Cultural Immersion and Hospitality

My love of the African people, cultures and continent began in 1994. At that time, I was a senior at Suffolk University in Boston studying to become a certified social studies teacher.

I applied and had been accepted into a study abroad program called “Inter-Future” (Intercultural Studies for the Future) to conduct an independent research project on a topic of my interest and coursework. I traveled for two semesters that year; first to the Netherlands and then to Zimbabwe.

I had always wanted to go to Africa and was thrilled by the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe and to meet with educators, teachers and students and experience true cultural immersion. Upon arrival, I applied and was accepted into the University of Zimbabwe so that I could accompany the education professor on his rounds to visit his student teachers in the rural areas.

In Harare, I arranged an interview with Mr. Steven Chifunyise, the Deputy Secretary of Education and Culture, the equivalent to our United States Secretary of Education. Mr. Chifunyise was a proud and joyful man and so eager to engage and answer my questions. While he lived in Harare, Mr. Chifunyise was from Bulawayo and part of the Ndebele tribe. He told me I couldn’t leave Zimbabwe without having experienced the hospitality from his side of the country. He called a teacher friend of his and arranged for me to visit her. I took the bus across the country and arrived in Bulawayo, called my host, but there was no one home.

I had lunch, walked around town and tried her again but still no answer. I needed to find a place to stay and noticed in my Zimbabwe travel guidebook there was a National Park nearby and found a public bus heading out that way that afternoon. I assumed there would be a hotel or lodge in the park. I bought a ticket and boarded the bus along with many families heading back to the rural areas after doing their weekend shopping.

A herd of African Elephants on the move, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The driver dropped me where I pointed to on the map and pulled away. The sun had set and the sky was turning a huge beautiful African twilight blue. I saw a shooting star that lit up the entire sky. I looked around for a lodge or hotel and there was none. I was on “National land” but it wasn’t the park I had imagined. I heard two dogs barking and noticed they were running towards me. They were friendly but I was now alone in the dark with two stray dogs. I wasn’t afraid, just wondered how long it might take for the bus to come back.

It was then I noticed a light flickering on the other side of the road. I walked across the road and heard voices on the other side of a fence. Several men were sitting around a small fire. I said hello and met Sam, a nice man who was quite surprised to see me. I told him my story. He said the bus was probably not returning that night but workers would be coming back from the rural areas to town and I could catch a ride back that way. Turns out, the park was a national wildlife preserve and Sam and his friends were poacher patrolmen, protecting the Rhinoceros.

As I stood waiting by the road with the dogs by my side, Sam called out to me again. “Nancy, are those your dogs?” As it turned out, Sam the poacher patrolman was afraid of dogs… Anyway, as the story goes he came out to the road and waited with me and the dogs until I caught a ride in a white pick-up truck full of workers heading back to town. I sat in front between the driver and his sidekick. They dropped me in town and I called my host again. This time she answered. “Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t home when you arrived…where have you been?” All I could say was “I took the wrong bus”

The story of my bus ride out of Bulawayo may sound familiar and it remains one of my favorite traveling adventure stories to date. It is a true story of cultural immersion and hospitality!

Africa keeps calling me and I have plans to return again this summer, this time to Tanzania and the spice island of Zanzibar. If you’ve always dreamed of Africa, now is someday! Details at www.adventure-marketplace.com/adventures/tanzania

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