Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Life in Zimbabwe is full of surprises

Sitting around a blazing fire eating pizza, drinking wine and listening to a live trad session was not how I pictured spending my evenings in Zimbabwe, writes Emma Mulhern

Tue, Oct 9, 2012, 09:01



Emma Mulhern: "Zimbabwe is the place for me right now"

Sitting around a blazing fire on a chilly Tuesday evening, eating pizza, drinking wine and listening to a live trad session with a sax thrown in for good measure, was not how I pictured spending my evenings in Zimbabwe. I find myself in these situations a lot. When asked how I’m finding it here, my answer usually goes along the lines of “a pleasant surprise”.

Six months ago, after a flurry of coffees, drinks, lunches and a tear or two, I stepped on an airplane, Zimbabwe bound with anticipation in my belly, a personal alarm in my handbag and a 12 month contract in my hand. A 12 month work contract was a dream come true, something I was beginning to doubt existed after months of rejected job applications. With the news delivered on 22nd December, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present.

Over the Christmas festivities when I bumped into old friends, teachers and cousins and the inevitable and dreaded question of “have you managed to get work yet?” was shot at me in hushed tones, I not only had an answer but I had an answer that solicited shocked silence as a response. The first reaction was generally “why?”

My answer was generally “why not?”

I applied for the annual Irish Aid funded UN Volunteer programme, I was assigned here and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve left my family and friends behind on two other occasions for six months at a time but always returned with a thirst for the rain and a hunger for the postcard scenes of the Irish countryside. This time something has changed, maybe it is age or that I feel I may be starting a career and life here, both of which are challenging and rewarding in their own unique ways.

I don’t really see myself as an emigrant, but here I fall into the “international” category – sounds exotic doesn’t it? As a pale, freckly redhead I’m not used to feeling exotic! Right now, Ireland is a million miles away from my mind, physically, emotionally and mentally. I love Skyping home, I miss things like the All-Ireland and I’m counting down the weeks until my visit back there for a family wedding, but I can’t imagine living there anymore – not right now anyway.

Some people think I’m crazy when I say I’m happy living here, but Zimbabwe has gotten under my skin in a way I never thought possible. Living as an “international” comes with its perks and pitfalls. The expat community gravitates towards each other and you find yourself at a dinner table with a German, a Dutch, a New Zealander, two Americans, an Australian, a Brit, a Zimbabwean and a few Irish on a Thursday night making plans to escape the city for the weekend. But living among so many expats also means a lot of leaving parties.

In the last six months I have showered in the mist of Victoria Falls, white water rafted on the mighty Zambezi, been woken up by Zebras outside my tent, danced to a DJ in a private game reserve, toasted marshmallows with new friends, belted out my own version of Call Me Maybe to people who have requested I never sing again, conquered the highest peak in Zimbabwe, gotten a speeding fine in Mozambique (unwarranted, might I add!), been diving in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and witnessed frost in the green highlands (frost in Africa – who knew!?).

What is not to love about this kind of life? In just over six months here I’ve met some people who have been firmly placed on my Christmas card list, amazing people doing amazing things in their line of work. There is something about being in a strange land that forces friendships to form that in normal circumstances would never flourish.

Call me what you want – emigrant, international or expat, Zimbabwe is the place for me right now, especially when I can spend Tuesday evenings listening to a bodhrán, a box, a fiddle and a sax.