Dr Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
“Hi there, kwakadii kumusha?” How is everything back home? I get this question on a WhatsApp message. I reply, “Hi there Temba. Kuno kuri right. Kwakadii ku US?” Here everything is fine. How is everything in the US?
“Haa, iwe, ndave kuda kudzoka kuZimba. Kwaaboo manje.” I want to come back to Zimbabwe. Everything is fine now. Then Temba stops texting. He immediately calls me. Over the past week, I had many text messages and phone calls from relatives and friends in the Diaspora. They now want to come home.
Temba Muzorori, of Muzorori & Sons Stores, has been living in the USA for many years. Back in the village, long before independence, Temba was in Form Four when I was in Form One. He was the good looking guy who looked like men in the Drum magazine or Parade. He wore nice shirts; open at the front a bit, bell bottoms and platform shoes. You saw him in his father’s store, behind the counter, playing records on the Supersonic stereo system.
He often played Jim Reeves, Rod Stewart and Dolly Paton. When Bob Marley sang “No Woman No Cry” it was Temba who played it to us for the first time. He knew all the lyrics and danced to it with my sister Charity and others a bit older and less skinny than I was. I often stood in the corner of the store, drinking Fanta slowly and eating one bun for a good hour. I admired the couple dancing and wanted to dance with a boy too. But nobody looked at me. As for Temba Muzorori, he only saw Charity and other beautiful girls from boarding schools.
When we met in Glen Norah during the war and I was slightly fatter and better dressed than when I lived in the village, I hoped Temba would notice me. He didn’t. I gave up looking at him and spent time at the Assemblies of God yekwa Bhengu church while Temba, Charity and my brother Charles listened to some Reggae and Country Music. They also played many songs by Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi.
Then Independence came. Bob Marley wrote the song “Peace has come to Zimbabwe” which he sang at Rufaro Stadium. The war was over. The comrades were home. We were Zimbabweans. We could vote. We were happy.
Temba left for the UK on a scholarship to do engineering. Charles got a job with Air Zimbabwe. Charity went to the University of Zimbabwe and later joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Later on, Temba came back and got married to a very beautiful girl called Clara. They bought a house in Mt Pleasant. Then they both left for America because Temba was going to do a PhD.
Years later, Temba found my name on Facebook. Temba has three children, all grown up now. But Temba and Clara are now divorced and he is single again. Speaking on the phone, Temba says he is ready to come home alone because his American-born children have no desire to visit Zimbabwe. They have bad images of Zimbabwe and of Africa in general.
“But whose fault is it if your children think Zimbabwe is a bad country? It means these kids do not even know where they come from,” my cousin Piri shouts into to the phone, interrupting my conversation with Temba.
“Who is that speaking? Your sister?” Temba asks. I tell him no, but yes, that is Piri, speaking. She is my cousin. Is she married?” asks Temba laughing. I tell him that she used to be married, but is now single. Is she pretty like Charity?” Temba asks. Charity died in 2011. Temba already knew that so we do not discuss this. I tell him that Piri is good looking too.
“Charity was beautiful,” he says. “She had a rare kind of African beauty. Smooth, dark skin and long black hair. Her smile was something else. I recall her deep male like voice. That was sexy.” Temba is laughing loudly now and there is so much warmth in his voice. Memories of love, perhaps? I laugh too and tell him that he could not have liked a male-like voice in those days. A deep voice coming from a woman is a Western concept.
“That’s not totally true. Charity’s voice was like jazz music. I love a woman who is natural. Here in the Diaspora I always look for the natural beauty. Believe me I have been with women of all nationalities. African American, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Croatian, Hawaiian, Vietnamese or the blonde Swedish. But I am ready to come home and find what Eddie Murphy the actor calls a dark village beauty with an Afro.”
“You will not find one Temba,” shouts Piri again. “Women here have wigs and weaves. They use lightening creams. They look like the women you have been with. Stay there.” I push Piri away. She is busy eating mazhanje that we brought from home on Sunday. Temba wants to come home before Christmas and stay at his house. But he says the cousin renting his house in Mt Pleasant has not been seen by any of the relatives for two years.
“I hope you are coming back here with money to start a business or to farm.Do not come if you have no money. Zimbabwe is not cheap. But there is plenty of sadza and muriwo kumusha!,” says Piri.
“Your cousin sister is rude,” says Temba. I tell him that Piri speaks her mind. Then the phone cuts off. But I know Temba will call again. If he does not call, someone else from the Diaspora will call.
“Some of these people who went to the Disapora will be worried about coming back home if they have not saved money. You do not want to return home like Babamunini Nyika who came home with nothing,” says Piri, spitting the mazhanje skin and seeds into an almost full bowl.
Our uncle, Babamunini Nyika, left the village as a young man and was not heard from for many years. Around the village, it was whispered that he was possibly killed by crocodiles when crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa. Or perhaps he was killed by the Zulu or the Xhosa miners in the hostels where they all lived in Egoli, Johannesburg.
We feared that the spirit that possessed Babamunini Nyika to migrate might also take control of us and we would forget where we came from. A few years after independence, Babamunini Nyika just walked into a room where my mother was sitting alone one evening in Glen Norah, Harare. Apart from the suit he was wearing and nice black shoes, Babamunini Nyika came back home with nothing. Not even a brief case. Musuitcase muribe chindu. He said President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi had deported him for reasons never explained. We were embarrassed by Babamunini’s poverty. Babamunini Nyika died of malaria in Muzarabani, north of Zimbabwe. We hoped that the spirit that took Babamunini Nyika away for so long would not come back to possess someone in our generation.
But it possessed me. I went to live in the Diaspora for over 25 years. Three years in the UK, three years in the US and the rest of all the years in Australia. People said I was a ndavadzvatsvatsva, the roaming spider that does not stay in one place.
But when my mother became elderly and sick, there was no choice, but to come back home and spend time in the village. I have been back in Zimbabwe full time for over five years now. Coming back with no job, no car and no money was not easy. Worse still, trusting that everyone had the same hunhu we used to have in the village was naïve.
I lost money to tradesmen who said they were electricians when they were not and mechanics who removed a good pump from my car and replaced it with a broken one then charged me for the repair that was not needed to the car in the first place. The people who tricked me were so polite and they called me Tete, Sisi, Mother, Maiguru and all those names of respect we use in Shona.
A guy “sold” me a house that was not on sale. I got most of the money back with support from the police and the law. Through a very painful experience, I learnt that Zimbabwean rule of law does work, if practised well and also when guided by hunhu, our African philosophy life. At the same time, Zimbabwean law can be manipulated or corrupted to mean something else and benefit those who should never be allowed to do so.
My cousin Reuben says there should be a business and cultural orientation for Disapora people coming back home to Zimbabwe. We have become corrupt. All over South Africa, Europe, Australia, Japan, America, and Canada and throughout the Diaspora, you find Zimbabweans, working hard. One day, we hope, our relatives and friends must might come back here to live. Home is home. Kumusha kumusha.
- Dr Sekai Nzenza is writer and cultural critic.