and introductions to various close members of the community, me and my roommate Jack, Stephanie and Rhiannon were invited to the Sunday evening church service where we were welcomed by many members of the community. We were introduced as honoured guests and even given Shona names to bond well with the community, me being Takudzwa meaning praise, and my roommate Jack being Tatienda, meaning appreciation.
Church was also new to many of the other volunteers, some of whom were agnostics and atheists, so we were all facing challenges in our own way. I remember sitting in my room thinking how I would fit in with this family, however as time progressed, I found my conceived anxiety to fade like a mirage. I didn’t even have to think, such good, open communication and understanding flourished between us that we marvelled in the exchange of ideas. One of the first hurdles that presented itself was that of Halal (permitted) food. This can sometimes be difficult to come by and only a few places cater for this, however my host mother and father totally shone the light on the local supermarket Choppies, which sold halal foods. We frequented this place a lot for our groceries, amongst other treats...
Another challenge faced was trying to avoid being throttled by my roommate... To justly elaborate, I would set my alarm for 4:30am everyday for the Morning Prayer, since as a Muslim we pray five times a day as a means of remembrance. Unfortunately, sometimes the slumber was too heavy to rise for the Morning Prayer, and I would end up hitting the snooze button several times until awakened by Jack’s shriek to wake up. Currently Jack prevents my record of hitting the snooze reaching higher than five...
My relationship with my host father grew as time unwound and we bounced many ideas off each other regarding Christianity and Islam. I also gifted him with a Quran and other material before the end of my cycle. I attended the Church service every Sunday, as I was interested to see how they conducted their services. At times I felt a bit stiff compared to the others who delved into the rhythm. It was a difficult situation since sometimes I had the urge to go along with the service, however at the back of my mind knowing I shouldn’t since the service is centred around the worship of Jesus, which we cannot do since we regard God as Supreme and unequal with man. I felt at ease being with the other volunteers who were, for the most part, as still as I was. However, we attended the service with a positive mindset; to be a part of something, and welcome the experience.
Concluding my experience, I can say that with an open mind set it was far easier to integrate, and by realising that the world is not the same and by welcoming challenges, we grow stronger. My host father also showed me the local Mosque whereby I could do my prayers. I could freely practice my faith there, getting to know the Muslim brothers whilst alongside also learning about Christianity and meeting different Christian brothers and sisters. It was most certainly an excellent exposure, with the cross-cultural exchange and sharing of ideas.
Written by ICS Alumni Ahmad Onsori (January - March 2016, Team MASO, Gweru, Zimbabwe)