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I flew out of San Antonio on Friday, Jan. 11, for the first leg of my trip to Zimbabwe. At Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., I connected with South African Airways for the long flight to Africa.
My re-entry into Zimbabwe the next day reminded me how interesting life in Africa can be.
The driver from Africa University was not at the airport to pick me up when I arrived at 9:30 p.m. After waiting until 10, I decided to take a taxi to the Holiday Inn.
The taxi driver turned out to be a personable young pastor of a church in a low-income suburb of Harare. He drove a taxi part-time in order to make a living. I enjoyed talking with him and appreciated his good driving!
After breakfast the next morning, the Africa University driver picked me up for the four-hour drive to the campus. He was deeply apologetic for missing me at the airport, having misunderstood the time of my arrival. He went to the airport at 1:30 a.m. to meet me! How could I not forgive him?
It rained steadily all the way from Harare to Mutare, the rainy season having arrived a couple of weeks before I did. The countryside is lush, and the campus, in the rolling hills of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, is especially pretty now because of all the rain, though it also makes many walking paths muddy and slippery.
The AU Guest House keys were not available when I arrived Sunday night, so I was put up at the old farmhouse. Monday morning, I was greeted with smiles, hugs and handshakes everywhere on campus.
By Monday evening, the personnel office transferred me to the Faculty Guest House, but my room had not been readied as thought, and all the help had gone home. Fortunately, I still knew how to make a bed!
Electric power is often intermittent in Zimbabwe. We had no lights and I couldn’t use the guest house stove for the first couple of days. Happily, candlelight needs no electricity, and I was thankful for the traditional sadza, greens and brown-bean dinners at the dining hall.
When power came on at the guest house again, I was able to start cooking my own meals. If you’re interested in reading about my culinary adventures, please read my blog.
As you may gather from this quick sketch, one never knows what the next day will bring in Zimbabwe, but that keeps us on our toes. Even though many of these challenges are minor, every day is an adventure.
Unfortunately, there are also more serious difficulties that Africa University is wrestling with. I’ll touch on these briefly to give you an inkling of the problems it faces.
There are serious challenges at Africa University, primarily due to the worsening economic situation here. A number of major businesses in town have folded in the past year, and costs of services have escalated sharply due to inflation.
All of this has an impact on the university.
Support from abroad has been dwindling as costs have been rising. As a result, faculty and staff pay is flat, not keeping pace at all with the cost of living.
Some faculty members are leaving for better pay elsewhere. Of course, this adds to already-impaired morale for those remaining. It is a cloudy picture.
Yet Africa University is a bright spot for many reasons. It provides a sound ethical and academic grounding for many young people who graduate from this university to provide valuable leadership in business, education, health services and other fields in Zimbabwe and in other countries across Africa.
The fact that AU has been pan-African from the beginning makes it of value to all of Africa.
Although this is only the third year I’ve taught in the faculty of health sciences as a visiting adjunct professor, students I’ve taught are already making contributions in the health field in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, and that is exciting.
One of our second-year MPH students from Malawi is doing a major health survey there that will help guide Malawians toward healthier ways of life.
Many of the students I’ve taught come back to tell me what I’ve taught them has made the kind of impact in their own lives that they want to share with others. That is rewarding!
Ed Dodge, M.D., MPH, is a retired physician now living in Texas. Visit his website, www.thepoweroflifestyle.com.