Waking up to a day of mixed emotions. Today we begin out journey home, I will get to see and hold my family. Today we say goodbye, I don’t know if or when I will see Zimbabwe again. Today we will leave our accommodation and make the journey to the airport, unsure of what we might see or experience, half expecting quiet roads half replaying our journey two days earlier.
On offer for breakfast we have spring rolls, samosas, stir fry, potato wedges, and scrambled eggs. When all of the shops are closed for two days without time to prepare we are pleased for any food and impressed with our caters who have supplied us with another delicious meal. I opt for the stir fry, spring roll and samosa and it’s a first for me to have such a combination for breakfast. The last few items are packed into our bags and we prepare ourselves for leaving. I have got to know some of the staff of the lodge during the past few days and we exchange contact details with the promise of a place to stay should they ever make it to the UK. Just as I am chatting at the reception a familiar face appears. It takes a moment to register, our driver from the rest of our trip has come to see us. Having been stuck at home for the past couple of days he decided he would see if we were still around and came to say good bye. It is such a joy to see him. We had become close during the trip, he was one of our team and we’d not really been able to say goodbye properly.
We make sure he has some breakfast and we chat. His children have been off school as the school is closed so he has been able to spend time with them. I introduce our driver to one of the staff at the lodge who has talked about wanting to travel, saying that he is the person to see the country with. It seems they exchange details as she receives clients who want to see the country and therefore opportunities may lie ahead. Our next visitors are four of the college staff who have come to assist us in travelling to the airport.
After a few photos with our caterers and the lodge staff we load up the various vehicles. Our luggage is split between the pickups belonging to our driver and the college staff. Although there are seats in other vehicles that would allow us to ease space we stick together as a team in the minibus. The journey is thankfully uneventful. The roads are very quiet and our journey uneventful other than the back of the college staff’s pickup opening as they drove along exposing our luggage and risking a bag or two falling out. A quick reshuffle and we are on our way again. We took the longer route to the airport, avoiding the most direct route throught high density areas that today include army check points.
For the second time we say goodbye to our good friend who has driven us across this beautiful country of Zimbabwe, grateful that he came to see us and not as his job but as choice assisted us in our drive to the airport. The college staff stay for a coffee and I am grateful for the opportunity to chat with them, obtaining a list of book recommendations from each of them relating to their main teaching areas and my interest in Zimbabwe. The Principal is intrigued by my passion and love for Africa. It is something I have had since childhood and I don’t know where it has come from but it has been reawakened and reinvigorated over these past two weeks.
The college staff say their goodbyes and leave us with a number of hours to fill at the airport. We can’t check in for another 3 hours and so a few of us decide to have a walk around. Most things are closed as a consequence of the general strike. We get a glimmer of excitement when we find a pool table only to be disappointed when we discover it requires a token which is only available from the adjoining restaurant which is closed. Fridges that would typically stock soda’s and juice are empty as there is no one bringing supplies A couple of craft shops remain open and we are amused by a poster stating “The Party Starts Here” yet everywhere is closed and there are few people around.
As we had driven into the airport I’m been interested in the control tower. It is a unique looking building and reminds me of a lighthouse. I wonder out across the car park to take a photo. En route I notice a dragonfly lying on the floor. I realise it is dead but I am taken in by its beauty. I pick it up and inspect the colours, the fragility of the wings yet the perfect structure and formation. I take it to show to the team and then return it outside. As I lay it on the ground and turn back inside I take my last breathe of Zimbabwean air and feel there is some kind of message or analogy of the beautiful remains of the dragonfly and the situations facing Zimbabwe. I don’t know what the analogy is, but it leaves me thoughtful and glad to know the moment I stepped inside the airport and out of the Zimbabwean air for the last time.
Despite the shortage of supplies in the drinks fridges and all of the closures our team leader has somehow managed to arrange for lunch for the whole team. We move to a restaurant and enjoy toasted sandwiches and wedge like chips before are check in time arrives and we move towards the departure lounge. I am carrying a small drum in my hand luggage and each attendant at the check in desk and security ask to take a look and either play themselves or ask me if I can play.
For one last time we gather together to debrief, reflect and to pray. It is good to hear of some of the things that people will be taking away from this trip, it is humbling. We pray specifically for the two guys who have led our trip and for the partnerships that are being developed between different theological colleges around the world to bring about cross cultural, cross institutional theology training in the form of an online platform.
A number of us walk around the various shops looking at the same items we had seen in the markets. I’m tempted by a few books and try to find some kind of deodorant or body spray tester in the duty free shop so that I can freshen up. Just before boarding the internet returns. There is excitement as people reach for their phones and realise the potential for getting in touch with the outside world. It seems that the internet is available but that social media is not. Therefore I text my wife to let her know we are boarding and on our way home.
We board the plane and I am pleased to have a window seat (I usually prefer the aisle for leg room) as I can watch as we fly across Zimbabwe. I don’t know when we cross the border to South Africa but I have quietly watched the rivers pass beneath us, the land, the greens and browns, the clouds between and the sun coming down. It is with sadness that I watch Zimbabwe disappear from view but I am happy to be going home and pleased to have had these final moments to quietly say good bye to the country I love.
I hope it’s not another 20 years before breathe in, feel, smell, and taste the Zimbabwe air again but this past two weeks has been a gift, a time I never thought would happen, and I feel content.
We land in Johannesburg and have joyous bus ride from the plane to the terminal as we end up chatting with a number of folk around us, with five different languages (English, Shona, Xhosa and Sign Language) and even more nationalities all greeting one another and wishing one another a good onward journey.
As we enter the terminal we connect to wifi and as soon as I am through the security check point I message home and video call my wife and children. After two days it is so great to see them and speak with them. Next time I see them it will be when I get home and can hold them too.
The plane isn’t full so we are all able to sit close together but have a couple of seats each to spread out. Dinner is served and most people fall asleep or doze. I can’t sleep so I sit and write this; tired, content and grateful for a wonderful trip, happy that I will shortly be holding my babies again, and wondering and daring to dream a little about what may come next.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’