This blog post was written by Joseph Phiri who is on a full ride scholarship with Arise Africa to Africa University in Zimbabwe.
On August 9th I started a trip of a lifetime to head to university for the first time ever through Arise Africa. I was awarded the full scholarship with 3 other individuals whom I have worked with through Arise for the past 6 months. Arise Africa works with Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC) who supports a university in Zimbabwe, called Africa University. HPUMC graciously gave Arise the scholarships and the four of us are beyond grateful, excited, humbled, and a bit nervous to head to college!
So, our trip started in Lusaka Zambia at the bus depot with a lot of goodbyes, hugs, words of encouragement and well, all the formalities. But before the departure, Alissa, Megan, and Morgan came to the bus terminus where we all met to get our final goodbye hugs. Alissa prayed before the bus came, but the group was forced to head back before we loaded in and set off for our trip.
The bus left Lusaka for Livingstone at 10:00hrs instead of 09:00hrs. We didn’t mind because we are used to Zambian time anyway. As the bus was leaving the bus terminus, an evangelist from a Baptist church encouraged everyone from the word of God. He read from 1 Corinthians. In his encouragement he said, we are all supposed to fasten our seat belts so that we can be safe in case of any accidents. He said the seat belt might protect us from the accidents but it can never protect us from hell fire if we do not have Jesus in our hearts. He was intense! Jesus is the only one who can protect us from both the accident and guarantee us eternal life. He also helped lead people to Christ and further advised everyone to go to a Bible believing church to worship Jesus.
At around 16:00hrs, we were still on the bus to Livingstone. At this time, we had shared all the stories we had from home, what we would be doing when we are in University and what we would miss about Zambia. Silence roamed in the bus. Not only from us, but the whole bus was quiet. Then at around 17:00, Grandson asked how far long we were from reaching Livingstone. All I could answer was soon, the same answer I had been giving since 13:00hrs. Then I said, whenever you see the first toll gate you will know we are in Livingstone. At this moment not even a baby would believe it if I said we are reaching soon.
We reached Livingstone at 17:45 and almost all the shops were closed except for Hungry Lion (fast food chicken store). We stopped over at Hungry Lion at 18:00 and rushed back to the taxis at 18:10hrs. This was the quickest service I’d ever received in Zambia, especially for an outlet like Hungry Lion. The drivers knew the Livingstone roads so well. We reached the Victoria falls border at 18:45 and we were so lucky to enjoy it with such a small group; it was just the 4 of us and a few Zimbabwe nationals going to Victoria town. At 19:00hrs, we were all checked in and ready to go. The immigration officer was so nice to us. She was excited to know we were going to Africa University because that is where she attended University. I asked her to confirm all the nice stories we heard about the university. All she could say was, “go and experience it yourself and when you graduate come back here and ask me the same question if you still have it.” Smart officer, right? How I wish you could be so nice to let us stay in Zimbabwe for a year without a study permit. Wait, did I mention we were only allowed to stay in Zimbabwe for a week because we did not have our study permits with us? Apparently a full scholarship means everything was paid to the school to help us get everything we needed. The immigration officer at University did not understand that. But anyway, Grandson said, “God’s got this.”
Off we went to Victoria town to get on another bus going to Harare. When we reached the bus terminus in Victoria town, the first thing we heard was blah blah blah. That’s all we heard because the African man standing in front of us was speaking Shona. We know Natasha and David look like Zimbabweans but none of us can understand a word of Shona, at least not at that point because it was late and all we wanted was to eat our Hungry Lion and go to Harare. At 20:00hrs, before the bus left, a woman from Zimbabwe prayed. We did not even know they were praying until we heard “in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen!”
A lot of funny things happened on the bus. Firstly, the 60 seater bus carried over 70 people. Wondering how that magic happened? Remember we are in Zimbabwe, anything is possible. Even standing on a bus moving at 80km/hr for 8 long hours. Who does that? Everyone in Zimbabwe does, even the police ride on buses for free but they have to stand the whole way. We also noticed there was no street vending down town. We were impressed until almost everyone started advertising their products on the bus. So anyone can get on a bus and sell their products without paying anything. Yeah! Not even tax. Even the newest buses still show 1999 movies. I think Chuck Norris was still in his 20s in the movie we saw. Zimbabweans enjoyed it! Thank God we were already tired so we just went to sleep.
By 05:00hrs, we were all tired of sitting and sleeping. We were ready to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way. We had never longed for a walk like we did that morning. I heard David saying he wanted to go walking to Mutare. With 2 hours left to go, Grandson encouraged him to “just hang in there bro”.
I want to commend the Zimbabweans for always remembering God in the things they do. At 6:00hrs, the conductor gave an announcement about how the bus was going to move when it reached Harare. After the announcement, another woman prayed aloud thanking God for the journey we had and committing the rest of the day in God’s hands. This is all we needed to get revived and have new energy again.
At 08:00hrs, the bus made a final stop in Harare at a market called Mbare. This place reminded me so much of back home in Zambia. This place looks exactly like Chibolya and Kanyama. The only few differences are that; 1) You need to pay $2 for someone to give you directions to where you are going, 2) When the guy pushing trolleys that carry luggage says he charges $2 in the presence of his friends, what he really means is you have to give him $20 when he arrives to where he is taking you, 3) No one will speak to you in English when they know you are a foreigner and, 4) luggage does not pay even if it fills up half the bus.
The bus to Mutare from Mbare started off at about 8:45hrs. It was another long trip. Luckily, the only stops we made were at the toll gates. We arrived in Mutare at 14:00hrs. Immediately when we stepped off the bus, taxi drivers ran to us shouting how much they will charge to take us to Africa University. Wait, how did these guys know we are students? Oh yeah, the colorful Under Amour backpacks might have attracted the attention. We were surrounded by a lot of taxi drivers. Some guy and his friend got our bags, put them in the shade and told everyone he was sent to pick us. Was that true? No. He just came to our rescue because he knew we were a possible target for thieves. He asked us where we were going and assured us he would take us there without any trouble. Before we got in any car, we had to make a call to the man from the school that was expecting us. This taxi driver helped us with his phone. We called the man a couple of times but his phone went unanswered. We then asked him if we could make an international call. With no hesitation, he just said go ahead. We called Megan and notified her of our arrival. We also told her we could not get ahold of the man from the university. She tried to call him as well, but the phone still went unanswered. She then called us back and told us to proceed to the school and we did.
When we left the taxi station, the driver went to refuel his car and told us we were his first customers for that day. Taking advantage of his goodness, we asked him if we could make a stop at a restaurant to quickly get a take away order and again, without hesitation, he said yes. He took us to one of the “best” places in Mutare called “eat and lick.” The stop did not take us more than 10 minutes and we were back on the road again. On our way, he told us a lot about Mutare and Zimbabwe in general. He told us about some of the do’s and don’ts of Zimbabwe. It was a good 30 minute drive full of good stories, excitement, nervousness and eating. We arrived at the school grounds at exactly 3:45 pm. We declared all our items at the gate and then proceeded to the administration. The driver helped us remove our luggage from his car. Unfortunately, that day was a holiday and the administration was closed. We had to wait for someone to help us know where to go. The driver waited with us again and told us more stories about his life and his family. Then Grandson excused our bad manners because we forgot to ask him his name along the way. “Abide!”, he exclaimed with a bit of laughter.
A few minutes later, a lady came through and lucky enough, she was a sub warden, more like a university prefect maybe. She directed us where to go and our life in university began. More about our first week in school in the next edition. Thank you for reading.
Joseph, Grandson, David, and Natasha