LETTER TO CHENJERAI HOVE: Fare thee well, Musaigwa
Musaigwa, Iam not sure why I am writing you this letter. In English. We never communicated in English. And you are dead. You did promise me that you would be a ghost, a very “kandangaras” one, were your exact words.
So I know you are reading this, sitting up there in the sky, wondering why I am communicating in a language that to all intents and purposes we lived and breathed, yet we chose not to use when we spoke online. I barely knew you, your life, your family – I never got to ask your children’s names.
Some would say I should not be writing this, whatever it is. A letter? An obituary? A penance piece? But writing is the one thing that brought us together, united us, and it is the closest thing to an anti-depressant I am allowed to take.
Writing this is my way of trying to come to terms with the fact that you are gone. Truly gone. I never had the chance to say goodbye. I am not able to travel up for your funeral. I am deeply, deeply sad. More importantly, today is Thursday, we were supposed to be on Skype.
“Hesi zimhandara! Uripi ko?” You burst onto my Skype like that (Hello big girl! Where are you?). I still cannot figure out how you got my contacts, why you chose to find me on Skype of all places. I also do not know why you chose me. But thank you for reaching out, for being my friend in this special way.
You started writing me long messages, as if we had been speaking just the other day. No by the by, no introductory notes. Just picking up where we had left off in 1998. Or was it ’99? Why am I lying? We had not exactly been bosom buddies.
I knew you as an older brother. The writer. The editor at Zimbabwe Publishing House, across the street from my Women’s Action Group offices. You worked with my friend Laura Czerniewicz. You were nice. Too nice. Always joking with me. Always calling me “zimhandara”, not in a condescending put-her-down sort of way. Just a matter of fact.
I am a big girl, in all senses of the word. Later, I would meet you often with Ray Mawerera, my Parade Editor-friend. We would hang out together, an odd bunch.
I heard you had left Zimbabwe, sometime after I did. Then there you were, on my Skype, one fine Thursday morning. I know it was a Thursday, because that is when I work from home. Or pretend to. That day I did not work.
We tried an actual call, but my connection was too weak. So we chatted back and forth, in very long convoluted Shona sentences (on my part). You were having such fun! From that day on, the pattern was set. We would always communicate in ChiKaranga. Real deep, ChiKaranga. The way our grandparents spoke it.
Not even used in any textbook or novel. I barely dream, think or work in Shona most times. But you made me use it, consistently. It felt good. This was the closest we could get to our home, I realise now. Speaking ChiKaranga, made us feel as if we were back kwaNhema, or KwaMazvihwa, chatting away on the way to the river, the cattle dip-tank, the fields, or looking for firewood.
We became each other’s family for those few minutes. Reliving the lives that we had left behind. Filling our souls with the joy of being Zimbabweans, conversing in our own language, hearing each other, no explanations needed, no strange looks given, we were just ourselves.
“Mamuka sei vaChiheee! Kwakadii ko kuWenera zvokwadi?” You would cheerily write to me, whether I was online or not. You called me VaChihee, short for Chihera. I called you Musaigwa, or Dziva Guru.
Over the years, I looked forward to your messages when I came online. I knew there would always be one from you. I soon figured out that you were techno-challenged, so you had no idea what Skype icon showed you I was online or offline.
You just wrote away. Long thoughts, ideas, questions, whole essays. Then you would eventually realise, three or five “kombozishens” later that I was not responding. Then you would rudely sign off – “haa dhemeti! Muripi ko vaChihee zvokwadi? Regai ndibudevo pamukova”.
You have no idea what pleasure these conversations gave me. Or the depth of sadness that sometimes they drove me to. We spoke about our country. Tried to decipher the political currents. The social currents. Eventually we would get tired of that, and come back to talking about books, writing, what we were each up to.
As usual I would talk too much about my kids, my family, my latest dramas. You enjoyed my dramas. Like the big brother you were, you offered advice about men. Let’s just say, you didn’t seem to understand much about your own species, except those of the Musaigwa clan. On those you were dead accurate. Sorry, I mean very accurate.
They say you were in something called “self-imposed exile”. I have no idea what that means. Maybe that is what they say about all of us who left? Such a bizarre concept though. How does one impose exile on themselves?
Can one choose “exile”, when you have a happy, fabulous home? Your own familiar people and things? Is it really a choice to be in some far away cold, nay frozen place? The type of cold that freezes your blood, your hair, your nose, and brain?
That is what you told me the cold weather did to you in Norway. You said “vuruzvi bgangu bgagwamba kuti gwa? Kuda izvozvi habguchimo vuruzvi bgacho?’(I am not going to keep translating all that. I realise I may have lost our Zezuru-speaking friends, but you and I understood each other).
They have been writing a lot about your so called self-imposed exile. I didn’t ask why you were in Norway. It was not my business to ask. Actually, I did not want to know. You were just there. You could not go back home you said. You wished every day to go home.
Who was I to judge or question your choices? Or anyone else’s for that matter? We all have our demons, real and imagined. We all make choices, good and bad. Some choices are made for us by others. We accept, or we fight. But nobody, nobody, can ever know, understand, or judge another’s reality, or that which they have never lived.
I accepted it for what it was. Your life. Your truth. Much as I, or any of your other friends may have wanted you to be somewhere else, to do something else, this was your life, Musaigwa. Yours. As my friend Hope Chigudu always reminds me – you can only love another human being EJ, but you can’t live their lives for them.
We spoke about our home, Zimbabwe. A lot. Too much. Interestingly, we spoke a lot about our rural homes. The places we were born and grew up in, as if regressing in time would make us happier. or was it that those were the places where we had been truly happy in our Zimbabwe?
We were united in our grief over the loss of our mothers. In the last six months, that is what we mostly spoke about. You, regretting that you had not been there for your mum, in her last days, her burial. That was eating you up. You worried that you may not end up buried next to her.
I didn’t know what to say, because I could not relate. I buried my mum. I know where she is. If I had a choice, I would be sitting on her bed every day for the rest of my life. In Gweru. But there is what I wish for, then there is real life. I chose to be where I am now. An exile of sorts. But this is not about me. This is about you, Musaigwa.
When I moved back to Zimbabwe in 2011, you were so excited on my behalf. You wrote me long instructions about what I should do when I got there; Find Ray, say this or that to him. Find Chirikure, talk to him about x and q.
Go to the UZ Senior Common Room (I still can’t fathom what charm that place held for you?), see who is still there, say this and that to Dr XX and ask Professor XX why he is saying whatever. Go along Masvingo road, there is a great place for roasting meat. Seriously Musaigwa?
Every Thursday, again working from home, I made time to specifically chat to you on Skype. I gave you blow by blow accounts of what I had done, who I had seen. You started living vicariously through me, “Hekanhi! Ndokudini paya imwi vaChihee?” You egged me on.
Sometimes your enthusiasm and excitement broke my heart. Hearing about your home, your favourite places, things that mattered to you, interpreted and experienced by another could not have been fun. I could hear you cheering me on. Cheering our Zimbabwe on.
You even followed Zimbabwe cricket and rugby, but as you said, “Haa tongomirira kuvona unosumudza mukombe, kana kubvisa nhembe, kuti tizive kuti hwahwinha ndiyani! Kungovukera vozvangu kuvidza zuva. Rakibhi ndakaidzidzepivo Hove yangu?’ The joys of exile.
You were devastated when I moved back to Johannesburg last year. You tried to understand. You cross-examined me about the choice I had made. Till the day you died, I don’t think you never quite understood how a whole grown Chihee could run away from Jesus’ earthly deputies and the now seemingly ubiquitous goblins!
My explanations seemed too frivolous, or too bizarre. This was not the Zimbabwe you knew, or expected to hear about. So you were crushed, and am sure, you didn’t forgive me.
In our last conversation, we spoke about me writing a book. You asked me to come to Norway so we could write my long overdue novel. You said you would ghost write it for me. I will take you up on that.
I will just not be coming to Norway, because you are not there anymore. I will come see you where they have laid your body, in our home, Zimbabwe. We will continue our conversations neChiKaranga. You, my now favourite ghost, can write that novel for me. See you soon Musaigwa. Dziva Guru.
I miss you a lot already.
This article was first published on the writer’s blog, http://everjoicew.blogspot.com