Having returned from my ICS placement in Zimbabwe, I'm cycling speedily through the streets of a busy English city, surrounded by people occupying themselves with the daily rush of this urban jungle. People brush shoulders, overtake each other, their eyes glued to mobile phones and earphones securely in place to drown out the noise of the outside world. I'm left wondering how it could be that I felt so alone, when being surrounded by so many people. Perhaps it was reverse culture shock kicking in. So I started to question, what is it that makes places so different, and why is it that I'm thinking about this now? The icy air tickled my nose and rain drops hit my cheek. As I came in out of the cold, I was welcomed by a stranger opening the cafe door, who with the warmest of smiles and thickest of Mancunian accents, said, ''there you go, sunshine''! And then it hit me. People!
People make the world go round; we create, build, learn, love, teach, adapt, design and discover. But isn't it funny how even though the scale of globalisation is booming, technologies are forever developing and the world is getting continuously smaller through the interchange of world views and connectivity, we are still afraid of fully opening ourselves up to a world that encapsulates a myriad of cultures. The same way the smiley Mancunian welcomed me in to the cafe was the same way my Zimbabwean host family welcomed me in to their home! Drenched from the rain, tired from the journey and nervous for the unknown, I arrived at Tsonzo, Mutasa District in Eastern Zimbabwe. Welcomed with open arms, loud laughs and cheers of happiness by half a dozen Zimbabwean women. I had no idea what I was in for – little did I know these wonderful women were to become not only my family, but the characters and personalities that shaped and influenced me to this day! For now, let me introduce you to just two of these magnificent humans.
Mama Godo... Where do I begin and how can my words possibly be enough to give this wonderful, empowering woman justice? My host mum, Mama Godo, is a Primary School Teacher - kind, caring, loving and never without a smile. We cooked together and exchanged recipes, talked of cultures and customs, shared opinions and she opened up to me about her family struggles and childhood upbringing, amidst a time of instability in Zimbabwe. The more I listened the more I came to realise how much she had been through; the battles she had faced, the despair and heartache she had suffered. Surely after experiencing so much hardship, wouldn't a person crumble? Wouldn't a person completely turn their back on the world? Mama Godo, a grandmother and a mother of four, is a central member of her school, church and community. She brought people together and it was the unity of her family and community that got her through. She has taught me that by closing your heart and shutting your eyes to the world, you are preventing yourself from helping others, and being helped by those who want to care for and support you.
Juliet Nyatsanza... What a woman! This beautiful, spirited elderly lady has been dealing with illness, yet still managed to win races against me whilst we carried buckets of water from the well! Biggest smile, kindest heart and the most contagious laugh you will ever hear. With her broken English and my little knowledge of Shona, a lot of body language and some funny facial expressions here and there, we managed to communicate and learn about each other. Juliet and I, with the company of 3-year-old Jonzo, were often the only people in the house; we spent a lot of down time drawing storyboards, singing and laughing together. We formed a close bond. On the last day of my ICS placement in Mutasa, a saddening incident struck. The Head Teacher of the secondary school, who was the pillar of the community, had passed away due to a car accident. The memory of Juliet's tear-filled eyes at 5am, screech of crying pain and her weak embrace falling upon my body as I held her frame, is one that I shall never forget. No words of comfort could have been exchanged here due to our language barrier, merely compassion, understanding and an open heart.
I'm writing now to express that we don't need to speak the same language to understand the workings of the human race. We don't need to close our hearts and eyes to the world when times get tough. What we need to do is completely the opposite. Reach out to learn about one another, exchange moral ideals and exchange cultural values to increase understanding. My host family in Mutasa did not have a lot, but they had a strong community who were rich in spirit, love, and happiness. The generosity of the community was overwhelming and their inclusion and cultural curiosity towards me, even more so.
So now, having returned from my ICS placement in Zimbabwe to the harsh British weather, I cycle speedily through the streets of a busy city and I realise that the rush is the same, but it's the people who are different. The pace of life in Zimbabwe, the patience of the people and atmosphere where people have very little, is rich in community spirit. So, if you're reading this, I would like you to remember that you can be the kind stranger who stops to open doors, gives a smile and makes the world a smaller, better place where a world-wide community can be formed.
Written by ICS Team Leader Veronica Tarasiewicz (October 2015 - March 2016 cycles, Zimbabwe)