Revd Dr Barbara Glasson, President Designate of The Methodist Conference, reflects on a week in Zimbabwe with All We Can
Airport departure lounges are strange betwixt and between places. Sitting here at Harare airport I am aware of this in a new way. A week in the complex and beautiful country of Zimbabwe provokes a betwixt and between sort of feeling at so many levels.
Of course, an overseas visit is a strange occurrence in the first place. We divest ourselves of our watches, our belts and our shoes and traverse security, entering the limbo-land of air travel. Eleven hours of being incarcerated in a metal tube and four movies later we will arrive somewhere different Still ourselves, but ready to be changed and challenged by what will happen next.
Our visit to Zimbabwe was just a week, during which we transited between the relative luxury of Harare’s Baines hotel, to the villages of Gokwe – the remote communities benefiting from the partnership between MeDRA and All We Can (respectively the relief and development agencies of the Zimbabwean and British Methodist Churches). In these remote areas we found more betwixt and between people – villagers making the first steps of redevelopment, learning for themselves how to provide fresh water and toilet facilities, keeping chickens for sale and growing vegetables. Alongside this runs the effect of an economic crisis that causes the value of the Zimbabwean currency to fluctuate on an almost hourly basis. There were day long queues at banks and filling stations. And currently there is also drought.
After visiting these inspirational communities the road of return to Harare seemed different. Like the journey our conversation took different twists and turns, from post-colonialism to white privilege, from the place of the Church alongside development to an attempt to understand the complex nature of Zimbabwe’s governing structures and political corruption. Zimbabwe is indeed itself a betwixt and between nation, trying to be hopeful for a better future yet caught between throwing off the colonialism of the past and the corruption of the present. We are left with a profound sense of a country endeavouring to find its own voice and to move to a liberation that is true to the heritage and stories of Africa.
These conversations began to reconfigure our own understanding. I have travelled extensively, so am not a stranger to the struggles and complexities of the poorest of the world’s communities. Even so, in Zimbabwe I rediscovered my exasperation with a regime that did not consider the provision of clean water to be a priority for people challenged with Cholera, drought and the effects of Cyclone Idai. Alongside this was an admiration of the resilience and determination of women earning an independent living producing vegetables and broilers. As we travelled betwixt and between emotions careered between anger and admiration.
Back in Harare, this transitional journey found different tributaries as Clive lectured at the United Theological College and I visited a Methodist orphanage and the Women’s Methodist HQ. Here were different examples of the determination of individuals and communities to work alongside the people around them to move from poverty to independence.
Maybe our day ‘off’ was the most challenging as we ate a ‘Western lunch’ and then set off for a wildlife park. Here, we met for the first time, some members of the Zimbabwean white community. Formerly from Liverpool and Bradford they had come over to a Commonwealth country a generation ago to establish a new life. A life that had segregated them from the indigenous African communities and caused a regime of separation and privilege. Here we were confronted by our inherited white identities and were provoked afresh to review the received history of our own assumed superiority.
So, how to write a blog in a departure lounge as we return and prepare to walk back into the familiar environment that waits for us at home? Maybe, like the people of Zimbabwe, we will always be in transition, hoping for justice but living with our own betwixt and betweenness. Perhaps we will always be in the departure lounge of our established views and identities, always being challenged to see things differently and reconfigure our inherited views of the world – I hope so!
A million thanks to MeDRA and All We Can for enabling us to make the journey at so many different levels!