A constant thread in Two Years Apart, Audrey Garratt's account of two years on a VSA assignment in Zimbabwe, is how she coped with time away from her husband.
In March 2016, Audrey and Bruce Garratt will celebrate 50 years of marriage. It’s a landmark made more significant by the fact that, over a decade ago, Audrey went to live in Zimbabwe on a VSA assignment while Bruce remained home in New Zealand.
Audrey has written about the experience in Two Years Apart – A Volunteer Assignment in Africa. From 2002-2004, she pursued a childhood dream to live in Africa by making her home in Mutare in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands near the Mozambique border.
An art teacher, she was assigned to open an art department in Mutare Polytechnic, write courses and train art teachers. It was a troubled time in Zimbabwe’s history and Audrey was often the country's sole VSA volunteer. Two Years Apart chronicles bag snatches, road accidents, police interrogations and other adventures.
A constant thread is her relationship with Bruce, half a world away in Levin. “We both learned a heap of stuff through that experience,” Audrey says. “Since I returned, life has continued but our relationship is now at a deeper level than when we had five kids at home and two jobs.”
Bruce opted to stay home because “VSA wasn’t his thing”. He also had an older sister to take care of. “He was very good in that he allowed me to make that choice to go and he whole-heartedly supported me.” He visited once while she was in Zimbabwe, enjoying a taste of life in Africa and travelling overland down to Pretoria to watch an All Blacks Test against the Springboks.
Now both retired, Audrey says one consequence of their time apart is that they talk more easily about inner deeper feelings, about parenting, children and grandchildren.
She decided to write the book after bowel cancer in 2013. Urgent surgery led to a long convalescence when she drew on diaries, emails home and photo records to pen her account. As she wrote, Manawatu VSA branch secretary Hilary Smith provided valuable feedback.
Audrey self-published the 500-page book, which is liberally illustrated with her ink, pen and wash sketches of life among Zimbabwe’s Shona people. She’s pleased with the final product that she wrote primarily for her family. “I’d had a lot of questions [about the experience] but I’d never really told them the full story.”
Two Years Apart is more than just a diary of Africa’s joys and frustrations. Any prospective volunteer who has anguished over whether their partner will join them will find wisdom in its pages.