Today we faced the final long drive in our pilgrimage across Zimbabwe, heading to the capital, Harare. At breakfast I notice a fruit in the bowl that I am not sure I have seen before, I inspect it and guess that it must be lychee, given my nature to try new things I taste for the first time fresh lychee, rather than canned, and it is delicious. We load bags into the trailer and climb aboard the bus, knowing that at the end of this journey we say goodbye to our driver who has become one of our team, a friend who will be missed. We make a quick stop at the Prince of Wales View as someone wants to pick up a particular soap stone carving and then we settle into the drive.
Of course there are the now typical road blocks of cattle and police. On three occasions the police point us to pull over rather than waving us through. I now have a few words of Shona and am able to greet them, I have learned it brings great pleasure to have a white person speak Shona as it is so unheard of. On the first two occasions after a quick greeting and short chat about our trip we are waved onwards. The third occasion is a little more daunting as the officer makes a point about seatbelt wearing and looks at me in the passenger seat to pay a fine. I pull a $10 bill from my wallet, as requested, and rather than taking it he then says it is too much and waves us on.
We have a restroom break after a couple of hours drive and are treated to an icecream. There is some concern about the accommodation we are heading towards, with the potential that we may need to change plans but it is resolved and we travel onwards. After another hour or so we pull in to a Chicken Inn, a place that had become a regular lunch stop for us. The rain is pouring down, so hard and fast that it would be possible to stand outside and shower. We run from the bus to the building and in just a few metres we are soaked. The power is off and so food choices are limited compared to usual but the various fast food counters are still selling what they can. As we eat we watch the rain pour down and the streams and rivers running across the car park outside. As we get up leave I am irritated by the mess left by some of our team. Most rubbish is taken and placed in the bins, but it seems that service we have received since being in Zimbabwe is causing us to become expectant to be served and to have someone clean up after us. There is something about the look on the face of the waitress that tells me she’s also annoyed by the mess. As Christian’s we are called to serve, and as I mentioned earlier in the week the phrase ‘servant leadership’ sits uncomfortably with me, it is when we model an expectancy of being served that the phrase loses all meaning whatever our words may say.
We drive onwards through the rain. Our driver is from the Harare area and is there able to talk a little about the places we pass. I am struck at one point when he points to an area that looks like an area that is simply a natural area of trees and vegetation. Our driver says that this was a farm that grew Gum Trees, they produce naturally straight poles which are used to construct houses. It is perhaps the first time I have knowingly seen such a farm, the result of the land appropriation of the early 2000’s resulting in the exodus of white farmers.
As we draw closer to the city the roads become busier, there are more people walking along the roadside, more homes and other buildings. We leave the main road and make our way up a dusty potholed road eventually arriving at the United Theological College (UTC). UTC are our hosts for the last few days in Zimbabwe, though we are not staying at the college they are partnering with Cliff College and are organising some of the meetings, visits and sessions for us whilst we are in Harare.
There are a few introductions and a toilet break and then it is time to say goodbye to our driver of the past couple of weeks. For the next few days the college have a minibus we are using and therefore we have a change of transport and driver. I have grown close to our driver during our trip, he has been with our team for the all the time we’ve been together other than the flights to get here. We exchange details and bid farewell.
The team load into a minibus, a considerably smaller vedhicle that we have been accustomed to for the trip. To provide a little extra room for this journey a couple of us travel by car. Having become use to the riding at the front of a bus, with a clear view over cars and where we are going it is a different experience to be in a car, having to trust a very different driver in a city I do not know, and we can certainly feel every pothole.
Where we are staying is in the wealthy part of town and so we travel across the city away from the college and go for dinner in a Garfunkels Restaurant. It is strange to walk in to a sea of white faces but great to eat something that isn’t fried chicken. We have wifi so I am able to call home and my heart aches to hear that my boy has had a difficult day and is feeling sad, I miss my family every day but to see him like this and to be so far away and unable to comfort him is distressing. At the same time I know how fortunate I am to be able to choose to travel, to have access to video calling, and to know that he is safe at home with his mum and sister.
Over a pizza at our end of the table we chat and I pose the question, “what are your three highlights of the trip so far?” Answers include a certain bed, canoeing on the Zambezi, the Victoria Falls, when we were leaving Hwange and spotted an elephant, and the team discussions and reflections we’ve begun in the evenings. We all agree that Dr. Raymond Motsi was a highlight and for those who attended the orphanage yesterday it was head and shoulders above everything.
I also ask what the hardest part of the trip has been, expecting to us to reflect and chat at a later point. Some immediately answers “money” and explains that knowing we are seeing people with so little money but as a team are quite liberal with our own.
We leave for our accommodation. A backpackers lodge that we have completely booked out for ourselves. I have a room to myself and there are some good communal spaces. Another day of travel complete, more time to reflect and a new set of experiences begin in the morning.