It goes without saying that if you move to another country (rather than just visiting), you’re liable to learn a thing or two. And, if you’re me, and you’re a bit (a lot) of a control freak, you will learn plenty… sometimes the hard way.
If I were to really write out all the things I learned while I lived in Zimbabwe, it would be more of a doctoral thesis than a blog post. That said, these are just a few of the highlights; the most notables in a very long list of “I have learned”s.
First on the list (and a lesson that I learn almost everywhere I go) is that I am not in control. In Zimbabwe specifically, who is in control depends on what I’m trying to accomplish, although the almighty controller is definitely not me. Macro? The president. Obviously. My husband has plenty to say about that. Micro? Local drivers, volunteer road repairmen, cashiers at grocery stores… anyone besides me. Thus acknowledging my lack of (and inability to get) control, it is best to just work within the system.
I have also learned how to be a hardcore pedestrian, because that is the only way Zimbabwean pedestrians survive. I was a bit worried, actually, that upon returning to Ottawa, I’d walk out in the middle of the street and wait for traffic to pass. Acceptable (and necessary) in Zimbabwe, but not in my Canadian city where we have functional (and sometimes pedestrian-controlled!) stop lights. So far, so good.
Much to my surprise, I realized that I don’t get bored just reading, writing and watching TV. Despite my previous workaholic behaviour, I managed to be fully content in my relaxing Zimbabwean life. I read nearly 20 books in 3 months, watched a lot of television, and wrote nearly half a journal full of thoughts. Those accomplishments alone give me great satisfaction. And then, of course, there’s my psychological healing. That’s important too.
Even perpetually pale people like myself are able to get a tan when the sun is always out and it is always (precisely) 28 degrees Celsius. Because Harare doesn’t have weather; it is sunny and then it rains occasionally and then it is sunny again. Weather can’t be the default topic in small-talk conversations because there is, quite literally, nothing to talk about.
Having a significantly smaller wardrobe (read: enough clothing for less than 2 weeks) is really freeing, and I love that I could choose to wear whatever I wanted without needing to consider anything besides the non-weather. But I missed wearing structured business attire, and dressing in a way that emphasizes my femininity. Maxi skirts, loose t-shirts, sports bras and yoga pants are the perfect attire for lazing around in the sun, but I actually don’t mind wearing high heels or a push-up bra again.
Despite the fact that a (small) portion of Zimbabwe’s population is white (British colonization, et cetera), I do not look like a Zimbabwean. It took me a while to figure out why, and then I realized: I was walking. White Zimbabweans are often wealthy, and wouldn’t walk much further than from their car to the store.
No matter how large and how powerful and how good an organization seems, they can still be a bit dim-witted about how to treat their employees. In other words, the United Nations isn’t as awesome as I thought. Sure, they do a lot of good work as a multilateral organization, but you have to jump through rings of fire while covered in gasoline in order to get a real job with them. And, if you have a vehicular crisis, they may or may not decide to rescue you. Details on that to come later.
No matter how much of your life you’ve spent being stressed out, enough time away from stress helps you forget what stress even feels like. This is the truth, people: I had to think (hard) to remember what the experience of being stressed looked like in my life. Miraculous, no? I imagine that stress might return now that I have a job and regular life to deal with again (or if not then, when I start grad school), but in the mean time, I am a stress-free me!
Do any of these insights resonate with you?