by Wendy Bodnar
“…And the journey to Zimbabwe began…”
We now had a short time to complete our fundraising and learn about a new destination, while preparing our teaching topics. I read many articles, researched websites, and heard from people who knew someone who had been to Zimbabwe. The picture that was painted was not a pretty one. It involved AIDS/HIV orphans, people with a 45-year life-span, racial tension, militant leadership, the fall of the Zimbabwean dollar, and crime-filled streets. The basic message: really think before you decide to travel to Zimbabwe. We were also warned about the deteriorating healthcare system, poor drinking water, safari accidents and deaths, and the presidential motorcade that will mow you down if you are in their way. Wow, God must really need us in Zimbabwe!
During our Orientation at the OCMC headquarters in St. Augustine, Florida, we learned more about teamwork, Zimbabwe itself, and the Bishop, His Eminence George. We discussed our teaching topics, practiced some of the local Shona language, and completed final preparations. We were reminded to go as learner-servants and to be good ambassadors for Christ and the mission program. Most importantly we were told to expect the unexpected, and that is just what we got.
“Expect the unexpected…”
In the past, when I had thought of Africa I had pictured dry land, with tall distinctive trees and exotic animals feeding and running in herds. I thought that I would learn more Shona and Ndebele to communicate with the native Africans. I imagined eating corn, bread, and sugar cane. I imagined staying in a small round hut and walking great distances to plant mission churches. This vision was as far off as the warnings that the media supplied before our arrival.
After a long journey, we arrived at the Harare airport. Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe and has a population of six million. We were greeted by His Eminence George, Father Michael (our team leader), and Father George (the priest at the Cathedral) – basically the Men in Black. They were all warm and friendly and very happy to see that we had arrived safely. As we drove through the streets of Harare, it appeared to be like any large city in North America. There was a distinct downtown with tall buildings and palm trees that lined the main thoroughfare. The men wore dress shirts with long sleeves and slacks – no shorts and t-shirts here – and the women had long skirts and flowery tops. The women balanced large bags, buckets, suitcases, and bags of oranges on their heads. (This was something I really wanted to master!) The men carried equally impressive loads, but on their shoulders instead of their heads. We were told that AmandaEve, Kevin, and I would stay in an apartment, and Clark and Father Michael would stay at the Metropolis house.
I learned that His Eminence was originally from Limmisol in Cyprus. We had much to talk about, as Cyprus is one of my favorite places I’ve visited. We learned later that many of the Zimbabweans of Greek-origin emigrated from this small island in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. What a blessing for me. My Orthodox life began in a Ukrainian Church, I also spent three years under the Greek Metropolis, and now I attend a church within the Antiochian archdiocese. God truly prepared me to feel at home with Father Michael, who is Carpatho-Russian, and His Eminence from Cyprus; we could share stories and the love of Halloumi cheese. I was able to follow the Greek services and felt quite at home with Father Michael’s Oche Nash (Our Father).
“I expected to stay in a hut, sleep with ants and eat corn and sugar cane…”
I expected to stay in a hut, sleep with ants and eat corn and sugar cane – instead we ate Greek delicacies, slept in comfortable beds and had hot showers daily. His Eminence George showed us every hospitality and acquainted us with both the Greek and indigenous Orthodox people in Zimbabwe. There were some disadvantages though; we were cautioned against leaving the safety of our apartment after 4:00pm, concrete walls with barbed wire and electronic gates and guards surrounded most of the buildings, homes, and apartments. Our own apartment had complete wrought iron gates that had to be locked in addition to our doors; we were even warned not to leave our bathroom windows opened as something may get stolen.
Within the Church, Shona and Ndebele peoples are coming in droves – over 800 for Liturgy at St. Nektarios in Harare–while the opposite is happening within the Greek Zimbabwean community. The duality of Orthodoxy here was interesting, and challenging. The Greeks love Zimbabwe – this is the only home that many of them have ever known – but when the land re-distribution occurred in 1980, many lost their family farms and their way of life. They left in droves, leaving only handfuls to keep the faith and to love the land they knew so well. This was a huge turning point for a country that was on the cusp of consumerism.