Ollie's House & School Outside of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Luckily, when I did the field research for my Fulbright abroad, I got assigned to Ollie, an Ndebele teacher living in Luveve, a high-density suburb outside the southern capital of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo.
While all of the 13 teachers I traveled with had their specific criteria to study, mine was to look into how social adaptation to economic change affected both disabled and non-disabled students living in rural and urban areas.
A teacher of hearing-impaired students, Ollie Kaira welcomed me into her family for three days, where she took me to her school- Mbizo Primary School, introduced me to her friends, took me on enthralling walks around the neighborhood, and eventually out to meet her mother, Mrs. Mthimkhulu...wayout in the rural parts of Ndabazinduna.
Ollie's Mom's House out in Ndabazinduna, Outside of Bulawayo
Mrs. Mthimkhulu came running down the road with open arms to meet me upon my return five years later...but for the first visit she simply blew me away.
I had to take a mule-drawn ox cart to reach her compound, and that, in itself, was an adventure. One girl joining us was on her way to see a nurse six hours away. She had her bleeding leg bandaged up but joined in when the other three female passengers sang the whole
hour-plus trip. Ollie explained that there was only one nurse for every 2,000 people, and she was only in certain days. A doctor? Forget it.
Mrs. Mthimkhulu was the equivalent of a local medical practitioner in her area, although she didn't even have a band-aid.
Visiting Standiwe's Family Outside of Ndabazinduna
Another hour and another ox-cart ride further inland I met Standiwe, a 23-year-old young lady with Downs Syndrome. Like many disabled individuals, Standiwe's education was not considered imperative, so she was taken out of school at grade three.
I got to share a room -and bed, with Standiwe in her wonderful mother's house. The springs were so worn that we both dipped down over a half a foot in the center, and basically slept on top of each other.
Standiwe was a delight, spending her time knitting or doing household chores and she was always, but always singing church songs!
She spoke no English. In the morning when the cocks woke us, I pointed to the ceiling or to her face and taught her words like "spider" and "nose."