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Experience #8 - Harare and Chiredzi, Zimbabwe

Finally, Zimbabwe!!!

I always wanted to know this country. For no specific reason, but the name is funny and seemed to be such an improbable place to visit. As this trip is about breaking paradigms, here we are

We arrived in Harare, country’s capital, after one of those endless trips which included bus, kombis, walks and dozens of hours feeling warm and eating biscuits (a kiss to who thinks that we are following a luxury travel guide).

The city delights at the very beginning. First because has as protagonists hundreds of Jacarandas, which frames almost all streets’ views with purple flowers and petals spread over the floor. Second because people are amazing! I have problems with smiles! Besides smiling to everything and everybody – yes, kind of fool – I believe that a smile is an universal connector. You smile, the person smiles and a field of good vibrations is created disarming any bad mood.

In Zimbabwe things has been like that. I venture to say that 99% of the population of more than thirteen million people is smiley. Even with a past of civil war and serious offenses to human rights.

To tell you the truth, there are a lot of problems. One of the most impressive is related to the lack of electricity supply. The country can’t produce enough energy for the entire population and due to that cities apply a rationing process on a daily basis – which probably will be maintained – that interrupts electricity in different times along the day. This happens even in the capital. I closely experienced this during my mug showers in the dark .

Leaving the problems aside, we went out looking for solutions. As I’m Brazilian and never give up, after some emails with no answer we decided to visit in person the international office of CARE in Zimbabwe, one of my favourite organisations. We dressed our best clothes – T-shirt and pant that transforms in shorts – and introduced ourselves at the reception with our hearts full of joy. Arriving in this mood we couldn’t have had a better result! We were received by the kindness in person: Cathrine Bwerinofa projects’ assistant of CARE Zimbabwe.

The purpose of our meeting was to get indications of projects and rural villages that we could visit. We didn’t only have that, but also some teachings about history and social development from Cathrine. It didn’t take so long to realize that she would be the next angel. The gift of generosity is unmistakable.

Just like me, Cathrine is passionate about gender causes and according to our conversation it seems to me that there still is a long way to change some concepts accepted by the Zimbabwean.

To meet in person these contrasts, she introduced us to Joseph Mutsvaidzwa, one of the Save Save Trust founders, an organisation under incorporation that has as purpose integrating community and environment, granting special attention to women role and the preservation of Save River.

We travelled with Joseph to the south countryside until Checheche and Chiredzi, where we had the chance to visit some rural villages and know more about agriculture and reforestation projects that offer to the families an opportunity to be reconnected with their environment and feeling also responsible through its conservation. The families we visited live without electricity and running water. They cultivate fruits and vegetables, besides the production of bricks.

Selling these products is the only source of income they have, what reinforces the myth that children should help in the work, once they believe that “as more labour the better”, even if we were talking about a five years old kid.

Amid the numerous adventures that we lived these days, as crossing a river walking in the part without crocodiles (I was so relaxed at this moment), the most special was visit a real rural village, so far that our presence became a party and even more people joined us during the time we were there.

In the middle of this party I met a princess way more interesting than the ones the fairytales tell us: Tariro Chekenyere.

A little 10 years old girl smiling with her eyes introduced me to a reality that I knew that exists, but was hesitating to believe. She lives with her mom and four relatives, as we already noticed here the father’s role is not much relevant and the woman is the main responsible to maintain the family and educate the children. This happens because polygamy and infidelity are common and spread among men, even with legal protection. The same is not allowed to women, of course, and for this reason the men presence is almost unconsidered by the family – or families.

Tariro walks everyday ten kilometres to arrive at school, what takes around two hours to go and two hours to get back home. After school she has to perform another mission: cut firewood, which is one of the alternatives sources of energy and an opportunity for the rural people to earn money. Unfortunately the problem is not only the child labour, but also the deforestation, which damage the environment’s health.

Besides these daily challenges, she has one even bigger: to try to maintain control of her own story. This might look a precocious concern for a 10 years old girl, but it’s not. In Zimbabwe, the child marriage still happens a lot.

In some villages, starting by the age of 12, some girls leave the school to participate in other kind of classes, in which they learn how to satisfy their future husbands and how to perform as a wife accordingly. These classes happen between May and July and after that many girls do not return to school, once they are already considered adults and prepared for the marriage, usually with older men.

In these regions, marriage is a profitable business for the families that can receive dots paid by the groom (remember that “profitable” in this case depends on the social class. In rural communities the bride’s family usually receive cows as dots). Cathrine told us that a lot of families invest the money received by their daughter’s marriage to pay for their sons’ education. The Girl Rising documentary tells a story about a young girl whose the dot was used to buy a car to her oldest brother.

These habits are so rooted in the country’s culture that only this year, 2014, became in force the new constitution, which recognizes gender equality as a fundamental right.

Despite of that, Tariro doesn’t hesitate. When I asked her about marriage, the answer was straight to the point: “I don’t pretend to get married”. So what she pretends to do then? Tariro wants to be an English teacher and work to be the owner of her own life. She answered me in these words… “owner of my own life”.

Remembering that when I was 10 I used to collect letter papers and organize afternoon teas to my dolls. My biggest problem was trying to convince my parents to allow me to go the cinema alone with my friends. I failed, of course.

Tariro made me thinking way beyond the gender issue. She made me think about our capacity to be the protagonists of our own story. And furthermore, our ability to use our story in favour of others.

This happens because to be the “owner of her own life” she needs to fight against costumes, beliefs and lack of opportunities. A true battle against common sense and all that, supposedly, is the right way to follow.

Fe wrote about it in the last Thought, but this “lack of inquiries” has been so present in our experiences that I couldn’t miss mentioning it again.

Are we really questioning ourselves enough? Do we know how to justify – to ourselves – our choices? And more, our choices make us more of the same or a more relevant part of a whole?

It’s always time to recognize, revisit and reconnect to yourself. Change your mind, change your job, change your life. Or just realize that Gandhi was totally right when said that you should “be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Well, Tariro keeps going with her fight. And you, what do you fight for?


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