Out of Africa
By Mire Molnar, NAP Board Member 2007
Wednesday morning as we flew from the Victoria Falls airport over the Jabulani village, we could see our windmill standing tall with its bright green tanks filling with water as we passed. For us it stood for completion, accomplishment, and was a symbol for who we were, for the people of the Jabulani village. They now knew that we were our word.
When we arrived at the village two weeks earlier, the windmill had been broken. After two mornings of walking three-quarters of a mile, hand pumping water for half an hour from Bore Hole 124, then carrying five gallon buckets of water on our heads back the way we came, it became crystal clear to us that the windmill had to be fixed immediately.
Mario, the man who installed the windmill, came both days we were staying in the village. He and our village brothers pulled out the extremely long inner tubing that reaches down to the water table and found that there was a twig caught inside, interfering with the suction, thus rendering the windmill temporarily useless.
Mario trained our brother Clyde to be in charge of the windmill maintenance. He was the engineer of the family, very bright, beautiful and funny. We hired Clyde for this job, knowing that with him in charge we could leave and be assured that our windmill would continue to work and serve the village while we were on the other side of the planet.
What we did not know, as we clapped and cheered from the airplane window looking down on our functioning windmill with pride, was that our dear brother Clyde would not wake up that morning.
This Is Africa
On top of having the most humbling natural beauty I have ever witnessed, Zimbabwe is also home to some of the most pure and beautiful people I have ever met. The relationships I have begun with several Zimbabweans have touched me in a way I can barely explain. To my friends and family here I was merely gone for two weeks and met some new people, but my connections in that short amount of time were nothing short of profound.
Why is this? Is there something in the air? Is it the endless sky filled with dancing clouds that takes hold of me? Is it the sound of song floating through the breeze on a Sunday morning? I am not a religious person and yet in Africa my spiritual side soars. Singing and dancing to just a few small drums and 50 harmonized voices; apparently this affects a person. No, it changes you.
Suddenly the boundaries between myself and others are stretched thin; the differences between our bodies and the land become inconsequential and quickly I become devoured by a deep pulse, where all of us and everything becomes one under something so powerful and divine I have no other option but to sing to it, praise it, and drop to my knees. This is Africa.
The omnipotence of Africa continues. It’s a land where nature RULES and from the micro to the macro it’s evident. Elephants may decide to walk through a village destroying crops and knocking down trees, or bacterium could attack your body and, without man’s intervention, you die. It’s harsh and it’s real and there is no way to gloss over it or to hide it.
This lack of human control or even the lack of a sense of control makes one humble and I think it contributes to the texture of the daily life in Zimbabwe. In Africa you are present to the moment. When we are together it is a celebration. We celebrate our fortune for having this time with each other to share in the bounty that is this beautiful earth given to us by god.
This sensation of presence is actualized in time. While in Africa you perceive time differently. In Zimbabwe five minutes could take an hour, and two weeks could feel like a lifetime. You can’t rely on the phones or the internet to work, and running to get gas may involve travel to a neighboring country, so schedules and deadlines become irrelevant. Once you give in to this reality you’ll notice that it functions pretty well. You always get to where you need to go, see the people you mean to see, and do the things that need to get done. At first it drives you crazy, but once you let go you realize that you’re always exactly where you’re supposed to be at all times and suddenly you are no longer a slave to the western clock.
This is Africa Also . . .
Because of the passion and shared sense of belonging the volunteers that make up the small non-profit group of NAP Africa have, in a short amount of time they have made great progress.
The NAP Africa windmill saves time and energy; it is a source of life for the villagers. The Jabulani preschool with two paid teachers is flourishing with 35 to 50 students, who learn to count, read, speak English and think abstractly. The monthly stipend given to Lister’s family (NAP’s main contact family) pays for her family’s and villagers’ emergency medical costs, some livestock, extra food, and helps support several orphans and the elderly of the community.
These are great accomplishments that we are proud of, yet Big Boy’s (Lister’s deceased husband, NAP’s original contact) and Clyde’s unfortunate and preventable deaths make it clear that there is much more work to be done. The villagers need better medical care and our next big hurdle is to figure out how to get it to them.
The November mission I participated in was coined by the president of the board as the “getting to know you, getting to know all about you” mission. We were there to find out how the villagers lived, who they were, and how to best serve them.
One part of learning how to better serve our village was by meeting our new ground liaison and interpreter, Sydney. We got connected with him through an artist from Laguna Beach named Gary Simpson who makes murals with soil he has collected from around the globe. He had read the Daily Pilot article about last spring’s NAP event at AIRe and connected us with Sydney, from who he had recently received Zimbabwean soil. Since a ground liaison is crucial for the work we do, we were nervous and excited to meet him for the first time.
Not only did Sydney turn out to be a joy to be around—smart, funny and appreciative of good American rock n’ roll and jazz music—he also works for the U.S. Embassy, speaks Ndebele and understands all the customs, cultures and the political climate of Zimbabwe.
Our original goal of collecting data from the villagers was vetoed by both Sydney and by Lister, who agreed that after the elections would be a better time for such activity. So instead we conversed about the village’s needs for many hours in the tea hut (a hut with a sunroof and lots of open air) and watched Sydney and Lister bond, forming a trusting relationship.
One of the most important things we did on this trip to get to know the villagers better was to live with them. For two nights we stayed at Lister’s house and did everything they did for three days. For the villagers this was huge. White people never sleep with them, carry water with them, grind mealy meal with them, and so word traveled fast that we were true friends.
We were able to have many conversations with everyone in Lister’s family and through them we pieced together a pretty good picture of how their lives work and how they handle things day to day. We learned quickly that our assumptions about their lives were sometimes very different to how they actually lived.
Realizing this and letting them teach us how they really lived rather than how we thought they should live or how we assumed they lived is vital. Our work depends on this understanding when we are back at home assessing a micro loan request or determining pay rates when hiring for village jobs created, etcetera.
At the end of our trip we hosted a village celebration. Before the celebrating began Lister spoke to the villagers about our work. The village heads acknowledged the windmill and the preschool we built. Sydney introduced himself as the go-between man to communicate the village’s needs to NAP African in the most secure and safe ways possible. Then we all enjoyed food and drinks and music and had a lovely afternoon.
I am in shock over Clyde’s death. It comes in waves. Today we shopped for Thanksgiving food and I was overtaken with the abundance that is my daily life. I was sickened by it too.
The balance is off. All I could think about was how I could send groceries to my village friends, or what their expressions would be if they could see all this food. I just wanted to take over the intercom and remind all the shoppers that they are the affluent minority and that most of the world’s people will never experience a fraction of what we have and take for granted.
It’s a strange dichotomy; the West has so much product and comfort but lacks in spiritual depth, whereas Zimbabwe has barely any signs of industrialization but is full of culture, life and immense joy.
In all truth, NAP Africa is less of a charity and more of a trading post; we trade financial help and western organizational skills for a hands-on experience of love, gratitude, free self-expression, song and spirit.
As you can see, Zimbabwe has touched the roots of my existence. I am in love beyond words with the people, the land, the animals, the sky, the smiles, the eyes and the skin. I am deeply in love with Africa. I am deeply grateful to all of my loving sponsors who made it possible for me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I have found a true calling in working with the villagers of Zimbabwe and look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you as NAP Africa grows, learns and makes progress. Thank you many times over for your support. You are now part of our extended family and are always invited to join the journey at any level to which you feel drawn.
Mire Molnar, NAP Board Member, 2007
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