Friday, January 28, 2011

The Flight and Arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe

Journal Entry:

So, here I am on the plane flying South African Airlines 14.5 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa. It really is crazy to me that I'm really finally going ot Africa and will be there by tomorrow. What an adventure!

I can still remember being at Windsor Hills camp listening to a missionary from some place in Africa describing his experiences as I prayed hard that God could send me anywhere else, just not Africa. God is pretty defiant :) About 6 years ago, while I was a freshman in college, I started to become completely fascinated with all the unknowns about the continent of Africa. It's so huge, but so rich in culture.

I cannot wait to see Zimbabwe with my own eyes! I'm sure some things will be absolutely beautiful and some things will be almost painful to look at. But, for a while now, I've been challenging God to challenge me. I've asked him to teach me to have courage, a desire to love everyone, to teach me to be patient, and to challenge me constantly so I may grow in strength and wisdom. Perhaps this is a foolish thing to ask God because of course learning is both scary and painful. But that's a risk I'm willing to take.

We are traveling 7795 mi to this totally crazy place completely across the world! I cannot believe I'm doing this!


Journal Entry:

Wow, what a crazy day! First of all, the flight last night was nearly unbearable! At around 3pm US time, it was about 9pm Zimbabwe time and lights went out. We attempted to sleep for HOURS. Literally until 7am we tried to sleep, but it was impossible to get any rest sitting up, having basically skipped a meal (since we entered the plane around lunchtime but were fed dinner), hearing the roaring plane engine and 2 screaming babies that cried endlessly ALL night long! I don't think I've ever been that uncomfortable for so long or ever experienced an inability to sleep quite like that. But, sure enough we landed in Johannesburg safely! I can say, though, that watching the tv screen display the progress of our travels felt unreal. Africa seems a world away on the map and then thinking about how many thousands of miles we traveled to get here was entirely surreal.

We landed in Johannesburg around 9am and wandered around the South African Airport until we got on our connecting flight to Harare. The second flight was much more bearable! I cannot describe what it felt like when we began landing, scraping through the clouds revealing gorgeous trees and green grass and thatched rooves all alongside a busy, crowded landscape of the Harare city. The airport was small and as the plane pulled up to the terminal it almost felt like I had traveled back into time with the looks of the buildings and technology. We thankfully were able to zip through customs, but had to wait a long time to see our bags. Many of the luggage were sealed with plastic wrap to prevent theft. We all were nervous we were missing belongings, but luckily nothing really appeared to be missing. As is common in Harare, the electricity went out in the airport for a couple of minutes until a generator was able to take control. It was our first glimpse of the uncertainty of Zimbabwean electricity.
Pastor Tuckey, Maria, Budd Jackson (one of the missionaries) and Mr. Everswick (another of the missionaries) were waiting for us patiently and brought us safely to the two vans to travel to our next destination.

The interesting thing about today was the lack of direction. We weren't usually told what was happening or where we were going, but rather, we just followed their lead. Zimbabwe is all about going with the flow. In the beginning, this was rather difficult for me to adjust to. I usually have a hard time when I do not understand what I am doing, why I am doing it, and when I will be doing something else. Something within me begs to know every detail of my day and likes things planned out. But I had to quickly learn to be more relaxed and just...go with the flow. By the middle of the week I became better at this, but at first it was quite uncomfortable. I had to trust in the people in charge and have faith that they had a plan and a purpose for where we were going and when.

We left the airport and began our short journey on the outskirts of Harare. There were patches of corn fields very sporatically placed. People were literally everywhere; walking all over, selling grilled corn on the cob by the side of the road with stacked fires. There were lots of gas stations, but they all looked as they were from the 70s. There were often pick-up trucks with people crammed together in the back of the truck or buses with people that appeared to be practically sitting on top of one another. I've never seen more people walking, bike riding, loitering, and clustered just hanging out on the streets. Some people even walked in the middle of the street to sell small Zimbabwean flags to place on cars. (I later found out these were political flags.)

We finally arrived to an area where there were homes after homes gated and surrounded by large walls. We pulled into one and were told that this was the Team headquarters. We reunited with the rest of the team who seemed already so acquainted after being there for a week before the rest of us. The house was definitely different from houses we have here. None of the houses were made of wood, because they had lots and lots of termites. Most houses were made of stucco-type material, bricks or cement.Window panes were made of iron (usually painted white).This house was surrounded by gorgeous flowers and trees and the unique architecture was so interesting. They had a pool in the back and a large kitchen as well as a couple arches and lots of opened doors since the weather was so warm.

We were all able to eat lunch and take showers to freshen up and I immediately became self-conscious about my clothes. I felt extremely immodest. It dawned on me that what feels modest in the US is NOT modest here at all.  It's kind of amazing how just being in a different country can change someone's entire concept of what is modest and comfortable. Being in a new country means different food, different ideas on time, conversation, beauty and appropriateness. It made me feel really out of place in a wierd way.

After we showered, we headed somewhere else and again were not told where, just that we would be sleeping there. We entered another gated, walled up "estate" which was absolutely beautiful! We met a sweet missionary couple, Martin & Rosie. We soon found out that this was the Team hostile and Martin and Rosie are the hostile hosts. The house was beautiful--complete with a guest house and an inground pool. Actually it is common for anyone living in a home of their own to have a maid or a "care-taker" who usually stays in another house in the back of the estate. They had both a care-taker (a man who takes care of the lawn and property) and a woman care-taker...probably called a maid (she takes care of the laundry, dishes, and cleaning the inside of the houses).

The most interesting surprise was the dinner we had. We had pizza!! In Africa! We also had no electricity until about 6:30pm and still had a means to boil water for tea on a propane burner. They have to be prepared to be without electricity for long periods of time (most days 3-5 hours of the day, sometimes longer and sometimes even for multiple days at a time). They have a dog, "princess" and a beautiful garden with tomatoes, rosemary, lettuce, and various other plants. We stood for a while talking to Bud Jackson and saw a beautiful bright red bird and a black bird with a really long tail that the bird grows longer & longer.

We all ate together and talked for a while about the local church and the history of Zimbabwe. Then, their maid came to the door with bad news about her family. I did not hear all of it, but it included someone in her family dying, a sister who is very sick, and a family member in a car accident. It really struck me with emotion to watch everyone circle around her and pray for her. Then a couple of our team members hugged her. I didn't even know who she was and I began to cry because seeing everyone love her right there was emotional and beautiful. It really struck me how rare this type of interaction is where we live and perhaps even in Zimbabwe, but it was refreshing to see her loved and taken care of and supported not just as an employee but as a member of the family.

Afterwards, the whole team (10 of us) gathered in Rose Maria's room and practiced singing a song that we would sing tomorrow morning at church. We were all so exhausted that after a couple times, we were about to collapse and headed to bed early. I am so completely exhausted and  at the same time, I still can't believe I am actually here in Zimbabwe right now! I have some serious emotion building up from somewhere within me, but I have no idea where it's from or what it's about. All I know is that I will most likely cry at some point on this trip because seeing God at work all the way out here almost at the tip of Africa is overwhelming and hugely powerful. Watching this couple just love us and others so willingly and so genuinely is such a perfect example of who I should be resembling.

Tomorrow the only thing I know so far is that we will be attending a local church and singing for them. After that, I have no idea! Should be another adventurous day!

the women when we met at the Team Headquarters:
RtoL: Bonnie, Rose, Alicia, Me, Maria

The Hostile and the trusty van that took us everywhere!

the Group relaxing for tea (which we had multiple times a day!) after we arrived
RtoL: Dan, Rose, Me, Maria, Steve, Jeremy

Martin & Rosie

A picture of Harare as we were driving around


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Beginning of my Journaling through Zimbabwe

Hey everyone! I am now home and enjoying the luxury of my own bed, running water, consistant electricity, familiar food, and having my wonderful family, fiance and family near by :) Thank you all for your amazing support and prayers!!

While on my trip, I journaled everyday and attempted to keep track of names, places, experiences and my always changing emotions and thoughts. I will be updating my blog as often as I am able this next week with entries from start to finish about my trip. I will include pictures as well, but if you are interested in looking at TONS more pictures, including those from the other 9 members of my team, visit :

Stay tuned for lots more :)

Brit, xo

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One last entry before my flight to Zimbabwe...

So, let's just put it this way: my bags have probably been packed and re-packed about 3 times today. I am so nervous a bag is going to be lost or stolen or that I'm going to forget something!! I probably packed WAY more than I needed too, but I figure I'll most likely give away half my clothes anyway and it's better to be more prepared than not prepared enough. I've packed multiple packs of wipes and sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper in my carry-on (I've heard there is sometimes a scarcity of toilet paper and sometimes none at all). I've packed all sorts of medicine like advil, tylenol, tension headache stuff, bug bite cream, immodium, and tums. I've heard the fruit there is AMAZING but can cause some pretty nasty stomach issues and diahrea. So gotta be prepared for that! I've got everything from tanks, t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and a sweatshirt or two (it gets cool at night). I've got my camera (and frank's actually), batteries, magazines and books and a journal for the plane ride. I packed a ridiculous amount of underwear...cuz you never wanna be short on those. And I'm still nervous!!!
You know, it's kinda strange how we grow up in a society so focused on success, being prepared and educated, and focused on being equiped with stuff to make us feel more secure. Like, tonight as I'm in bed thinking about the trip I've been so focused on the stuff in my bags: do I have enough shirts? do I have enough underwear? do I have adequate amounts of soap and wipes to clean myself? do I have a first aid kit, all kinds of medicines and plastic bags "just in case"? It's funny because maybe the truth is, no matter how much stuff I pack, I still won't be prepared for what I will see in a day or 2. No amount of stuff is going to make me comfortable when I look into the eyes of an infant with AIDS or with some sort of birth defect, a child without clothes or food, a pregnant woman who just walked 20 miles just to give birth to her child at a hospital, a man who cannot provide enough for his family. No amount of clothes or soap or money could ever prepare me for what these people will teach me. I am so overwhelmed with excitement for the things that I will learn. If I left all of my possessions there and just came back with what they will teach me about life, about joy, about love, and about their culture--I think I will be okay :) Remembering these things makes me feel less frantic and like maybe the point of this whole trip is to surrender to the control I am so in love with. To let go and actually feel uncomfortable, feel vulnerable, and feel afraid. Maybe this way I will learn more anyway. Just thoughts.

So...I will stop packing and unpacking and racking my brain for something else I can fit into my suitcases and I will lay in my bed, pray really hard for safety and for strength and for an enormous amount of courage. And I will try to get some rest.

I will wake up at 4:00am tomorrow morning and start the drive to the JFK airport at 5am. My flight takes off at 10:40 and I should be arriving in Harare, Zimbabwe around 1pm on Saturday. PLEASE pray for me and my team to have open hearts, courage, strength, and wisdom. Please pray for safe flights and health while we are there. Please pray that God would make it clear to us what we can do while we are there, why we are there, and what we can take back with us to share with everyone here. I can't thank everyone enough for your support and endless encouragement through this whole process!! I appreciate everything.

I will be arriving home to JFK airport Sunday morning January 16th. As soon as I am able, I will send out a message on FB to say I have arrived back in the US safely. And as soon as I am able I will start typing my journal entries for the week so that you can journey through my trip through those :) And you better believe I will post pictures ASAP!! Thanks again. I love you all!!


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Soo...PS. I'm also REALLY EXCITED!!

So aside from all my silly fears and worries about this trip, I am also really really excited. Things I'm excited about include but are absolutely NOT limited to:

1. the warmth
2. the sunsets
3. the new and unique smells
4. the sounds of the people and the nature at night
5. the avocados :)
6. the beautiful children I'll get to actually see and hopefully laugh and play with
7. giving the children the beautiful knitted dolls the woman from church made them
8. meeting the amazing and courageous people behind the many organizations in the Harare community working to support and strengthen the people there
9. the people I'll meet
10. the stories that i'll hear
11. the memories i'll be blessed to help create and be a part of
12. and honestly i'm excited about being uncomfortable. I think being uncomfortable is the first step towards learning and growth. Without that, there's no reason to stretch and change. It's a daring thing to say I'm excited for, but I'm praying that it will be worth it.
13. and most of all, I'm excited about the amazing things I will learn from such a drastically different place. I always want to keep learning and I can't wait to see what Harare has in store for me!

Let's just hope I can swallow my malaria pill tonight...the instructions tell me that taking these pills is both grotesque and difficult for stomachs to handle. So I'm praying right now that my stomach is tough enough for this medicine. I don't know what I'll do if I can't keep it down. goes the Malarone challenge day #1. (of 17 lol)

I hope that leaving you with some positive notes is encouraging :) It really helped me to think more about the good than the bad today. I am almost finished packing. I just have to figure out some last little details, take the Malarone (and hope I can handle it) and get all my flight stuff situated.

I cannot believe this trip is in 2 days. It's sooo surreal. But, I've packed my journal so I can take LOTS of thoughts and notes down for you all to enjoy when I return and you better BET I'll be maxing out my memory card with pictures :)


Monday, January 3, 2011

4 Days until Zimbabwe...and other things.

So...count down is officially at 4 days!!!

I am kinda going into a bit of a shock at the moment. It's been a CRAZY and somewhat overwhelming past couple of weeks. First, was the most wonderful day of my life so far...I got engaged on December 9th. It was everything I've ever dreamed of...but then 2 days later my grandfather passed away. That whole entire week following was one of the longest weeks ever. TONS of family events, dinners, planning the funeral, helping my mom through her loss as well as trying to swallow the fact that both my grandparents on my mom's side of the family are gone. That week was intense. Then, the week after that, was full of planning and preparing for Christmas. Christmas lasted from Friday Dec. 24th-until last night, Jan 2, 2011 since I spent the entire week meeting all sorts of people and going all over the state of NJ to various Christmas celebrations including an authentic 7 Fishes dinner with Frank's father's family, Christmas at home, being snowed in at my house when we had originally planned to have Christmas with the O'Neal family at our house, a 2 hour trip to visit Frank's friends from Rowan, NJ, another 2 hour trip the next day to have dinner with his father's parents, then another 2 hour trip up to Wayne, NJ to have a Christmas celebration with his mother's family. THEN, for new year's eve, we drove 4.5 hours up to Vermont with friends from work to snowboard only to drive another 5.5 hours home the following evening, ending with the O'Neal family Christmas (luckily at my house) last night. I. Am. Exhausted.

But last night as I was laying in my bed (exhausted, but somehow unable to sleep) my mind started racing. I thought that my engagement had already set in a couple weeks ago, but I think with all of the craziness of the past few weeks it is just starting to sink in. I cannot believe that I am only a year and a half away from marrying my best friend and love of my life. I have been through a ton and waited a long time to find him...and honestly I never really had to look. God definitely answered my prayers and brought him right to me. I could never have asked for anything more. But at the same time--it's HUGE. It's a tad bit scary, but mostly sooo exciting :)

On top of all this excitement and this huge step I have taken in my life--my mind was racing, speeding through all my concerns, fears, and anxiety for this upcoming trip to Zimbabwe. I've been so crazy busy and overwhelmed with all that has happened in the past month, I am beginning to feel extremely unprepared for this trip. I have been absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the amount of support and encouragement I have gotten from friends and especially my family, not only financially but wonderful moral support and I feel 100% backed up by everyone I love and care about.  I couldn't ever ask for a more wonderful family...and that includes my future family too!!

Last week I went out and got some of the essential traveling things and began packing. I started to get nervous about the most ridiculous things. And to be quite honest, some of the things I was stressing over are entirely superficial and embarrassing, like: what if I can't shower?, what if I break out from the medicine or the food or the heat?, what if I hate the food?, what if I have to eat that ant paste stuff I've heard about or mystery meat??
And then I started wondering about my weaknesses and more scary things like, what if I hate it and realize I'm far to scared or weak to be in a place so far away and so culturally different?, what if I mess up and end up hurting someone there? say the wrong things? offend someone or realize there's nothing I can possibly do to help or support them?, and what if I'm not ready to go? or if God really doesn't intend for me to be involved there?

I think this week I really need to focus on preparing my heart for this trip. I can't stress this enough:
This trip is SO not about me.
And I have to keep reminding myself that. If I hate the food and starve most days, well, then I am only catching a very small glimpse of the hunger pains many children have faced all their lives.
If I can't shower, at the very least we'll all be in the same boat, more realistically I'll be forced to put aside my own self-absorbed philosophy of beauty and purity and realize a more profound experience of purity and beauty in the people and culture around me.
When these challenges arise I'll need to lean more on God and on these people I don't even know for help and support and I'll be humbled and probably learn way more than if I went to visit them but stayed in a resort hotel with clean water and american food. This experience is supposed to stretch me, challenge me, and put my own selfish concerns into check. I can deal with gross food or no food for a week. I can deal with being dirty and smelly. I can deal with anything really for 10 days when many people all over the world don't even have a concept of what clean water is or satiated bellies. And if through these challenges I can at the very least learn something from people who appreciate the more important things in would be worth it. This trip is about learning. Growing. Challenging myself. It's not about saving these people. Because to be perfectly honest, sometimes I am absolutely positive that most people in America need just as much saving as they do. Just for different reasons.

For the next 4 days I am going to do my best to reflect on these things to prepare myself and clear my mind of all the drama and excitement of this past month. For a month it was about me and Frank being engaged and expressing our love to eachother and meeting all kinds of people, but in a couple days it will be VERY far from being about me.

Thanks again for everyone's support. I don't even know how to express my gratitude.