We awoke at 5 am, the sun rising, the birds already singing their choruses in the surrounding locust trees. At 5:30, Gift started up the Isuzu and we began to load the pickup truck with luggage for our forty-five hour trip home. It turned out our friend Petros was also going to be traveling with us as well as another delegate from the conference. Within the cab, the Isuzu has two front seats and a small bench backseat that seats three. Having seven travelers meant that two would have to ride in the truck bed. Immediately the three of us climbed into the truck bed, hoping to preserve our knees for as long as possible. They agreed, and we happily stacked the luggage and made seats in the bed that offered more leg room, fresh air, and drew up memories of childhood truck rides. We headed into town and picked up Petros at a gas station. Gift then told us that three Americans riding in a truck bed might draw unwanted attention. So, with some disappointment, we crowded into the bench seat and began the 4 hour drive into Harare.
During the drive we talked of Zimbabwean culture, the land reform movement, the war for liberation, and the practice of totems (an animal that ties a person to their clan, passed down through the father, that creates relational connection). Gift told us his totem is a lion and Mazvita’s is a wild cat. Gift and Mavita then, somewhat inadvertently, gave each of us a totem: Andy a sheep, Frank a lion, and Mark a baboon.
Then suddenly, Gift hit the brakes and said, “I think those two men stole that boys shoes.” He quickly pulled over while we craned our necks to see what had caught his attention. Across the highway, we saw a boy, his feet clad only in socks, walking behind two young men, one man carrying a shoe in each hand, the other carrying a yellow jersey. Behind the boy were two other boys about twenty yards behind. We had seen many people walking along the highway, many of whom were barefoot, and were surprised that Gift had noticed this detail while driving at 60 miles per hour.
Gift waited for traffic to clear, then crossed the highway and pulled the truck alongside the two men while greeting them in Shona. The men replied in a friendly manner but continued walking to what looked like a bus stop along the highway. Gift put the truck in reverse and slowly backed the truck along the side of the road in order to keep pace with the men. In Shona, he asked them if they had taken the boys shoes. They replied that they were friends with the boy and that there was no problem. Gift continued to back the truck, engaging the men further when one of the boys from twenty yards back yelled, “They took his shoes and they took my jersey!” Petros then stood in the back of the cab and asked the men to give the items back to the boys. Reluctantly the men returned the stolen items while saying to the boys, “You think this is the end of this? We will be back tomorrow!” The boy took his shoes, the other grabbed his jersey, and then the two boys began to run. Gift turned the truck around and as he started down the highway he waved and called out to the two men with genuine gratitude, “Thank you. Thank you!” He turned and said to us, “I wanted to get the shoes back, but I also want to preserve the dignity of the two men.”
The three of us looked at each other and smiled. This little act (not so little for the boy who had lost his shoes), was an embodiment of everything we had been talking and praying about at the workshop. Remembering the many stories from the workshop in which the people who reached out to victims were then attacked, we asked Gift, “Weren’t you afraid that the men might attack us?” “I didn’t think about it,” Gift replied. “I just saw the boy without shoes and the men carrying them and knew something was wrong and I needed to try and help. “You are a saint, Gift,” Frank exclaimed. Then we all went silent, pondering this little act of courageous love.
Three hours later we boarded a plane at the Harare airport. We had no money left. We’d not bargained on credit cards and ATM cards not working, so had used all of our cash for the workshop expenses. (In all of Andy’s trips to talk with bank managers he’d learned that the banks in Mutare – and most, if not all, of Zimbabwe, even the airport – had no ability to process ‘plastic’ transactions, since the country has no currency of its own.)
To be sure, as we left Zimbabwe, our hearts were eager to return to our loved ones. But they were heavy as well. We had witnessed a land enduring years of violence, poverty, and oppression. And yet, its spirit refused to die. In a courageous gathering of leaders mobilizing for reconciliation, in songs of hope and resistance being sung throughout the land, and in extraordinary acts of love and healing like Gift’s spontaneous intervention, the people of Zimbabwe are choosing peace over violence, courage over fear, and compassion over violent hatred. As we stood at the lobby airport and embraced with gratitude and blessing, we asked Gift, “How can we be in solidarity with you as we return to home?” He cocked his head and smiled with eyes sparkling in hope. “Tell our story,” he said. “Tell everyone you know about the real Zimbabwe.” We saw the real Zimbabwe. And we are telling the story.
–Mark, Andy, and Frank