Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
Back in the village in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve – if you like – late October and early November of each given year were anxious moments. Hunger, the community believed, knew no autochthon and hunger, they added, respected no cotton tuft head. Without food, the stomach always gurgled. That time, villagers started preparing the fields in anticipation of new rainy season that ushered in new life. The land was dusty and we were small boys, still milking behind our ears and hardly old enough to wear our pants without leaning against a wall or a tree.
Fields beckoned near the banks of the rivers and the hillsides, the flat platforms and floodplains, forcing elders – men and women working on them – to follow the same paths to the fields again and again, lest they were caught off guard by the rains.
Grandmother liked staying with her nephews and she had collected eight of us from her different daughters and sons, to make the home lighter and at least noisy. But we were too young to go to the fields and were always left behind to guard the chickens at the homestead against the lightning fast swoop of the eagle. Grandmother and grandfather spent most of their time in the fields. There they worked under the blistering heat, one eye on the ground another to the sky.
There was a pit toilet on the outskirts of the homestead and again, we were too young to relieve ourselves in it. Mupinge River snaked lackadaisically to the immediate north of the homestead and between the river and the homestead was a thick bush. That bush became our toilet.
Being thick, we were advised to go together when nature called. Seven boys streaking to the bush to relieve themselves, was something else. There was no tissue paper. Tree leaves were not advised either for, many creepy creatures clung precariously on them, some of them that would leave your behind itchy.
Granny had devised a safe method. A small sand mound carefully made by both hands, sufficed. One would just strategically sit astride on top of the mound and squeeze against it. Smart!
Tapfuma was the oldest among us. He liked spitting afterwards and squashing the sand-hued phlegm under hit feet. He was our spokesperson most of the times when we disagreed with granny on domestic chores. Tapfuma spoke strongly against bathing. He would do anything to avoid bathing.
Each sunset granny battled with us on bathing. We detested bathing. Sunsets were normally cold. We were too young to go to the river with older boys. We detested the scrubbing part of it but if we were allowed to go to bed with our ashen grey dust on our legs, we woke up clean and even smarter. The blanket would have done the trick, especially the fact that three or four of us shared the same blanket and there was massive pulling during sleep.
The wee hours, the time elephants normally bathed, was especially very cold and pulling the blanket was an endless job. It needed muscle and the young and weak was always in trouble. It was not uncommon to call granny to intervene. Do village elders not say one cannot ride on a donkey and avoid its unpleasant farts?
Food . . . food, food! Meal times were dramatic. Food disappeared as soon as the plate was opened. It was a maggot-like operation. One had to be good, fast and smart. We shared the same washing dish. We shared the same plate. The eldest started and it went on in line with hierarchy.
The same applied in picking pieces of meat. The eldest started. But Tapfuma had developed much skill in which he would swoop meat with a ball of sadza and on many occasions granny had to come to restore order.
At times she would give her own piece to the youngest after Tapfuma played his trick. With time granny devised a method. She would put soup only, and then come with a spoon to give each one of us a piece in the hand. Tapfuma remonstrated but granny would not give him an ear.
Granny never really beat up someone. She would threaten but would hardly beat up someone. Her eyes normally gave warning. This particular day there came granny’s visitors from South Africa. It was her brother who had gone to Wenera, as the Diaspora was called those days. He had married there and had brought his family.
A Mercedes-Benz was parked in the yard and we were instructed to chase after the biggest cockerel. We battled to catch the cock, through banana plantation, into the kraal and behind the bathing room right into grandpa’s shed.
There the cock hid under a rickety old table at the centre of a hotchpotch of farm equipment that included ploughs, hoes, axes and adzes. Tapfuma finally caught the cock and we jostled to carry it to the kitchen.
That evening grandma cooked in the kitchen and we gathered around the low fire burning at the centre of the house. Although there were two huge windows, most of the smoke remained inside, coiling snake-like up the roof.
Meal time then came and there we were around the plate. Tapfuma searched for meat. There was none. Instead, there was dried vegetable. It must have been cowpeas leaves. We started discussing in whispers and it was generally agreed that granny had forgotten to give us our share of chicken. Tapfuma, our usual spokesman, shout: “Granny . . . granny, granny, you forgot to dish out our chicken!”
Granny was pissed off and she shouted back: “Chicken is for the visitors only.” The voice was contemptuous. As soon as the visitors left the following day, we were all beaten silly. It was a twitch carefully selected by grandpa from riverine vegetation.
That afternoon lightning stabbed the air. Tree branches shook, swayed and sang. Heavy rains spattered. The old boys got rained on silly. They hid in the thicket but still it rained on them.
Grandpa ruled that we should go back to our parents to allow him and granny to work seriously on the fields. Thereafter they needed to go to and from the fields to hoe out furrows, then back, driven by the ancient rhythm of life to survive, across again, dribbling fertiliser. Then back and all over to sow the seeds. Then, back and across to weed day after day, with one eye to the sky looking for God’s saliva!
Rain! And, another eye to the ground — the weeds, the insects and the winds — before coming back for the final time, harvesting.
Harvesting the green cobs of maize, brown heads of sorghum, tufts of cotton and digging for sweet potatoes. Harvesting the dry maize. Everything! The village.