Ignatius Mabasa Shelling The Nuts
Once upon a time, a hungry jackal searching for food thought he had found himself lunch when actually he had caught his own tail. Without wasting time, the jackal sat down to enjoy the meal. He was eating and savouring his meal, when he suddenly realised that he had eaten his tail. We are living in a world of fast cars, quick bucks and instant miracles. We are enjoying super fast Internet connections where we download solutions to our problems. We are hugging strangers and in the process blurring and deleting cultural boundaries of appropriate relationships. We are hugging, side-hugging and flirting, and in the process becoming the proverbial jackal that ate its own tail.
One young woman asked me, “Mr Mabasa, how do you respond if a boy greets you saying ‘Hesi kabhebhi?’” Before I could answer her, I warned her that my reply could be traditional and boring. The prefix /ka-/ in the Shona language is used to describe or talk about small, insignificant, weak, inappropriate and even silly objects or people. You have words like kakadzi, kapenzi, kamota, kamurume, kahembe and so forth. Combining the dimunitive prefix /ka-/ and the English derived noun /bhebhi/ which comes from the word baby has connotations to say you are cute like a baby, but also like a baby you are helpless and I can help you. You also have the informal noun, “babe” or “babes” which is an affectionate form of address, typically for someone with whom one has a sexual or romantic relationship.
Although I agree that there is an element of endearment in the term kabhebhi, I don’t think someone who respects a girl with whom he has no relationship with could use that term. To me, such a greeting is sexist? It smells of male superiority and is a reminder of how culture sees women. It reminds me of how in Patrick Chakaipa’s novel Pfumo Reropa, the king sees a married woman and describes her as a virgin land that he was by any means going to till. King Ndyire remarked, “Gombo iro ndarida, ndichatoririma chete.”
The young woman agreed with me about sexism in the “Hesi kabhebhi” greeting and said it had actually confused her. The fact that she was confused meant that the boy or man who had uttered the statement knew that it would have such an effect on her. To a woman who is seeking attention, who is not often noticed, being addressed in such a way may be a hint. Unfortunately, I don’t like behaviour that disrespects women and girls by suggesting that a guy can order and take her away like fast food. This is why the young woman could sense that there is something off in the greeting, especially when it is coming from a workmate.
Obviously, being called kabhebhi does not mean the guy respects or loves you. He could be just flirting, meaning he may just be behaving as though sexually attracted to you, but playfully rather than with serious intentions. Yet, this is where I start having problems with courtship that looks like flirting. Of course boys will tell you that there is no formula to courtship, unless if you are a rooster which in Shona is captured in a proverb that says everything has a courtship style, the rooster does it by fretting.
Flirting is a modern game that opens serious opportunities for hyenas and jackals to ravage marriages and promote promiscuity. Flirting is a game for the fast and witty.
Unfortunately, like still waters that run deep, it drowns the clowns that wade in it. When you flirt, you are treading on very dangerous and treacherous ground. You behave as though you are sexually attracted to someone but rather playfully. Yet sexual attraction is a dangerous toy to play with because it metaphorically kills many things.
Flirting, which according to Merriam-Webster, flirting is “a) to behave amorously without serious intent, or b) to show superficial or casual interest or liking.” It is synonymous with the word trifle, which is something of little value. Yet in Shona small fires end up burning whole forests. Flirting blurs the lines of proper courtship and takes away the seriousness that relationships or affairs should have. There is a difference between flirting and real love, but how does one know where to draw the line?
But, how does one differentiate clowning courtship and courtship that results in marriage?
When married men flirt with single women, what can be the result? If someone is a flirt, will he or she graduate into a serious marriage candidate? If love is blind, I think flirting is stupid.
The other time, one greying man bought a newspaper and held the female vendor’s hand saying, “Are you not being sold like the newspapers that you are selling? I would love to “read you.”
Honestly what will one be trying to accomplish by such actions and talk? This was not just being flirty, but purely an expression of sexual interest and attraction. If the man’s wife got to know about it, such behaviour would create tensions that can be long term if not permanent.
While some women may encourage flirting men, there are some who are quick to read the riot act and manage the risk that comes with this game. The reason they are quick to read the riot act is to stop inappropriate behaviour and language as well as retain control and respect.
My problem with flirting is because I don’t know when it is supposed to end. I have a problem with flirting because it borders on sexual harassment. I have a problem with flirting because it reminds me of one cultural practice of chiramu, which is often taken advantage of by men and sees the vulnerable abused.
Flirting is both a mind and a power game. At the same time, it is a tool used by cowards to test if they can gain territorial advantage over others.
I pitied one man who looked like he was in his fifties and married because he had a ring. We met in a filling station shop where he bought a drink. When he had paid for the drink, he asked for a bottle opener from the sales girl. She informed him that they had misplaced their bottle opener and that if he did not mind; she could “kiss” him on the mouth by opening the drink for him with her teeth.
The man smiled and promptly said, “I don’t mind being kissed by a pretty girl like you.” The girl went on to say, “will you be able to handle it beyond this point?”
The man rubbed his shinny bald patch and said, “I will try.” I left the two continuing their strange and unhealthy conversation. But looking at the man’s age and ring, I felt he was greatly disrespecting his wife and the cultural responsibility bestowed on elders. If his wife was present, she would be very hurt, feel very cheap and inadequate.
In another case, one young woman was chatting with her workmate while she was eating lunch of chicken and chips.
Then she said to the young man, “these chips are burning my mouth, please blow into my mouth to cool down.”
She went on to ask him, “Should I open my mouth so that you blow into it?”
The guy laughed and shook his head saying, “Hey behave yourself.”
The young woman was flirting, but there are some who will say her behaviour was just a friendly act without sexual overtures. But I value the distance between the next person, and myself and an invitation of that nature has serious sexual connotations.
According to www.gotquestions.org, having casual contact with someone while purposely entertaining sexual undertones can be dangerous for us spiritually. Although most people believe that as long as nothing physical takes place, what goes on in our is irrelevant, the Bible tells us otherwise. Anyone who flirts may enjoy the attention, but the interest shown to that person is almost exclusively sexual and will probably lack any sense of respect.
I know that I hold very traditional, moralistic and conservative views, but I will not shift in order to accommodate improper behaviour.
There are those who will tell you that we should not read too much into the kabhebhi talk because it’s just talk which is not physical.
Unfortunately, I know how powerful words can be, and I can assure you that words can be physical to the extent of undressing a person.
Flirting often leads to touching and touching leads to messed up relationships.