Retired New Zealand schoolteacher Audrey Garratt had always longed for adventure when she spent two years away from her close and supportive family in order to teach in Zimbabwe. Two Years Apart recounts her experiences during that time.
Zimbabwe was suffering political and economic upheaval during Garratt’s stay, from 2002-2004. Chanting government troops, Garratt notes, marched through the streets most mornings to promote order (or discourage opposition), and drivers could wait in line for days to buy diesel. Unfortunately, she provides little context for these events and largely avoids politics or criticism.
Instead, we read about her regular sundowners (late-afternoon cocktails) with white residents and foreign volunteers like herself and warm interactions with Zimbabweans. She develops close relationships with neighbor children who love her sandwiches and drawing pencils. And she resourcefully overcomes pervasive bureaucracy as she assembles materials, curricula and space for “teach the teacher” programs and a college-level art certificate program.
Garratt provides pleasant insight into the country’s people and enjoys sharing Zimbabweans’ sense of humor; some of her remarks— such as how standing in so many lines increased her “I queue” — are infrequent highlights. But her story more often reads like a too-detailed letter home. Drama is sorely lacking in the exhaustive, mundane recitations of her life, and she overcomes crises with relative ease after a bicyclist runs into her car, she’s robbed of her purse while walking near her home, and marauding vervet monkeys persistently break into her vegetable garden.
Garratt’s writing is linear, easy to read, and punctuated with her fine, hand-drawn illustrations. She was inspired to write the book “to express thoughts and feelings,” which unfortunately are restrained and buried in the descriptions of her daily activities.
This memoir hits all the familiar chords of living in Africa, affirming that personal connections make a difference in struggling communities, but it’s so detailed that only family and perhaps other volunteers headed to the region are likely to read to the end.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.