As I write this I am sitting at my home in Harare (whoop, whoop), following an astonishing conversation with Vivienne Kernohan regarding the history of our Kagyu community in Zimbabwe. What began as a catch-up chat at her residence in the grounds of the Temple in Monavale, evolved into a story of dharma in Africa.
There is, I believe, a book in an old publishing format (one hard copy I am told is held in the Samye Ling library) that documents the initial years mainly through the eyes of one dedicated community member. But the story is bigger and broader and ongoing, and I cannot do it justice in a blog. What took place in the initial ten year period is more than a tale of faith, trust and discovery. What more it is, I cannot say, but I am left hoping it can be updated, documented and shared, and wondering how on earth I can help. Harare Buddhist Centre has a thirty-year 'on-the-ground' history in Zimbabwe. It did not end with the death of Rinpoche in 2013. So I am writing this blog. I want you to know.
In the late 1980's a small group of curious humans began gathering to meditate, or learn to, in the Cancer Centre in the capital city. Odd for a post-colonial and overwhelmingly Christian country, and brand new for Zimbabwe! Instrumental in these meetings were two Quakers and a professor of criminology (you couldn't make this up). Their connections with Samye Ling and Akong Rinpoche helped establish a small dedicated space with a Shrine Room together with the love and energy of several dozen people (a core-group number, despite comings and goings, that has stayed constant over the years). A first retreat was held in the eastern highlands in 1993, ahead of a formal visit by Akong Rinpoche whose attendant on this trip was the recently departed Rob Nairn (widely regarded as pivotal in introducing mindfulness and Dharma to Africa). Did you know Akong Rinpoche was called the African Lama by the 16th Karmapa who had repeatedly asked that he travel to Africa? (Is this alone not worth a whole chapter, or two or three, I am already enthralled).
From this first visit a piece of land was purchased (a house was sold for life-rights to live on the property, and Trish Swift and several others gave their time and resources into building a Shrine room - now a Rokpa Trust Project Centre). The subsequent visit by Rinpoche (with Donal Creedon as his attendant), resulted in another land purchase with the intention of setting up a larger Temple, a house for Rinpoche and a small caretaker's house. There is a wonderful anecdote here of bricklaying and fundraising for the Temple that involved Rinpoche taking on the bricklayers (outdoing their 200-brick-a-day performance in a fundraising event) and the building team having to rush out and purchase thousands upon thousands of bricks before the money raised lost its value due to hyper-inflation (again a chapter that would, if nothing else, show how obstacles are indeed the path!!)
The buildings mentioned were designed by Mick Pearce, experimenting with rammed-earth construction. Today, those two wonderful spaces are connected by a lovely walk through the unspoiled woodland. An additional space has been built across town, Borrowdale Meditation Centre, and both are connected to: Susurumba Retreat Centre in Juliasdale in the east of Zimbabwe and a community of practice in Chikukwa on the Mozambique border. What a lot is going on here, with people of many faiths and none!
There is magic in Monavale, and within this community and across the country. It is so very hard to leave, but ever so joyous to return to. I wish you could experience it.
Can I entice you...
...to the mountains;
...to Rinpoches' House on the hill;
...to join in!
I honestly cannot fit it all in! For the nature lovers the Monavale conservation society offers walks on the wetland, where you will find wild orchids and aloe growing on the rocky outcrops, flame lilies and hibiscus blooming amongst the long grasses. There are brightly coloured lizards and other reptiles, the side-striped jackal and even the odd monkey! And birds galore: purple louries, so many cuckoos; birds of prey (the peregrine falcon is here, a bird I know from home in Scotland), speedy sparrow hawks, magnificent eagles large and small, the kestrel; and the birds that let you know you are in Africa such as the go-away birds and turaco's, kites, and hamerkop. The water brings the egrets, herons and storks as well as the migratory geese (my father's beloved Egyptian Geese), ducks and more. The evenings bring the call of the nightjar and the owls, as well as fireflies. Bush babies leap across properties and in between spectacular indigenous trees. It is quite a show.
Come for a visit, or join a Retreat, you will be most heartily welcomed!