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Living and Learning in Zimbabwe: The Power of a Smile

I spent from June – December of 2013 living, learning, and working in Nkayi, Zimbabwe as a World Vision Canada Intern. I was asked by Living Zimbabwe to write a piece with some helpful hints for people traveling to Zimbabwe. I have tried my best to avoid the typical travel advice of “boil your water” and “ladies should wear skirts” and “don’t walk around outside in the dark alone”, because while those are great tips, they don’t mean anything. I’ve tried to make my advice meaningful; something that maybe you won’t read in the Lonely Planet book or hear from your Travel Health Clinic.

  1. Actually visit with the locals. I’m not talking about going, greeting them, and taking some pictures of their living spaces. Pictures are important, and absolutely, take them. But talk, and even more importantly, listen, to the locals. You can learn a lot from reading newspapers and browsing websites, but you can learn even more from listening to stories of people who live very different lives than most of us in North America do.
  2. Visit rural areas. Bulawayo and Harare are beautiful, and they have stories to tell… but sometimes the cities have somewhat of a North American feel to them. The rural areas are where you really get the feeling of what is means to be in Zimbabwe.
  3. Take part in some of the parts of daily Zimbabwean life. Carry water on your head so that you can begin to understand how a Zimbabwean women spends anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours of her day, and take a bucket shower so that you can appreciate the excessive amount of water that we have in North America, and use a blair-latrine so that you can be thankful that we have that money to put towards luxurious items such as flush-toilets.
  4. Learn to cook sadza (or if you’re like me and you can’t cook, at least watch in amazement as a Zimbabwean woman cooks it). I asked a coworker one evening how to make it, and she couldn’t tell me exactly; she didn’t know the measurements. It is an art of “some more mielie-meal”, “a little more water”, “a liiiittttle more mielie-meal”, and eventually, “a pinch of salt”.
  5. Watch football (soccer). I don’t mean on the television from inside your room, or even a “big-ticket” game at the outdoor pitch in one of the big cities. I mean put on a hat, and go watch locals play. If some of these kids had the same resources that David Beckham did, they would be better than Beckham was at his peak.
  6. Need a tour guide? Ask a local! Sure, Victoria Falls has boards of information everywhere, but like turning a book into a movie, sometimes really important and/or interesting pieces get left out. The locals will know all sorts of information, and probably be honored that you would ask them to guide you.
  7. Get in there! In North America, we are sometimes very shy about dancing with strangers because we don’t want to look “silly”, or we won’t try speaking another language because we will be laughed at. I looked silly, and I was laughed at… but it is a part of the experience!
  8. Accept all gifts. Zimbabweans understand that life is about relationships, and stronger than their desire to feed their own family tomorrow, is their desire to be hospitable and engage in fellowship with new friends today.
  9. Take time to feel. There is something about the sunset and the stars during the evening, after a day of hearing about the hardships one minute, but seeing the dancing and laughing the next.
  10. Be prepared to change. Zimbabwe changed my views on faith, materialism, the power of a smile, and so much more. I promise it will do the same for you.

This has been a submission by Sherrie-Lee R. Chiarot. You can connect with Sherrie-Lee via the following: http://www.sherrie-lee.com, https://twitter.com/sleerose, . You too can become a Citizen Journalist by submitting your story here: Citizen Journalism by Living Zimbabwe The views expressed in the article are those of the author and not necessarily Living Zimbabwe.

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