Zimbabwe: My 9th country. 11th if you count layovers, and 12th if you count the time our Ramah Seminar group accidentally crossed the Lebanese border to do mincha (or so we were told). It doesn’t seem like much, but 6 of those 9 countries were visited in the past 8 months. I have spent more of my time at home in the past year and half getting ready for trips than doing anything else. I guess I could blame it on post-grad wanderlust, or the resistance to settling down and getting a “real job”, but regardless of what it is, when I look at the past year and a half since I graduated, I have been in the exact place that I believe I was supposed to be every step of the way. So here I am, in Harare Zimbabwe, where I am supposed to be. (At least that’s what I am telling myself).
I found out about this position last year when I was staffing TRY, a high school program in Israel. A good friend of the director of TRY, Jack Zeller, was looking for “a young Jewish person to do cool things” and although I did not know what that entailed, I was interested. The time it took from hearing the initial “would you be interested in going to Zimbabwe” (followed by me having to look up where Zimbabwe was on a map) to the “yes, I’m 100% in” was less than 3 weeks. Everything happened incredibly fast and I was extremely excited. I learned more about Kulanu, the organization with which I’d be working, and learned more about the Lemba community, the community of Jewish people in Zimbabwe. I had a wonderful support system of the most wonderful high schoolers and co-staff on TRY, friends who didn’t really understand what I’d be doing but were rooting for me nonetheless, and parents who didn’t say, “That’s hilarious, you’re not going. Go get a real job”, and that’s really all I could ask for.
The more I told people about my trip and the more I prepared, the more excited I became and the more terrified I became. I was slammed with countless questions about living in a developing country, being away from home for so long, the legitimacy of this group of people, and of course, whether or not I was scared I’d get Ebola. The more people asked, the more I panicked about what I was getting myself into. But then there were the people who reminded me how great this would be and helped me prepare for my trip, not to mention those 51 TRY kids who inspire me every day to be better, and I knew I had to go.
The trip to Harare
After a month and a half of preparations, packing, and meeting with Mickey and Mordy Feinberg who had just returned from working with this community in Harare, I was taken to the airport with over 150 pounds of luggage (about 100 pounds of that was books and supplies for the Lemba community). I had a very difficult goodbye with my parents, who have been more supportive than I could ever imagine, flew through security (for the first time in my life), and got on a 15 hour flight to Johannesburg. I sat next to a very kind South African man. We talked about all the places I had to visit while on this side of the world, about Harare and the economy in Zimbabwe, and about his children who had left South Africa to live in New Jersey.
Then, after a six hour layover in O.R. Tambo Airport, I had a two hour flight to Harare. Modreck, the head of the Lemba community, was waiting for me at the airport. He welcomed me with a hug and immediately helped me with my luggage. We got into a cab, drove for about 40 minutes with the most beautiful sunset as our backdrop, stopped at a grocery store (where I found that Zimbabwe does indeed have soy milk!) and went to his home. I was greeted with more hugs from the rest of the family. They are all so lovely. There was no power in the house when I got there, so I unpacked by candlelight. Although it was a first, it made the whole thing a little bit more exciting, and already, I am so humbled by how lucky we are in the states. After unpacking, I spent a little time with Modreck, George, who also lives in the house, and Modreck’s two little boys, Shlomo and Aviv. They are two and five, respectively, and two of the cutest, sweetest children I have ever met. Shlomo runs around, singing Dayenu, yelling “DA DA” until someone finally responds “yenu”. I asked, and it turns out he has in fact been singing that song since last April.
A few hours later, after the power went back on, we enjoyed dinner all together, followed by a shortened Birkat Hamazon. Hopefully by the end of my time here, we will be doing the entire thing. We all sat together for a little while after that. I was exhausted from the trip, so I turned in pretty early.
Unfortunately, the first week of any trip for me has always been hard, and that hasn’t gotten any easier over the years. So although I wouldn’t say I am any more comfortable with the unfamiliarity and the homesickness, I am happy. I know I will learn so much these next few months, and I am really looking forward to seeing what will come.