Meet Necrisha – a medical student who came to Zimbabwe to do a global health internship. She spent 4 weeks in Harare and she shares her experience of Zimbabwe with us. Here is what she had to say.
During the 4th and last year of medical school, The Ohio State University College of Medicine gives their students the opportunity to do a global health elective in another country. I knew I wanted to go to Africa but initially I was not sure which country I wanted to visit. One day I stumbled upon a documentary about a retired school teacher in Zimbabwe who dedicated her life to raising young girls who were sexually abused and were no longer accepted by their families and communities.
The documentary outlined the perspective of a young woman who was part of an American drama team that would help victims of sexual abuse heal through the arts. It was a powerful documentary and I was truly inspired not only by the teacher’s dedication, but by the young girl’s resilience as the drama group was able to use the arts to bring healing and breathe life into them through their love for music, song, dance and acting. After watching that documentary, I fell in love with the spirit of the people of Zimbabwe and I knew that this was where I wanted to do my elective.
While in Zimbabwe, I worked with a phenomenal group of physicians who took care of patients at both public and private hospitals. Although I did not speak Shona, the physicians and the medical students were always eager to serve as interpreters during my patient interactions. This first-hand experience of the healthcare system in Zimbabwe was amazing on several fronts. In the U.S. where healthcare services are readily available to the population, treatment is provided early and as a result, the signs, symptoms and pathology associated with the advanced stages of a disease are rarely seen. However, this is not the case in Zimbabwe.
Many times, the patients would present at such an advanced stage that their presentations were usually atypical in nature making diagnosis even more challenging. In addition, many of the resources that are available to American physicians are not even an option for Zimbabwean doctors. Physicians in Zimbabwe have to rely very heavily on the history and physical examination findings as they don’t have the luxury of ordering a battery of tests and imaging studies to help them decipher what is going on. As a result, my physical examination skills were greatly improved and I learned to rely on my clinical judgement much more than I would have if I was in the U.S.
One night Wesley, the unofficial mayor of Harare, decided to take my friend and I out on the town to experience the Zimbabwe night life. Earlier that night he was hosting an event at a local hotel so he showed up fully dressed in a tuxedo. We arrived at one of the popular spots that was overflowing with young people.This was just the place we wanted to check out, however, there was a $10.00 cover charge. Coming from New York City where we have partied at some of the best night clubs for free, we figured we could work our American charm on the bouncers to get into the club. We approached the guys at the door and told them we were Americans visiting Zimbabwe and wanted to check out the night life and that was all it took to gain access.
They gave us the nod of approval to get in but we couldn’t leave Wesley hanging, so I turned to the bouncer closest to me and said, “Sir, is it OK if our driver comes with us. We don’t feel comfortable going in alone.” To which he responded, “Wow, you have a driver? (As he looked at Wesley fully dressed in his tuxedo) You must be a big deal! Yeah, he can go in with you.” Little did he know that Wesley was the one who was the big deal and my friend and I were lowly students visiting Zimbabwe. Either way, he played along and accepted the title of driver so that we could all have a good time at the club.
Wesley was simply amazing! I really appreciated that he did not just give me a generic tour of Harare, but the tour of the city included activities that he knew I would enjoy such as visiting the various city parks and the museums. He knows a lot about the history of Harare so the tour was more than just merely visiting a series of important buildings and monuments, but I got a first-hand history lesson of Harare and Zimbabwe. I also liked the fact that he was very accommodating. He had an idea of all the places he wanted to take me and was willing to take unplanned pit stops along the way. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to show me around. I had such a good time that I will return to Zimbabwe in the not too distant future if he promises to be my “driver” again 🙂
I heard that Zimbabweans had this reputation, unfortunately that was not my experience. I became friends with the people who were formally introduced to me but I was unable to befriend anyone I met casually during my day-to-day activities. That was a bit disappointing, but hopefully on my second trip, my experience will be different.
Outside of the traditional greeting I did not learn any other Shona or Ndebele words/phrases. I did however learn Afrikaans phrases, my favourite being “eish”. Several times, I heard Zimbabweans using this phrase but I know it does not necessarily fall into the group of Shona or Ndebele words/phrases.
I am not a fan of carbohydrate rich foods so sadza and peanut butter rice did not entice me in the least. On the other hand, I loved the grilled fish and trotters. The meats were well seasoned and quite flavourful and I would have been beyond happy if I could enjoy a serving of meats and greens (I think you guys call it relish) every day.
I visited Victoria Falls, which was an amazing experience. To experience the magnificence of the falls is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. After returning from Zimbabwe I shared video footage and pictures of my trip to the falls with friends and family, however the different medium failed to capture the marvel that is Victoria Falls. I am sure the awe of its splendour never gets old and I am looking forward to my next trip to the falls.
I fell in love with the music particularly Zim Dancehall. In addition, living in Zimbabwe for 4 weeks has taught me two important life lessons: 1. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, and 2. How to roll with the punches. Before visiting, I could easily generate a list of things that made life “difficult”. However, after meeting people who were able to smile, enjoy life and triumph in the face of what seemed like insurmountable challenges, caused me to re-examine my definition of the word “difficult”. It took one trip to Parirenyatwa Hospital to help put things in perspective, and I quickly realised that things I thought were absolutely terrible, paled in comparison to the issues faced by the locals which quickly dissolved my right to complain about things that were in essence, quite trivial
Another part of the Zimbabwean experience that stood out for me was how relaxed the people were. Coming from a place like New York City where everything is done at the speed of light and people are always in a rush, it was refreshing being among a people who were the polar opposite of this type of living. Initially it was difficult to adjust to this way of life because I was used to living a very fast paced life, but I soon realised that while things should be done in a timely manner, there is no need to stress and run around like a chicken without a head. As a result, instead of becoming impatient when the line at the grocery store was taking too long to move, or annoyed when my order at the local restaurant did not come out fast enough, I just learned to sit back and roll with it recognising that things would get done eventually just not according to my time line.
I have had the privilege of traveling the world, but my trip to Zimbabwe was my first time to Africa. I was not sure what to expect and while this trip was very different from any of the others, it was definitely one of my more memorable ones. I met a resilient people, who loved their country and was proud of their history and culture, despite the dire socioeconomic situation.
They contradicted every stereotype that Americans have of people who live in this part of the world. I remember as I was preparing for my trip, I had to attend a debriefing session and I was warned about the potential security issues, unwanted advances by men and other challenges I might meet while in Zimbabwe. As a result, I packed just the basics and nothing more. I was so worried about being accosted and robbed that I did not bring sunglasses and the only jewellery that I took were the pair of earrings I wore on the flight to Harare. However, for the entire duration of my trip, I never felt threatened, in fact, I felt safer there than I do in America.
I would certainly recommend Zimbabwe as a place to volunteer. You will be immersed in a culture and be among a people who would cause you to embrace and love life with all of its ups and downs. Regardless of one’s station in life, we all have difficulties that we have to deal with and while our circumstances have no easy solution, we can change the way we approach them.
As a result of my Zimbabwean experience, I have learnt not to allow life or its challenges to affect me to the point where it changes who I am as a person. So instead of being down or frustrated when the storms of life are raging, I have learnt to dance in the rain. This Zimbabwean experience has caused me to rediscover the happiness, the joy, the glow that was dimmed by the cares of the world.