The Tree of Life: What is lost, what is gained?

Working together in the fields is one the virtues of the blocks that built people up into capable, adaptable and gracious individuals

Working together in the fields is one the virtues of the blocks that built people up into capable, adaptable and gracious individuals

Blessing Masaririr Shelling the Nuts

To think that my grandmother knew every single member of the family, immediate and extended, well into her eighties, even if was only by voice, when her sight was failing her, and here we are, at family gatherings shaking hands and leaning over to ask, “Who is that again? How are they related to us?”

Sometimes it feels as if I have lived many lifetimes within the concept of this one life. This thought came to me when I had a flashback of sitting outside my grandmother’s kitchen in absolute darkness waiting for my turn to dip my hand into the clay pot of what felt suspiciously like madora in peanut butter.

We had arrived unexpectedly and long after dark as there had been issues crossing a bridge that was submerged in water.

My siblings and I were sent outside with one big plate of sadza and a clay pot of the mystery meat.

It was so dark outside there was no way of identifying by sight what I held in my hand and being a person who unequivocally disliked anything without bones that wiggles or crawls, I abstained from the feast, thereby saving myself the need to compete for the relish.

On other days, we would sit in the kitchen in a circle and each take a turn to mould a ball of sadza, dip it in sauce and pick a piece of meat.

I never liked eating with one particular cousin who would sneak a piece of meat, hold it in her hand behind her back, pick another one and continue the round until everything was finished.

Then she would reveal her illegal bonus and savour it in front of our eyes. This was bucking the system in a manner that caused much disgruntlement with everyone.

Holding back an extra piece of meat for yourself to enjoy at a time when most likely everyone was still wishing for more was not in keeping with the spirit of good faith and it made everyone else feel cheated somehow.

This was many years ago when communal living was still the norm, even if for us it was only for a week or so during the school holidays.

Relatives from the rural areas were well-known to us, not always well loved I admit as they tended to visit for extended periods depriving us of our beds, which had to be given up to accommodate adults.

As I grew older I realised that they stayed so long because they would have travelled long distances to come to the big city and it would not have been cost effective to make the long and expensive journey just for a few days.

We liked the relatives who brought something with them, especially mazhanje and roasted groundnuts.

There was always something special about groundnuts roasted kumusha, perhaps the smokiness from being roasted on the fire. We particularly loved dried sugar cane sticks. These kinds of things were plentiful from relatives visiting and you never needed to go look for them at the market.

Of course, kumusha was not our all time holiday destination of choice, but we adjusted once there and spent our days exploring and trying to get our heads around having to climb up the hill into the bushes even at night, to answer nature’s call.

I cannot imagine taking any of the young people I know now into a situation like that. I think they would only accept it with good grace if it was touted as a camping trip for a school requirement and even then I’m sure many would ask if there would be WiFi available.

I don’t think I would survive the complaints and the recalcitrance. This makes me question the quality of modern life especially in respect to our children. We grumbled and we complained during learning experiences that involved physical labour and the required us to give up leisure time, but we kept our complaints to ourselves and did what needed to be done. We knew that English was not spoken to ambuya or other grown-ups at home and we knew that if one person stepped out of line it was up to all of us to bring them back into step because punishments were generally of the blanket variety — we all suffered for the sins of one person. Of course we grumbled (under our breaths) that this was grossly unfair, but it was what it was and if you did not like the rules you were free to go find parents who would let you do what you wanted elsewhere. We now look back on these times with much laughter and some nostalgia. I realise now that these were the blocks that built us up into capable, adaptable and gracious individuals. There have been many other cycles since then — the other lives within this one. Perhaps to make it simpler I should say that this one lifetime is a host to cycles — like the rings on a tree that tell you how old it is, the cycles of our lives record the various stages, each stage so different from the one before it but all part of the same bigger picture. I wonder what today’s young people will recall of the cycles of their lives; how irritated they would become when asked to take their eyes off their laptops or TV, long enough to slouch off to where they have been sent, how they would be forced to greet family members they are meeting for the first time even though they have lived in the same city for many years.

Perhaps it is only a certain type of young person and there are others out there who are living non-digital, uber-urban, communally disconnected lives.

But now they have to worry about genetically modified foods and communicable diseases springing up in pandemic proportions, climate change and mass migrations. I wonder what our parents and their parents remember of the different cycles of their lives — they experienced their own similar cycles of life-changing events.

To think that my grandmother knew every single member of the family, immediate and extended, well into her eighties, even if was only by voice, when her sight was failing her, and here we are, at family gatherings shaking hands and leaning over to ask, “Who is that again? How are they related to us?”

Is less required of us in these latter cycles or is that more is demanded of us in other spheres of our lives? What have we lost and what has been gained? Does it even out somewhere or is the texture of our lives thinning out irretrievably? Does nostalgia fool us into believing there was a time we had more?

Does it fool us into judging ourselves in the present and finding everything lacking? Further down the line will we look at these cycles and imagine them to have been better and more wholesome? Are we simply never satisfied with what is before us at the time that we have it?

Perhaps each cycle is what is it and is no better or worse and adds to the whole in a way that we ourselves will never see until the tree is cut down and someone examines the rings.

Is it maybe easier to live life for what is present, knowing that whatever comes will come regardless, whatever changes, will change irrespective of what we once knew, and it is neither good nor bad, it simply is.

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