By Cormac McCarthy-Hann
Vernam Timbini is a 38-year-old man, married with two young daughters, from Zimbabwe who joined SERVE in 2008 and has been working for the organisation in Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe ever since. Trying to give Vernam a job title is no easy task. He is everything from a construction site manager to a translator, a mentor to a counsellor. A once off encounter with Vernam is enough to leave an indelible impression on anyone, imagine then how attached one becomes after four weeks with this incredible man. I find myself racking my brains for an appropriate word to describe him but to no avail. The man defies description, he may only be written about in superlatives. He is the jolliest, the most optimistic, the friendliest, kindest, funniest and most insightful man I know, but his uniqueness lies in his ability to combine all of these and roll them in to one Zimbabwean pastor with perfect teeth.
‘Ok guys’… That was all it took. Two simple, seemingly insignificant words suddenly turned the pathetic departures lounge of Beira airport into the backdrop for one of the most emotional goodbyes of our young lives. He hugged the person next to me and as he did, she burst into sobs. ‘I will miss you’ he said, sombre and monotone. As he offered these words of comfort, I could feel my eyes swell and sting with tears. My chin quivered and my brow furrowed as I tried to restrain the emotion of the moment. He ended his embrace and slowly turned towards me. I could not meet his eyes, but I knew he looked into mine, red and bloodshot with sadness. He wrapped his arms around me and hugged me as though we were brothers. ‘I will miss you. I love you’ he said. As he uttered those words, I heard the slightest hint of a crack in his normally solid and jovial voice. I surprised myself as I mustered a reply, barely able to squeeze the words past the lump in my throat. ‘I will miss you Baba’ I said. He let me go and moved on to the next. I tried to look at the faces of those opposite me, careful to make sure our teary eyes didn’t meet. Their faces were a perfect mirror of my own, puffed up and red with the tears of an unwanted goodbye. I traced his movements as he embraced one and then the next, leaving emotional wrecks in his wake. Finally, he turned to us all. Two tears erupted from the corner of each of his eyes and raced to his jaw. He raised his arms and wiped them both with his shirt cuffs. Waving his hands above his head he said ‘goodbye, thank you, I love you’.
He turned and walked towards the automatic doors. A walk that lasted an eternity. The doors slid open and he left. Silence hung heavy over the group as we stared into space or at the ground, trying our best to remain composed. A packet of tissues was passed around as we gathered our suitcases and began our homeward journey.
A wish that we all share; one day we will see Mr Vernam Timbini in Ireland.