by Jodi Winfindale

It’s funny how sometimes “new and improved” doesn’t mean “fast and efficient”.

We arrived in Bulawayo to a brand spanking new airport terminal that had been in the making for years.  We’d pass it as we taxied the runway the past 2 years, on our way to disembark at the prior kwanza hut, with its hand written forms and visa paperwork, toilets with no seats or flushing capabilities, baggage that would be unloaded and piled up by airport staff.  Tanya’s friend, Roberto, somehow instinctively knowing she’d be on that plane, would wait for us to handle our bags and would push us and our bags through customs. Though primitive, it was efficient enough.

This new terminal boasts a luggage carrousel, modern facilities, queues to wind you through the visa kiosk, and an x-ray scanning machines (that check your luggage on the way OUT of the airport).  However, the entire process with its computers and scanners, took approximately 2 hours longer than in prior years.  Once the team was questioned, scanned, and paper worked, we boarded the Magic Green Bus for our destination to Morning Star.  A 2 hour, bumpy, dusty, clanky ride that left some in the group questioning what they had just signed on for.

We arrived at Morning Star, a tiny little camp literally in the middle of nowhere.  The Ferguson’s, our hosts, decided when they started this camp many years ago, that they wanted to be a part of the community in every sense of the word.  This included no electricity, small round huts, cooking on open fire, outhouses and solar heated or boiled water. There are 2 dorm style rooms for the guys and girls, and a few individual huts for couples.  Simply a bed, dresser and small sink made up the room with a solar light on the wall and a rice sock on the floor in front of the door to keep the mice out.  It was by no means The Ritz, and it was going to be home for the next 2 weeks.

I have to admit it took a little getting used to. The hardest, I think, was if you weren’t going to sit around the fire after dark, there was nothing left to do but go to bed.  8pm is really early to go to bed.  But what I came to find is, it was far more comfortable and relaxing than I thought possible.  No TV, no internet, no Keurig or electric coffee maker, hot showers were few and far between, no flushing toilet,  nothing but the sound of silence when the stars came out, and boy! do they come out in Africa.  Sitting around a campfire, eating delicious food prepared on an open fire, being served by a-more-than-willing group of teen volunteers.  I found that what was lacking in modern comforts, excelled in the beautiful sunsets, long walks around the camp, the great conversations that took place around the fire, making new friends, studying constellations, and reminiscing about the day’s work in the community.

Things in Africa are different for sure, but what I found was life the way it used to be, back before modern technology was invented to steal our time away from doing simpler things, was far less hustle and bustle. Things meant to free up our time actually slow us down.  The constant need to “keep in touch” with the outside world, steals time away from family and friends sitting in the same room.  We are so busy with the things that we’re told make life easier that we end up tired and starved of solid relationships and community.

So will I go home tomorrow and shut off the power and cut the internet for a while – most likely NOT- as I still prefer a flushing toilet and hot water – but I will try harder to keep what is meant to be important, important.