Zimbabwe Screening: Harare
March 21, 2014
Our goal was to cover the entire country of Zimbabwe. Luckily, most of the stakes and districts lie on the highway running southwest from Harare to Buluwayo.
We started our journey by flying from Johannesburg, South Africa to Harare. The flight was short. I was amazed at how beautiful the land was. It was lush and green. We flew quite low, so I had a good view the whole way.
We landed in the Harare airport. This was my first glimpse of Zimbabwe. The airport was surprisingly small for the main airport in an entire country. The customs stationed was unmanned, which I wish I could have anticipated as I had stressed a lot over the trouble we might have getting scales into the country. The visa station was dutifully manned. There were no questions, just payment of the entry fee. After that, we found some cheap accomodations central to both the Harare and Marimba park screening locations. The taxi driver was helpful in this regard.
We asked him lots of questions about the situation in the country. This is the first of many people that told us that unemployment is rampant in Zimbabwe. The official number is around 10%, but everyone we talked to, including stake/district/ward/branch leaders, said the number is closer to 90%. I’m not sure how the government calculates the number, but our observations confirmed the anecdotal stat.
We had to rush from our accomodations to the first screening in Harare. We were surprised to see a group of members waiting for us already. This is a situation that repeated itself throughout the trip.
We set up our gear and screened until everyone was done.
After the screening, we were met by President Mtariswa, the Stake president of the Harare Stake.
Zimbabwe Screening: Marimba Park
The day after we finished Harare we headed to Marimba Park. Marimba Park is still within the city of Harare, so we didn’t have too far to travel. We engaged transportation with Fortunate, the Harare stake clerk, to and from Marimba Park. As was the case in almost every place we went, there were about 60 or so sisters waiting for us when we arrived, and more showed up to keep a steady line going until we finished. We tried to get at least a few inside out of the hot sun while they were waiting.
Like all the units we visited, we had the assistance of the coordinator that the stake/district president chose for us.
We also had the assistance of the missionaries, who kindly helped us after their meeting in the chapel.
The Stake President, President Makaza, arrived and gladly thanked us for all our help.
Mutare lies a few hours southeast of Harare. We paid a member from Harare to take us there and back to Harare so we could complete the screening and be on our way in enough time to make our next appointment further southwest.
Mutare is a rural town. The District President, President Salizani, was waiting for us when we arrived. He was a very kind man, and clearly very interested in the welfare of his members. He not only took off work to be there, but he stayed and helped us interview members until everyone had been screened. What’s more, there was one gentleman who arrived late with his child, and President Salizani stayed longer to help that brother.
(President Salizani, second from right)
We also had the assistance of the Branch President whose branch met in that chapel (rightmost in the picture), who did an excellent job in rallying his members to come to the screening. Mutare was the largest turnout we saw. All these people were waiting when we got there.
The missionaries happened to be around, and we flagged them down to help with the interviews, as it is certainly the bottleneck in the process.
President Salizani managed to choose a coordinator for us, who was exceptionally quick to learn the process and exceedingly helpful.
The 8 hour roundtrip to Mutare along with the screening, which usually took ~4-5 hours, made for a long day. We were exhausted.
After Mutare, we spent the entire next day travelling by bus to Gweru, a few hours southwest of Harare.
Gweru was the only place where we had a low turnout. I didn’t take any pictures. The leaders were helpful and kind, and assurred us that they had announced the event many times. It seemed like the members there were particularly hard up and could not afford transportation to the chapel. We even screened in two separate chapels to try to accomodate for this.
The local Bishop who opened one of the chapels for us told us how bad unemployment was. He said he really can’t do anything for people who need help due to lack of funds. He gives out a very budget bar of soap and a 2 lb bag of corn meal to anyone who asks for help, but even that he has to prioritize since there is not enough to go around. He reaffirmed what we had heard about unemployment. He was a trained civil engineer who was the town engineer prior to the economy collapsing. Now, he said he cannot find work anywhere in the country and is lucky in that he can provide enough to feed his family once a day with a small store where he resells items he buys at a local grocery store. He said most are not as fortunate.
President Paradzai, the Stake President, was exceedingly kind and helpful. We enlisted his assistance in getting from the first chapel, which we walked to, to the second chapel, and from there to the bus station. There we left by bus to Bulawayo.
On the way, our bus hit a cow. This was a night bus, and we were exceptionally lucky. The roads are riddled with potholes there, and they are also narrow. Somehow, the driver was able to swerve just right so as to clip the cow on the head instead of hitting it head on. At one point, the bus’ wheels were off the ground on one side. I really feel that we were protected by angels. The same thing happened the month before and 7 people died.
Zimbabwe: Bulawayo and Nkulumane
Bulawayo and Nkulumane are pretty close together, so we found a place central to both to set up camp. I was kind of surprised that the members did not offer us a place to stay, but also glad since we were rushing around so much that I don’t think we would have been very polite guests.
As in other stakes/districts, the Stake President, President Moyo, was very helpful and involved in the process. The turnout was good. I regrettably didn’t get any shots of Bulawayo.
At this point, Chris and I were utterly exhausted. However, we had one more Stake in Zimbabwe and a district in Mozambique to attend to.
The next day we headed to Nkulumane. I was quite excited about this screening because it was a Sunday and we were essentially ambushing the members after their meetings. Because it was Sunday, we basically had 100% turnout from the two units meeting in the chapel where we screened. The cultural hall was large but insufficient to hold everyone waiting for the screening. We filled it and emptied it twice. Thank goodness we had a lot of volunteers helping us with the interviews.
This is the coordinator for Nkulumane. She was very helpful
Originally, we had planned to bus from Johannesburg to Bulawayo and travel by road through to Harare, where we would then go by bus to Malawi and then bus down to Beira, Mozambique, screen that district, then go to Maputo, then bus back to Coburg.
It turns out there was not enough membership density for Malawi to work out on this trip. What’s more, immigration was very complicated on that route, and I wasn’t sure we could do it in the time we had due to border delays. What I did not know was that, according to a friendly and helpful member in Maputo, Beira is an active warzone. We would have been in a lot of trouble had we gone that way.
Maputo was worlds apart from Zimbabwe. It was busy, frantic, and packed. Even Harare wasn’t very busy. We managed to get to the chapel from the airport. I was hung up in immigration and I worried we would be late. My brother in law has a South African passport and thus did not need a visa.
There, we were greeted by President Castanheira, the District President. He was very excited to see us, and I was very excited that he spoke functional English, as I don’t speak Portuguese. I was also excited that he had arranged for 3 missionaries to help us, because I had no idea how we would pull off the interviews.
President Castanheira kindly took the day to help us with the interviews. He was appreciably enjoying helping the members of his District. Chris (background) was appreciably enjoying the air conditioning (first time we had encountered it) and his inability to speak Portuguese. He had worked like a dog for almost two weeks doing frantic interviews in broken English throughout Zimbabwe.
Our coordinator was very quick to pick up the routine. She had a good ability to calm the kids, who for some reason are very scared of the scale.
We made it back to the airport without hitting any cows. Not really a problem in Maputo 🙂
Zimbabwe: Headed Home
From Nkulumane we took the cheapest route home: a bus. I was a little apprehensive about hitting a cow again, as we were in cattle country. I didn’t sleep much (it was an overnight bus), but I wasn’t too scared. We all have to die sometime, and you may as well go doing something that matters, right?
The trip included about 2 hours on the border, which was a little bit miserable. We all had to go through several lines. It was quite hot despite being night time, the mosquitos were biting, there was no opportunity to go to the bathroom, and we were crammed into hot buildings a few times. The drug-sniffing dog was obviously poorly fed, as he loved the rations I had packed in my bag. I had to unpack every single item in my bag in front of the officer. Who knew that it would be so tough?
We arrived back in Johannesburg at around 6am, had to wait for our ride till 8am. That day we had set aside for rest, and the next to screen a stake in South Africa. However, that screening was cancelled, so we enjoyed the rest