Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” I asked my sisters and other cousins sitting around the fire in the village on New Year’s day. We were looking at the sunset with glasses of various drinks in our hands. While some of us with Diaspora experience held glasses of wine, my cousin Piri was drinking beer straight from the bottle. I do not know how many times we have told Piri that a woman should not be seen in public with a big beer bottle in hand. It is unbecoming. Reuben’s wife, Mai Tinashe from Australia, said Piri should at least hide the fact that she drinks beer by discreetly pouring her choice of alcohol in a mug. Then she can sit with us and pretend to be drinking tea or a soft drink. Many good church going women drink beer or stronger stuff from mugs in order to avoid being seen by their husbands or in-laws drinking alcohol. You only know that they are drinking something stronger when you see them looking tipsy, laughing a lot more or dancing.
“What is a resolution?” asked Piri. My niece Shuvai, who is normally based in the USA, decided to quickly explain. In a Zimbabwean American accent, Shuvai said a resolution is an age old tradition often used by Europeans in which a person resolves to change a behaviour or habit they do not like, set some goals to accomplish something good in their lives during the new year. Regardless of what resolution a person makes, he or she must commit to it until year end. Some people choose to stop smoking and eating less junk food. Others choose to work hard towards reconciliation with estranged relatives or friends.
In America and many other Western countries, gyms are often crowded in January when people are most committed to their resolutions to lose weight. They get up early and exercise. They eat less and drink plenty of water. But by February, some people start dropping out of the gym. By December, the same people who were determined to lose weight and go to the gym throughout the year have put on more weight than before. The resolutions made in January are lost.
“But I do not give up on my resolutions,” said Shuvai. On the 1st of January last year, Shuvai promised herself that she would start jogging in the morning four times a week in order to lose weight. She managed to jog only twice a week, but started skipping with a rope most mornings because her 12-year old daughter is a champion skipper. We clapped hands for Shuvai.
Then everyone started talking about the amount of food we had consumed over the Christmas and New Year holidays and why resolutions to lose weight were important to health. Shuvai said in just one day she had eaten roast corn, peanuts, sadza, corn bread, mushrooms, chicken, smoked turkey, guinea fowl, matumbu and mazhanje. Because she drank more beer than her father Sidney, we nicknamed her Chigubhu (a beer container) on Boxing Day. Surprisingly, she liked the name and was proud of it.
Everyone then took turns to describe the resolutions they intended to keep in 2018. Mai Tinashe said she will stop shopping for new clothes. She was going to clean up her wardrobe and give away old dresses to the Salvation Army shop. Then she would go on a diet and buy smaller better fitting clothes.
Most of the people said they were going to eat less food, drink less or no alcohol and exercise more. Those based in Zimbabwe would eat rapoko, sadza rezviyo and organic home grown food because the world is moving away from processed foods. This way they were all going to look leaner and a lot healthier. “You guys living here in Zimbabwe are lucky. You can literally live on good organic food. And yet, I see so many overweight people. I say to myself, what is going on? Am I missing something or what?” said Shuvai.
“It’s about knowledge my dear,” said Mai Tinashe. “Most people really do not know what healthy food looks like. Eating processed or fast food is seen as a sign of affluence.”
I told everyone that back in January 2017, my resolution was to grow more organic food in the village, especially cherry tomatoes. I also decided to walk a lot more and look fitter and healthier. I achieved half my resolutions.
In 2018, I made the same resolutions because I know that I can achieve some of them. But everyone laughed at my resolutions, saying these were such weak goals. “Tete, you have to be bold,” said Shuvai. “Why not decide on how much weight you are going to lose and have clear performance indicators?” But I said no, the best way to achieve goals is to break them into smaller, realistic and attainable ones. Each goal must be tackled at a time. I was comfortable spending more time in the village growing vegetables and tomatoes. In addition to that, I will go to the village more often, walk to the Save river some weekends and climb the steep hills as often as I can.
“This year, when I go back to America, I mean business with my body,” said Shuvai. “Check my photos on Facebook and Instagram in mid-June and you will see what a model I shall be!”
“And mese munobhowa!” said Piri, meaning we were a bunch of boring people. “Why do you keep talking about weight and eating less as if you are being forced to eat food? Why don’t you make resolutions about doing something good for someone?”
We looked at each other and felt a little uncomfortable. Piri has this habit of saying something so different from everyone else.
“Like what?” Reuben asked. Then Piri placed her beer bottle down and raised her voice as if she was preaching.
She said, “People who talk about eating or not eating food have money to spend on that food and drink. If you live in this village, and wake up every day to work in the fields, look after cattle, fetch water, stress over your child’s school fees, would you even think about your weight loss?” she asked.
“So, Tete Piri, what are you suggesting?” asked Shuvai, with a tone of defensiveness in her voice.
“Why not make a resolution to say, this year, I shall supply one litre of cooking oil to someone in this village. Or you can say, this year, I will give Mbuya Chigondo soap and Vaseline so she can wash herself and look clean all year round. Is that not a good resolution? You people are obsessed with yourselves. Me this, me, me, me all the time!”
“I totally agree Sis,” said Reuben.
“We are becoming more and more Western in our approach to life. Or perhaps we like to mimic affluent people in Western countries. They do not care about their neighbours. We should walk across to the next village. In that village, someone needs basics like books, uniforms, a box of matches or just a packet of salt. Let us look beyond our bodies and include others in our resolutions.”
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.