For this week’s installment of Full-Assed Friday, we’re back with Lindsey, my former babysitter who grew up a missionary kid in Zimbabwe. To read the first half of our interview, click here.
What is the main goal of the mission?
Ultimately to spread the gospel of Jesus, but it’s also humanitarian. There’s so much need.
My mom tells the story of when they first came over and were attending a local church. She was insisting that they weren’t going to hire a maid and gardener. Because you know, in the US, that’s a serious luxury, and she was coming from the position of not wanting to spend the money that donors had pledged for the mission on taking care of the home when she was fully capable of doing it herself. But a local man stood up to her and said, “You selfish woman! Do you think they will listen to you when you won’t give them a job?” That was the start of her new perspective.
How much of your childhood did you spend in Zimbabwe?
We first moved there when I was two. I spent the rest of my childhood there except for second grade and ninth grade, plus two other three-month trips. Then I went to college in Ohio.
What was the town like that you grew up in?
First my dad started a church in an area where there were lots of farmers and farm workers. The church was in the Shona language, which he grew up speaking. Because of the immersion, I could speak it too. Later he also started a church in English.
There are two completely different cultures in Zimbabwe. The first place we lived was a small town, and though I wasn’t entirely aware of it at the time, I was the only white kid in my school. I remember everyone always touched my hair. It was the old style British schooling there, but there were gaps in the education that my mom, who was a teacher, would fill in for me afterwards. She was always teaching me things. We stayed there until I was in fourth grade.
Then we moved to the capitol city of Harare. The school was super strict. I got in trouble early on for responding to the teacher once with “what” instead of “pardon me”. Sports were mandatory.
Describe a typical day when you were a kid.
If I were going to use one word to describe my childhood, it would be “idyllic”. The days were long and happy, school was hard work but not a struggle, I made friends easily, we had a yard to play in, we had pets.
Even though we would go out and meet with people in the villages, I was largely unaware, or maybe uncomprehending, of the political and economic angst in the country. Then I started to become aware of the prejudices. Like, I had white friends and I had black friends, and knew only the warm and wonderful sides of both. Then I would hear a white friend refer in a derogatory tone to “that cook boy” or worse, another derogatory word. Inherited prejudices take time to fade from the “Old Boys Club”.
(Lindsey’s accent goes back and forth between North Jersey and South African during this part of the interview, which makes me happy.)
Now, white people make up only 0.5% of the population, but when I was growing up, they were almost always the upper middle class. All the actual workers- maid, gardener, servers in bars or restaurants, any manual laborers- were always black. Racism has begun to fade through the generations, but the whites have maintained many advantages. It’s very difficult to break that down.
Even though our livelihood was solely dependant upon sponsors and pledges from people in the States supporting the missionary work, we were considered part of the rich white people.
How does the pledging work?
In the years that they come back to the US, my parents spend a lot of time connecting with the people and churches that sponsor their work. A lot of it is just being accountable: saying, here’s what we did at the hospital, this is the drought relief program we’re implementing, this is our AIDS education, here’s what’s happening in the Bible College. They do always try to reach out to new people who might be interested in furthering their work.
Did you help with or participate in any of the programs your parents worked on?
I went with my mom to a lot of kids’ Bible camps, kind of the equivalent of VBS here. I remember one place we went was on one of those giant ant hills. It was so big that they had carved steps into it. Those were the bleachers. The entire elementary school sat there. You probably could have put about two hundred kids sitting on that ant hill, it was so big. We would sing songs and play games.
One of my scariest moments came at this camp: the Nyau dancers arrived. They’re a secret society- no one is supposed to know who they are. They wear stilts and grotesque masks and represent spirits passed on. They are said to channel these spirits and therefore they’re granted immunity for any actions they perform while in this guise. Many rumors surround them, that they may have people beaten or even killed for not showing them the proper respect. It’s obviously a very different set of beliefs from Christianity, so when they came through during one of our Bible camp meetings, everyone was scared to be there, scared of what they would do. People ran off, even the teachers.
What contributed to your decision to stay in the US instead of returning to Zimbabwe?
Well, I haven’t really decided not to become a missionary, it’s more about that this is the right place for me to be right now. I finished school, I got married, I began teaching. . . I have student loans to pay off and that wouldn’t be possible were I to become a missionary right now, even though I do have a standing job offer to teach where I went to school over there. I may decide to do it one day.
What do you miss about Zimbabwe?
Open sky. . . it’s just not the same here in New Jersey. Also the pretty sunsets, clear stars, the smell after it rains- that smell is different than it is here. I miss my favorite places in the entire world: Kariba at Kariba Dam, the Zambezi Valley, where there are elephants and it’s beautiful and wild. There was this strange feeling that’s hard to describe, of being a third culture kid- of relating and belonging. I grew up there. People are really warm in Zimbabwe. It’s pretty much the opposite of New Jersey, where people flick you off for not turning fast enough out of your driveway. I can’t think of two more opposing cultures than Zimbabwe and New Jersey.
What’s your favorite Zimbabwe tradition?
Tea time. Even though it was originally a British tradition it’s been fully adopted by everyone. If you go over to someone’s house, you’re expected to have two cups. The only thing is that a lot of people like to drink the Rooibos tea, which I don’t really like, but you still have to drink two cups. I just love the whole idea that everyone stops and takes time out, and just has tea, and spends time with their friends and family- every day.
What’s your favorite Zimbabwe food?
I have two. One is Biltong– it’s kind of like a beef jerky, but not. It’s made with beef but also game, and I know it has coriander in it. The other is Boerwors, a type of sausage that you have at a South African Braai, which is like our barbeque. Sadly, I haven’t been able to get either of these here. There are only two South African groceries that I know of. One is in Atlanta, and the other is in South Carolina.
Did you ever have any animals around your house that we would consider exotic?
I remember helping cut the heads off of chickens when I was about five. My dad had helped our gardener start a business with chickens and eggs and I would help hold while he chopped, and then I’d watch it run around without the head. I never thought anything of it.
I’ve been in a car that was being chased by an elephant.
I’ve been in the back of an open truck with a lion less than twenty feet away.
When I was about thirteen, I was sulking in the tent while we were camping because my mom wanted me to get up and I thought it was too early. My mom made me get up anyhow. Right after that, a hippo came through, and he stepped on the tent exactly where my head had been on my pillow moments before. I was scared of animal encounters every time we went camping.
Another time camping I thought I heard something. I was always thinking I heard something though so no one ever paid attention when I said I heard something. Everyone told me to be quiet and go to sleep. This time though, sure enough, when we woke up in the morning there were new elephant tracks not fifteen feet from where we were sleeping.
We were staying at a type of hotel once. Well, first we got there and there was a hippo in the driveway and we had to wait for it to move. Then we went in and outside one of the bedrooms we could see a tree moving. It turned out there was an elephant right there eating from the tree, so close I could have reached out and touched it. So we all crowded into the room, about eleven of us, and the elephant started farting. It was so loud! It went on for like half an hour, and we were all in there the entire time just laughing and laughing, listening to this elephant fart. I laughed until my eyes were out of tears.
My dad has had nearly every wild animal encounter you can imagine. He’s been treed by a rhino, chased by a hippo, had to kill a rogue buffalo. . .
Do you ever run into any other missionaries there, like competition? Ever see any Mormons?
Well, I did run into a Mormon on the plane to Zimbabwe once. He was just heading over for his two-year mission. It was after finals week, so I was already fried, and my mom had sent me a list of things to bring home, like sugar and cinnamon. I had been sleepless from finals and then I was up all night packing and shopping and he ended up being seated right next to me. He talked a lot. The entire flight, actually. It. . . was interesting.
But you don’t have mission territories like the Avon lady? If you meet a Mormon on the street there you don’t have to rumble?
(at this point we received a string of interruptions from children and dogs, indicating our time was up)
Any final stories to tell?
One time we heard a gunshot near our house and called the police. After an hour and a half, a policeman arrived at our house on a bicycle and asked if we had a gun he could borrow. That was different.
all photos by David Lagan