It’s night, everybody tries to sleep. Except for the two small girls next to me. They can’t stop playing some game on the computer screen in front of them. At three o’clock in the morning a warm meal is served which fills the plane with the smell of beef. Then I suddenly see a light in the horizon. The sun is rising over Africa!
My first steps on African soil are in Addis Ababa where I change flights. During the last part of the journey I can see the enormous Lake Malawi 11 kilometers below us. The fact that my luggage got stuck in Addis and that it’s just me in my winter clothing arriving in warm Zimbabwe can’t spoil my excitement of finally seeing Zimbabwe with my own eyes!
John, the director of IMBA Zimbabwe, awaits me at the airport of Harare. My first impressions are the green scenery of Zimbabwe and the many people walking seemingly carefreely on the side of the road. Suddenly it’s raining cats and dogs and the thunder gives me a spectacular welcome. The potholes in the sandy roads force us to sway from one side to the other.
I stay in a cute, small house which is surrounded by blossoming trees. Sounds of playing children and hooting cars fill the gentle warm air. The house is located on the terrain of Young Africa, a school that provides practical and academic education to youngsters. I will not be lonely here: there are many students, the friendly guards are at their posts, there are curious neighbor boys of four and seven years and of course there is Mai Jessy, Young Africa’s housekeeper. They all love small talk and help me adjust to the different lifestyle.
Shaking and clapping hands
It’s clear that I am new in Zim, sometimes I am puzzled by the behavior of others. For example I soon discover that a firm, Dutch handshake is not the custom in Zimbabwe. Here we take each other’s hand, then each other’s thumb and then the hand again. Another time I gave the neighbor boys a piece of cooked beetroot. Before they accepted it, they clapped their hands one time. I assumed they clapped off the bacteria this way, but later I found out it’s a sign of appreciation for the food. One morning I see some girls picking what looks like grapes from a tree. They give me a hutè too and I am surprised by the unique, sweet taste.
With my hands
My first visit to IMBA! The terrain is so large! The children spot me from afar and we wave to each other. Two of the younger kids come running down the road to greet me. It’s thrilling to finally meet the children. We have been looking forward to meeting each other. It strikes me how well-mannered and kind they are. They show me their house, the fishpond and their gardens where they grow all kinds of vegetables and herbs. I am eating dinner with the IMBA family. They serve sadza with salty pumpkin leaves which we eat with our hands. They can’t believe that it’s the first time ever in my life that I eat sadza. Sadza in Zim is like bread in Holland.
Are you ready?
Summer holiday is over and everyone is getting ready for the new school season. School fees and uniforms are priority concerns right now, also for the children at IMBA. That’s how I end up in one of Harare’s suburb Highfields, where countless people sew uniforms in workshops. Late-evening we return home with the precious uniforms. Another day at IMBA one of the girls proudly shows me her new shoes for school.
I am white
I am practically the only white person in Chitungwiza and the people that pass by let me know this once more by exclaiming ‘madam!’ and ‘murungu!’ (white!). Children are walking back to look at me a second time and one small boy is even scared of me and starts crying, poor sweetheart.
My research has started! It looks like it’s going to be very interesting. The reintegration process of children can be a matter of difficult issues and we need to handle the case of each child with royal delicacy. I feel very fortunate to be involved with IMBA, for I see that the team at IMBA is sincerely seeking the best interest of every child. Not surprisingly, once you know these precious children!