Growing up in the dusty streets of a small high density suburb outside the Central Business District of Harare, life was what was handed out to you. I refused, as I later leant the geographical demarcations of the city, to believe that this, my lovely neighborhood, enveloped between rolling hills and gigantic electric lines hovering above a thick wetland, was ranked low and deemed undesirable than many others. I was ashamed of it, period. The folly of youth.
To me it looked, mainly because my eyes chose to see few people than the numbers that actually lived there, very calm. Plus the ignorance of youth, far too beautiful in my eyes. This was a couple of years after independence and the whole of the country was gleaming with endless possibilities. Home was to me (before colossal rural to urban migration would wash away its glory and that of the rest of the city) a place I cherished with a deep desire to see it become a haven even for my kids in the years to come. A place I admired the most and acquired ahuge amount of education from, my first love.
The morning jogs with my father to the Stadia and back, though forced upon my will, brought about a particular love for milk that I got as reward after every run, it seemed then that I could do it all again. There were many things to admire from this, my home, the efficacy of the bus system, the punctuality of the milk man and the postman ensured bright and lovely days for us all. Never would I have thought that this my home would change, just like how an artist plans on a canvas only to produce a different outcome. Some a masterpiece, some a waste of time but in both paintings, valuable lessons to be learned. This was the place I did my many firsts’, a home embeded within me and will surely die with me.
As I grew up, all the values and attributes that made this place my all, sadly all went away.
I always thought my father, a sophisticated individual with love for a healthy lifestyle, inebriating waters, music, animal husbandry and my mother, would not let his family reside were the only past time activity was hunting robins with a self made sling in backyard vegetable gardens. I pictured him rising beyond what I termed “a temporary setback” and moving us to peace and tranquil, a place where modern alarm would wake me up rather than the harsh wailing voices of street vendors selling out their wares. I saw pictured him affording every little bit of fantasy we would desire and brag about to other kids in the streets and one day, finally saying goodbye to the occasional (later to be frequent) sewer bursts, power cuts and noise. Sadly, the economics of the land where far to complicated for this adult educationist. He could hardly see beyond feeding and educating his five children and keeping his skills demand at his job. He did all he can, even adding onto his numerous certificates, to remain viable and useful in his career but it did little help. He was a true believer in education and that nothing will give you great pleasure piece of mind than being educated more than the next person. While he would have loved to aqcuire a doctorate in English Literature, the failing economy, weight of the kids and building his dream home got the better of him. Father believed that every ailment is a direct indication of the lack of physical fitness. And so his every medication was a jog or a skip rope, whichever you preferred, which he would force you to take. I guess to, that it was a desperate attempt to lower the health bill. In which case, we grew up healthy and fit, a trait I still carry till today. Despite all his efforts, he would remain in Warren Park until his retrenchment from his teaching position, his love for a rural lifestyle relocating him to a plot in Chivhu where he tills the land and has morning chats with his prized bull. Far from the madding crowd of modern lifestlye and ever changing micro- economics.
His modest four bedroomed house became and remained our pride and joy. It started as a child’s place of comfort and ended up being an undesirable location (leaving to return whenever life got the better of me), a place of forced and unwanted reference, an indication of what I would never want to be in life, a failure, but a piece of hope and resiliance, a place I have my character built from.
I came third to a family of five. My parents recall being happy to have another boy and to my father, it was a moment of triumph. The man is always supposed to be stronger (I later learnt) by way of having more heirs to his legacy. So we can carry his name far and wide. At the time of my arrival, he had managed two boys and a girl. I was to be their last born, until two “accidentals”, a young sister and later again a young brother came into the fold. The authenticity of these two “mistakes” cannot be disputed, it was to become an eternal family pun. Mother referring to it whenever the family was gathered, moments of happiness.
It wasn’t until I was seven that my conclusive position in the family ended. While I could not understand the dynamics of the years to follow, I do not remember being excited after the arrival of my young sister, Thelma, but it did prompt a change in my constant surveillance, someone new had assumed all the attention from my shenanigans and was cut lose from constant supervision. I remember seeing my tiny sister through the kitchen window the day she arrived from the local delivery rooms and made no intentions whatsoever to bond with her until she was fully grown. Besides, I was not to be trusted with the baby as I was considered baby myself.
My family where always faced with a certain ambivalence about me, as the darling of the house and sadly also the naughtiest. The number of times my gentlemanly father would used the rod on me would exceed that of any of his children and I would come to expect of it every time the maid or mom could not contain me and opt to telling dad. Mischief was to me what strength was to Samson, God given. As much as I tried to run away from it, like a loyal puppy, it always followed. When I look at it now, I realise that all my hard earned periods of mischieve made me to become the man that I am today. I guess that’s a conversation for another day but my belief is that every part of our lives makes us or breaks us apart. In my case, I guess it made me the man I am today, no doubt.
In my second grade at our local school, I met the second love of my life. Seated across the room, teasingly flashing her white underwears to me with giggles and stares. For a second grader, this was striking it rich and prompted me to send a letter to her underneath the tables, saying how I would love to,
“kukutengera mubhedha ne wardrobe ndigokunyenga…”
(buy you a bed and a wardrobe and have raunchy sex with you…)
The Shona version of it was far more graphic than recorded here.
My teacher who caught wind of the proposal (after a few envious jeers and giggles) forwarded it to the Headmaster who made haste in calling my elder brother to make sure he carries the incident to my father. I got a double portion of the whip this day, frist from the Headmaster and then my father about what I see today as a harmless piece of affection. Ihave no doubt the proposal was just part of my many naughty escapades that didnt call for such rebuke.
I was not a bad student at all, infact was considered one the sharpest tools in the shade but it was my love affairs with mischieve and fairer sex that was constantly under the spotlight.
My eldest brother Willus who was the perfect example of a child, well behaved, a prefect in almost every school and the love of many teachers. Adored by his parents for his amenable qualities, was to become my path to follow and a example that would haunt me for all my life. There was no way I was going to follow such a steep example of perfectionism. His grades were promising of a towering career, something that could not be said of me, starting out school with a raunchy proposal and always referred to as “talkative” on my report cards.
I later learnt that my love for the fairer sex was a strong part of me from an early age, attributaed to the large number of women that looked after me as mom turned into a professional tailor soon after my birth.
Dad referred to moments back at pre-school were I had gone missing after sneaking away to share a blanket with a girl at an afternoon nap routine.
These “girl” incidences characterized a huge part of my life and occasionally resurface everywhere life took me, forming a base of ridicule and sometimes popularity. An antithesis I was quick to experience and get used to.
Willus would remain the thorn in my back, the example of a child I never was and the perfect yard stick at which I was always measured against. Happy I was when he left my school a year after to attend High School. His reflection would cease to haunt me during the school days even though every teacher made sure I never forget that he was a better version of Maramba ever to grace the establishment. This constant reminder was to follow me after I also attended the same mission school.
I was born tall and thin and looked kwashiorkor-ed (according to my peers). My big head obviously grew in sync with my age while my body legged behind. It was a constant curse launch pad. Mother didn’t make it easier for me as she was a tailor and made sure all my fittings were from her catalogue. The clothes made very little attempt to suit me. They became a source of insult, ridicule and later on, proprietorship. Any left over material from her business she got, she was more than ever willing to add salt to further injury with an additional pair of trousers or shorts. With the occasional hand-me-downs from big brother adding to an already existing envious relationship. This, I thought then, was the source of my misery. I thought my looks could win me over a few more friends other than the unfashionable crew I hanged around with. I later found out I was just too fashion conscious before my time because of the large selection of cloth lying around the house. Other kids could not tell the difference. And so my street credentials varnished, if ever I had any, and I assumed (just like any normal ten year old with a strong understanding of stitching and sewing) that there was no way I could be taken seriously with a pair of pants made from “moss crepe”.
This picture of a young boy, tall and with a malnourished look, regardless of every attempt by my parents to fatten me, presented itself to petty ridicule from peers. I cried so hard when, during an eventful occasional cursing game when I was described as suffering from AIDS. It was the worst ever insult ever as the chronic illness was as new and regarded very dangerous then and no one (inclding me) wanted to be associated with the disease.
Mother had not reacted as expected, asking me to pay no nonsense to the boys and rubbished my every attempt to have her approach them. It became a major occurrence in my life while growing up before I learnt the art of returning every hurtful serve with my own or simply avoiding confrontations, I was expected to, surviving depended on it. In the end, my loud mouth pai off, becoming a shield and arrow all at once.