• Last modified 3039 days ago (April 27, 2011)


Koehns visit missionary son, experience African culture

Managing editor

People — people everywhere.

Those are the lasting impressions for Larry and Wanda Koehn of rural Durham regarding their recent trip to Zimbabwe, Africa.

They had the unique opportunity to visit their son and his family who are missionaries in Chegutu.

Tim and Sheila Koehn and their three children, Jared, 6, Maura, 4, and Dylan 1, have been living in the small, rural community for a year. Tom is in charge of a small church about an hour from their home. They will return to Durham next summer.

Larry and Wanda Koehn left their rural Durham home March 30 and returned April 13. They flew from Wichita to Chicago, spending a night in Washington, D.C., compliments of Ethiopian Airlines.

“It was a long flight,” Wanda said.

“Especially across the waters,” Larry said, which was 13 hours of nothing but ocean.

They flew from Washington to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The 320-seat jet was full.

“I was amazed at how well people got along,” Wanda said about the crowded flight.

Their son and his family met them at the airport in Ethiopia and they traveled to Chegutu.

“I was impressed with the number of people walking on streets,” Larry said. “There were people, people everywhere.”

Most local people travel town to town on public transportation.

“But it didn’t look safe,” Wanda said.

The Koehns were thankful they were traveling in their family’s vehicle.

The congregation from Tim’s church is members who farm and raise cattle. Most of the children attend school. The school system is set up so the children go to school three months and then are on vacation for three months.

“This is a very poor country,” Larry said.

It appeared that people made their living by vending food and souvenirs, Larry said. At every bus stop, there would be 40 or 50 people rushing to the vans, trying to sell something.

“There were many selling phone cards,” Larry said. “About every corner there was someone selling the cards (with minutes).”

Even though people are poor with sporadic electricity and water wells, residents can afford cell phones, which is also the way the Koehns communicate from Kansas with their son.

Tim and his family travel to the church several times a week in an extended cab Toyota pickup. Often, they will pick up people walking along the road since few have any mode of transportation other than walking.

While Larry and Wanda were visiting, the Koehns used a 7-passenger van.

“But there were times when there would be 13 people in the van,” Wanda said, when Tim stopped to pick up commuters.

Currently church services are in a rented room in a school building. It gets loud on Sundays, Wanda said, with other services going on at the same time. The congregation of about 10 members is in the process of building a small church — 6-by-9 meters or about 20-by-30 feet. The congregation had to seek permission from the tribe to build the church.

“An outdoor toilet was built right away,” Larry said.

A foundation is also in place.

Tim and Sheila have hired a man who takes care of the yard and a laundry woman. With the economy the way it is, their hired hands are paid only $5.75 per day. However, groceries and other commodities are more expensive than in the U.S., despite prevailing poverty.

The country used to be more progressive, Larry said, but President Robert Mugabe gave rebel fighters permission to take land and give it to natives, throwing the country into an economic crisis for the past 30 years.

English is the primary language but it’s not easily understood. The U.S. dollar is the currency but coins are hard to come by. Items at stores are even dollars so coins are rarely needed.

“If change is needed, customers take an item from a basket,” Wanda said.

While the Koehns were there, fuel was $1.39 per liter, which is about one-fourth of a gallon.

The seasons are mainly wet and dry with the climate being balmy by Kansas standards year-round. The country is located on a plateau, 3,000 feet above sea level.

Although Larry and Wanda didn’t have to take malaria medicine for the trip, there are some other health issues.

They said the family had a scare when Jared had a maggot imbedded under his skin. Laundry is dried outdoors because electricity is expensive and no one has clothes dryers. When clothes are hung outdoors, a fly, native to the area, might lay eggs in the clothing. If the clothes are not properly ironed, maggots from the eggs are in the clothing and can attach themselves to humans, as was the case with Jared. It then grew under his skin. A doctor was able to remove it and the boy was on antibiotics for a time.

With the prevalence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome — more than 35 percent of adults in Zimbabwe have contracted the disease — the life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 43 years, often leaving children without parents. As a result, there are numerous orphanages in the country — two in Chegutu. The Koehns visited both of the orphanages. In one, a single parent lives with the children.

“There is no room for the children to play because the houses are so close together,” Wanda said.

This particular orphanage is supported solely by church donations. There is no government assistance.

The other orphanage is funded by a women’s organization in England.

The Koehns had a unique experience of eating a meal in a native Zimbabwe home. Many natives raise maize, a white corn — similar to field corn. The corn is ground and cooked. The corn is served with greens that taste like cabbage. No silverware is used. Instead, they eat with their fingers, dipping the maize or sodsa in the greens.

“They don’t often have meat but that day, we had chicken,” Wanda said.

Kitchens are separate from the rest of the home, are typically round, and made from brick. Smoke escapes through thatch.

“Everything is black in the kitchen from the open fire,” Larry said.

There are some restaurants in the city — a pizza place but the pizza didn’t taste like it does in the U.S.

Despite high fences, locked gates, and a different lifestyle than the Koehns are accustomed to, Wanda said she felt safe while visiting.

There is no grass next to the buildings because of snakes. Many of the residents sweep their yards.

During their nearly two-week visit, they visited a national park with an animal refuge. Unfortunately, some of the wildlife, elephants in particular, are becoming extinct in the refuge because refuge employees are killing them for their tusks and hides. They did see a cheetah in the wild, which is unusual, with other wildlife. They saw three elephants crossing a road near Victoria Falls, one of the world’s most scenic waterfalls.

“We also saw some rhinos but their horns had been cut off so the poachers wouldn’t get them,” Larry said.

Not wanting to say this was a trip of a lifetime, because they hope to travel abroad again in the future, the Koehns said they do consider it one of the most unique experiences of a lifetime.

Last modified April 27, 2011