Saying Goodbye to Zim

We clasped hands across the row of seats – seats 28A, 28B and 28C – as we taxied down the runway and into air, squeezing tighter as the ground got further and further away. Not a word was said as all eyes simply stared out the window, unwilling to divert our longing gaze away from the ground.

I sat in the middle seat – 28B. In the middle I had the distinct advantage of clasping two comforting hands. In the middle I had the distinct disadvantage of having no hands free to wipe away the tears. No matter. Tears fell, remaining unwiped, also from those in 28A and 28C.

I have only cried three times when leaving a country. The other two times were understandable, even expected. Today was not.

The first was in 1989. As the plane left the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, signaling the end of an amazing year abroad, all I could think about was my host family – my mom & dad, sisters & brother, cousins, aunts & uncles and grandmas & grandpas – my family that I was leaving behind. Germany had become my beloved home and I was not ready to return to the U.S. I was not ready to say goodbye. I was not ready to close this chapter.

The second was in 2009. This time I not only cried as we took off, but throughout the entire flight to Miami. Everything in me longed to return immediately to once again scoop up my two beautiful daughters I had left behind. That quick trip to Haiti marked the first time I had the chance to meet the two girls we had spent three years adopting. They were 4 and 6 when the adoption started, 7 and 9 when I visited them, and finally home at ages 8 and 10. But when I said goodbye that day in Haiti, none of us knew when we would ever be reunited.

Beyond even my daughters though, Haiti itself had captured my heart. The noisy, bustling streets that had more potholes than pavement, the poverty – and joy – that was palpable, the beauty of the people. The sights, the sounds, the smells – everything about Haiti had a special allure about it. I cried because I left pieces of me – my heart, and my family – behind.

Those two incidents are understandable and expected, yes. But what of today? What prompted the tears – not just from me – but also from my seat-mates in row 28?

I never expected to be quite so impacted by a country in one week. But Zim did precisely that. We cried because of joy. And sorrow. And longing. And….. Well, some things just cannot be properly expressed in words.

My mind drifted back to the previous week as all things recognizable disappeared from view. What was it exactly about Zim?

20130326-235937.jpgThere was the land. Lush, green mountains covered with horizontally-growing Acacias, flowering trees, grasses and more. From every direction the views from Mutare were breath-taking, as if taken from a fairy tale picture book. Dotted amongst the trees, outcroppings of rock, worn and weathered by wind, invited imaginations to consider the history they had witnessed. Humble huts – imbab – made of brick with thatched roofs often stood alone, surrounded by a carefully swept courtyard of red dirt. Collections of huts – zimbab – spread throughout the countryside, suggesting perhaps a simpler, albeit difficult, life.

There was the music. The multi-part harmonies that effortlessly poured forth from so many. The young and old. The trained and untrained. The organized and the spontaneous. The people of Zim sang in choirs, in concerts, in church – but they also sung as they worked, as they played, as they walked, and as they remained in place. Their songs – whether sung in Shona or English – were ones of worship, love, joy and hope. And their songs invited – even demanded – one to move, to join in, to dance.

20130327-000851.jpgAnd there was the people. The unguarded smile that lit up their entire faces. The greeting, “Hello, how are you?” spoken at each meeting. The reserved, peaceful natures that persevere despite trying times. The eagerness to help and serve. The hopeful determination that things will improve – must improve – in the future, even if far-off. Alec our guide, driver, cat-herder, and recruited choir member who daily would disclose yet another talent. Patrick, better known as Dr. Sana, our gracious host who arranged concerts and home stays, gave us turn-by-turn tourist and historical info, invited us into his home – both now and in the future – and sang along with us. The Africa University choir who claimed us to be their favorite choir, eagerly cheered and encouraged us, who listened intently and joined in and greeted us regularly with smiles, handshakes and hugs.

Yes, it was the land, the music and the people for whom we cried. It was like leaving family as I once had when I departed Germany. It was like leaving part of ourselves and our hearts as I once had when I departed Haiti. But it was more – it was that intangible, indescribable feeling that says, “You just had to be there.”

Row 28 on the flight knew. We all had been there. And so with hands clasped and tears falling we said goodbye to Zim.

  • Jennie Smidderks Hall

    As an MK who grew up near Zim, I hear your heart’s cry. There is an African proverb: “Once you drink the waters of Africa, you must return again and again for more.” It is indeed a hard place to leave.