Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Great Zimbabwe, Church and Projects

(Written by Sister Bean with Elder Bean’s input)

Dear Family and Friends:

We have had an interesting two weeks in Zimbabwe. We are responsible for two branches of the Church; one is located approximately two hours away in a town called Kadoma, which is a little south west of Harare. The church building is very nice and looks like a regular LDS church. There were 121 in attendance and the meeting was well organized. Last Saturday we left Harare to attend the Masvingo branch, which is our second branch to visit. It is located approximately four hours away. We had to leave on Saturday in order to be there at 9:00 am on Sunday, since we do not want to drive at night. We arrived in the town of Masvingo early afternoon Saturday and went on a tour of a very interesting world historical site called “The Great Zimbabwe.”

This is the site of some very ancient ruins thought to be at least 800 years old or older. It is the site of an ancient civilization that appears to be fairly sophisticated. The country of Zimbabwe received its name from this site. In 1980 when Rhodesia gained its independence from Britain, the country was then renamed Zimbabwe, which name was taken from this ancient site. The symbol of the bird on the Zimbabwean flag was also taken from an ancient soapstone carving found in these ruins.

Elder Bean checks out the Flora
We hired a guide and she took just the two of us on the tour. It was fascinating. We climbed on ancient flat topped stone steps laid in regular patterns that wound up to the top of a very very very high structure built on the top of a cliff. The walls of this ancient structure were stones placed one on top of each other in a very systematic order without the use of mortar. We can’t imagine how they have withstood the test of time without toppling over. We climbed what seemed to be forever, sometimes through very narrow passages that only one person could barely get through. I was worried about climbing down after reaching the top, as the steps were very hard to stand on and very uneven and some loose and broken. The guide said not to worry that she would take us down the “modern steps” on the other side, which were very easy. On climbing down I asked, “When do we get to the modern steps? The guide said, “Oh, we are there”. I then asked, which I shouldn’t have, are there any snakes here? The guide said, "oh yes, the black mamba, the cobra and the python, and the python is considered sacred by our people and we do not like to kill it. They are all here."

"The Great Zimbabwe"
The site is very large and covers many hectares. We went to the huge round coliseum like structure where the king and queen lived and it was also very large, high, very thick walls and made with these same stones placed one on top of each other. The guide said this was the second largest structure in Africa, only second to the Egyptian pyramids. We really enjoyed this site and want to read more about it.

We stayed at an inn called The Inn of the Great Zimbabwe, and it was very lovely. The gardens were beautiful and it was situated above a beautiful lake. The dinner was served very elegantly and properly with waiters in uniforms, white gloves and we dined in a beautiful room. There was just one other couple and their little six year old boy staying there. The man was in charge of a big game park on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique and we had an interesting conversation with them. The child was delightful and very intelligent. He is being exposed to a very interesting life style. The only trouble with our stay was there was no heat or power. We went back to our very nice cold room, lit a candle and brushed our teeth in a cold bathroom and crawled into bed for warmth.

We attended the Masvingo branch the next day, which is another very nice church building. Around the exterior of the church, the members had planted a well kept vegetable garden with onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc. The interior of the church was very clean and the branch president is a very intelligent, impressive man. The congregation was singing as we entered and it was beautiful harmony. We didn’t sing because we just wanted to listen to the beautiful music. The African’s sing the same hymns that we do, but they have a different cadence, kind of lilting –different and very beautiful. Since there was no power, everything was sung without the keyboard. We were asked to speak and share our testimonies. The branch president taught Relief Society and the lesson was about the organization of the priesthood. He did a wonderful job. The members were very friendly and loving and wanted their pictures taken with us before we left. We really enjoyed it. We of course were the only white couple in church, but felt very comfortable. This is the area where they make the beautiful baskets and we want to buy a few the next time we visit the Church.

It took a long time to drive back to Harare, with a lot of big trucks on the road transporting fuel and goods from Johannesburg, which made driving slow and passing tough. There were several toll stations along the way and many policemen standing along the road. They may motion you to pull over, which might be a problem or might not. They waved us through.

The country side is very dry, since the rains don’t come until November. There are hundreds and hundreds of acres of empty fields full of tall yellow grass; some have been burned to keep the grass down. These are the sites where the Dutch farmers once had their farms. There are acacias trees dotted here and there or in groups all over the fields. These are the trees that we always associate with the landscape of Africa, trees that you see in books and movies about Africa. We are sure that at one time long ago these fields and savannahs were filled with elephants, giraffes, etc. The wind blows a lot and so far it has been very sunny, but cool. I am very grateful that a coat was left behind for me by the departing senior couple.

A latrine? Or someone's house?
We are scheduled all this week and next to look for sites to drill for boreholes or bush pumps as they are called here and build latrines, so we will be spending much of our time in the truck. I made a terrible foot-in-the mouth comment a few days ago when we visited a village up north to check out existing sites of latrines and boreholes and where new ones might be needed. We had two of the men from the village in our truck and they were taking us around showing us the locations. We came to a very small narrow structure made with old brick and I said “Oh is this the community latrine”? The man then said: “No this is my mother’s house”. It was terrible and I apologized over and over, while Elder Bean was almost splitting his sides trying not to laugh. Then a woman came to the car and I said to her “Oh are you his mother?” and she said, “no I am his sister”. So in just a few moments I managed to offend the whole family. You can imagine when we returned to our apartment, Elder Bean practically fell on the floor with laughter and he hasn’t let me forget it since.

We are busy and happy, but we miss all our family. We are very sad to not be there for Torri’s wedding in the Seattle Temple and the gathering of the family, but I know it will be wonderful and I will be with her in my heart and thoughts, but would rather be there in body.

New things to buy!
This is a very interesting and fascinating mission and we have met some very interesting people in our travels. We can’t wait to visit Zambia and Malawi to assess their needs and understand we might even be going to Botswana. We are still adjusting to driving, weather and culture, but feel we are really needed here. The new term we have learned here is: traffic lights are called “robots” So we should turn left at the next robot… Pretty cute I think.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers.

Love Elder and Sister Bean

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