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Although by Australian standards the facilities would be deemed unacceptably primitive, it has a lovely atmosphere and seemed to us to be clean and wholesome. The Anglican nun, Sister Dorothy, who showed us round was a cheerful and welcoming delight and the children we encountered appeared happy, lively and contented.
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As I hope the photograph shows the orphanage has its own simple architectural beauty, though like nearly all worthwhile institutions in Zimbabwe it suffers from lack of funding. There have been several online campaigns to raise money to help keep it afloat, as well as to support other ventures and projects in the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.
The best of them are under the auspices of the remarkable priest I was ordained with, Father Nicolas Stebbing. There is much further information about these, as well as accounts of his frequent visits to Zimbabwe on the following website, if anyone is interested:.
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The home is named after Arthur Shearly Cripps, one of Anglicanism's great, if largely unsung, heroes. Colonialism and the activities of early missionaries are denigrated and decried by the politically correct, but nearly always there is a good as well as a bad side to humankind's activities. Throughout the British Empire, many, many well educated, brave and idealistic men and women felt themselves called to sacrifice their comforts, prospects and even their lives to aid rather than to exploit indigenous people.
Arthur Shearly Cripps, a priest, short story writer and poet was one such. Arthur Shearly Cripps. He is something of a legend in Zimbabwe. Born on the 10th of June , he died on the 1st of August He read history at Oxford, trained as a priest and became a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as much later did my father. Intent on working in Mashonaland, after reading Olive Schreiner's Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, a strange book, it is fiercely critical of Cecil Rhodes and his methods.
From Cripps was priest-in-charge of Wreningham Mission near Enkeldoorn now know as Chivhu , proving to be a doughty defender of the rights of Africans and coming into conflict with the British South Africa Company over land distribution.
In my first parish as a priest in Mashonaland I was privileged to have as a parishioner probably the best poet I have ever been at all close to, a splendid Anglican in his own right called Noel Brettel. In his remarkable book which he calls "an essay in autobiography" entitled "Side-gate and Stile", he devotes an eloquent and perceptive chapter to Cripps and to his old Mission Church, euphoniously called, Maronda Mashanu The Church of the five Wounds.
Noel Brettel was for many years the headmaster of a school in Enkeldoorn Chivhu and used to visit the ancient and all but blind Cripps to read verse to him. He says of Cripps From Wreningham began those ceaseless journeyings along interminable winding footpaths that are perhaps even now, for the evangelist, the explorer or the exploiter, the only sure way into the heart of Africa. It must have been a life of incredible hardship for one so genteelly nurtured and he took an austere joy in making no concessions. He fed only on the coarse food the people could give him,.
Trudging her hill-paths,. From sun-up to sun-down,. Gnawing her corncobs. And munching her groundnuts. That there should be an orphanage named in his honour is wholly right and fitting and it was lovely to revisit it and be made so welcome.
Mangwendi to Marondera. Before we left St John's we were invited into the office of Fr Mutukwa in the second house we had built at St John's all those years ago for my father's assistant priest, a splendid man called Onias Chikandiwa. Built of stone rather than the local, homemade brick it was nonetheless in obvious need of repairs to its ceiling and roof.
We had a brief chat about his work and life and the troubles of the diocese and we pledged to keep in touch. From St John's Chikwaka we headed back to the main Mtoko road, turned right towards Mtoko, crossed the well remembered Inyagui River, though on a high bridge these days, rather than the low and far more exciting one, subject to flooding during the rainy season in days gone by. We were looking for a road that would take us through Mangwendi tribal lands to Bernard Mizeki College, not far from Marondera.
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The Marondera district is lovely, much of it more than five thousand feet above sea level and madu up of brachystegia woodland or savannah, dotted with granite kopjes and dwalas. The old road that I fondly remembered was of dirt and skirted a long and massive dwala, massive, smooth, exfoliating, solid granite mountains, this particular one nicknamed in our family "The Slug".
There is now a tarmac road across from the Mtoko Road, far less interesting and bone-shattering, but a good deal more speedy and with hardly any traffic at all. It was good to be once more right in the heart of traditional, rural Zimbabwe, with so many the family kraals of rondavels "spearing the skyline", and the neat, colour-washed schools appearing romantic and idyllic, though in fact life in these parts is very far from pastoral bliss. Most villages have no electricity or running water and are miles away from rural clinics of any description.
River water is usually death-dealing bilharzia ridden, and what food can be grown is entirely dependent upon fickle rainfall. Travelling along the Musami road on our way to Bernard Mizeki College, near Marondera, through what used to be designated, in the bad old days, the Mangwende Tribal Trust lands, and now in the bad new days, I know not what, but probably the same, was a true home-coming.
This was the area that first ignited my love of Africa as a boy.
Mission priesting. When we first went to Rhodesia in my father was based at what is now Bernard Mizeki College, but his responsibilities as a "mission priest" included the oversight and care of all the Anglican schools and churches in a great swathe of country to the north and east, an area fifty of so miles wide and three hundred miles long. When on holiday from school my brother and I would sometimes accompany him on the shorter of his regular treks to distant schools in the rattling utes he drove over terrible roads.
It was these vehicles and roads that eventually ruined the vertebrae in his neck, giving him a permanent "jitter" and painful pull of the head to one side that no specialist was able ever to do much about. It was a legacy he lived with from about his mid forties until his death at 89, one of the costs of mission priesting.
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Travelling in such lovely country over such roads was fascinating to young boys. The beauty of the granite "dwalas", inhabited by baboons, leopards and dassies, the lovely msasa-tree savannah lands and the friend-liness of the local people living so close to the breadline in romantic seeming, but often horrifyingly primitive conditions, are an irresistible backdrop to a happy childhood. It was good to be back, even though the eyes of an adult are more perceptively critical and the unhappy politics of a troubled land bring an awareness of deep divisions and social unrest that must have been there even in my youth, though in a different form because the Mangwende district played its part in the eruption of the civil war that led eventually to the downfall of Ian Smith.
When eventually we found the turn off to Bernard Mizeki College, the frisson of recognition was faint because so much has changed in fifty or more years. We passed the College itself and found our way, with little difficulty and a bit of advice, to the Primary School, where we parked our car and ate some fine sandwiches, perching ourselves on some convenient stones, enjoying the sunny and breeze-rendered lovely day.
Bernard Mizeki College. The building of the "College" had been the cause of our move from St Bernard's Mission to Chikwaka all those years ago, because my father was against the whole project. Bernard Mizeki College was originally conceived as an elite school, a sort of African Anglican "public school", the brainchild of two English public school educated Anglicans called, I seem to remember, Canon Grinham and Maurice Carver.
Doubtless a pair of fine and idealistic Christians, they nonetheless became our family's bete noirs, especially my pugnacious and doughty mother's. My father considered the importation of elitism into an Africa crying out for universal education, especially of girls, was iniquitous. However, being far from diocesan headquarters the forces in favour of the College were able to outmanoeuvre him, and so he shifted his mission headquarters to Chikwaka, having negotiated the grant of a sizeable block of land from the local chief. On finishing our lunch we attempted to find the first house I had lived in, in Africa, but were unsuccessful, even though we enlisted the help of a local lad.
His English was too poor really to understand what we were looking for. He did show us the new church, however, not a patch on the original one, which remains as lovely in my memory as the finest of English parish churches. It was destroyed or fell down years and years ago, but was steeply thatch-roofed, with ragged eaves supported by spindly msasa tree posts.
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- Ja, tausendmal Tausend, Aria, No. 3 from Cantata No. 43: Gott f?hret auf mit Jauchzen (Violin Part);
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Termite ridden, cement floored and with large, unglazed windows, it brought heaven very close to earth when filled with African school boys singing Victorian hymns in lush harmony, as outside the cicadas shredded the air, the black collared barbets called and called, and great blue headed lizards on the tree trunks bobbed their scaly heads. The house we couldn't find was a modest one and our inability to locate it was probably due to its ceasing to exist. Our hot water system had comprised in those days a pair of forty four gallon drums on their side in a brick kiln outside the house and plumbed in.