A Buddhist Lesson in the Zimbabwe Midlands

We’re in the van with Nathan, who has just picked us up at the bus stop in Gweru, where we’ve just arrived from Harare.  As we’re making the short drive to Antelope Park, he tells us there are two phrases we will hear a lot that we need to know.  He first asks if we know what “TIA” means.  I instinctively raise my hand.  “Ooh ooh, I know!  TIA means: This Is Africa.”  I first heard this term while watching the movie Blood Diamond several years ago.  Even though I’ve heard varying opinions on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Zimbabwean accent (mixing up accents from Zimbabwe and South Africa gets a similar scowl as those who mix up British and Australian accents), it’s still a fine movie.  It’s also, perhaps, quite relevant as Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is in control of a recently discovered diamond field that is said to be so chock-full of the stuff it’s a “freak of nature.”

I immediately liked this phrase and what it meant, or at least how I interpreted it, and I actually took to using it myself but changed it to “This Is Architecture.”  I never said it out loud to anyone, but it was often in my head.  To me, TIA, regardless of whether it’s Africa or architecture, is about acceptance and understanding that this is how things are, and to put your expectations of how you think things ought to be on pause.  In architecture, I would silently repeat this mantra, especially during periods of working 60-70 hours a week on deadlines.  There wasn’t anything I could do.  This is the profession I’ve chosen: it’s not me, it’s not the firm I work for, it’s not my client.  This Is Architecture.  Now, how am I going to get through it?

In Africa, the phrase is a reflection of the inefficiencies and lack of resources that plague the continent.  But those same lack of resources is what makes everyone we meet in Zim so resourceful.  It’s a characteristic that has really stood out to me in the books I’ve read, and even more strikingly in the people we meet.

The second phrase Nathan says we need to know is “Make a Plan.”  That’s what you say when TIA happens.  When things don’t go as expected: you don’t panic, you don’t sulk, you don’t get angry.  You “make a plan.”  We heard this over-and-over during our stay in Zim.   And while this may seem a bit of a stretch, as I pondered these two phrases during my time in Africa I thought about another favorite phrase of mine that I learned in a yoga class:  yatha bhuta.  This is in Pali, which is a language from the time of the Buddha.   It means, “as it is.”   As far as I understand it, it is about acceptance and understanding of how things are right now.  You don’t blame yourself or others.  You don’t wallow.  You can make a change, or a plan, if you don’t like the way things are, but change can only come after acknowledgement of the here and now.  Sound familiar?

I love these phrases, and it’s how I’d ideally like to live my life, although I find it’s easier said than done.  In the present, in the moment, accepting things as they are.  And when it all goes to hell, you “make a plan.”  Who knew there would be a lesson on Buddhism in the Midlands of Zimbabwe?

Scroll To Top