Growing up in the dusty streets of a small high density suburb outside the Central Business District of Harare, life was what was handed to you. I refused, as I later leant the geographical demarcations of the city, to believe that this, my lovely neighbourhood, enveloped between rolling hills and gigantic electric lines hovering above a thick wetland, was ranked low and deemed undesirable than many others in the city. I was convinced (before being ashamed of it) that I was from a revered suburb before the folly of youth was quickly dispelled from my then unassuming mind.
To me it looked (mainly because my eyes chose to see few people than those that actually lived here) very calm and neat. It was beautiful in my eyes. These were the first few years within the first decade after independence when the country was gleaming with the shine from the hard brush of the armed struggle that led to an independence. There was a persistent development of the townships and my father had been fortunate enough to have received a piece of land consisting of a single room with an outside toilet in Warren Park.
I have no memories of our modest looking singular brick walled gift from the new government save for a few photos taken of me with my brother trying to make me sit and pose for the shot.
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, a place I acquired a ton of education. It was my first love.
My father took me on morning jogs the Stadia and back almost every morning. Though it was forced upon me and robbed me of the pleasures of the sweet before break of dawn sleep, it also brought a particular love for fresh milk, religiously delivered, that I got as reward after every run. Only after a cold fresh pint would I regain strength to talk and concede in repeating the route the next morning even though sleep remained a constant enemy of mine.
There were many things I admired from my home. The efficacy of the bus system, the punctuality of the breakfast entourage of fresh baked bread trucks and milk delivery guys. The postman who arrived on time and always enthusiastic as he leaned Tour de France style on the bend entering my street to deliver varied news across families and off course the newspaper guy who, despite working on commission, would let us go through a display copy of the paper and strike heated conversations with the gathered non-paying over zealous know-it-alls of the time. All of these ensured bright and lovely days for us all and a promise that one day, we might become.
Never would I have thought that this my home would be transformed into a completely new space for us all. I could not imagine a better place than my home and I can almost swear I told myself that I was never going to leave but just like the cities and towns that have been hit by hurricanes and floods, its never the same anymore and many are lost, displaced or even disturbed. What was home but has been modified by forces of nature, now becomes a reference point for hurt, anger, frustrations and hate. As I grew up, all the values and attributes that I placed on my home sadly went away after a hurricane of corruption, poor service delivery and neglect from politicians sent this once thriving melting pot into a spiral descent of chaos am misery.
My father was a sophisticated individual with love for a healthy lifestyle, inebriating waters, music, animal husbandry and his children’s success. He certainly did not picture himself raising a family where the only past time activity was hunting robins with a self made sling in backyard vegetable gardens.He saw himself rising beyond what he termed “a temporary setback” and moving us to peace and tranquil. He envisioned himself owning a house in a nice little quiet residential area where he would enjoy his indulgences. A place where modern alarm or a single cockerel would wake us up rather than the harsh wailing voices of street vendors in the early morning . Where he could visit the park and peruse on Macbeth in peace other than the steep, monkey infested hillside he was left with. I pictured him affording every little bit of fantasy we would desire and 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 who could barely see beyond fending for his five children let alone keep his skills on demand at his job and an ever changing post colonial Zimbabwe.
Mr English, as he was affectionately called from his rural schooling for his predilection of the Queen’s language, had moved from his father’s farm in Masvingo to work on a variety of jobs before settling to become a teacher at a college in the city. He did all he could to stay relevant at his job and that meant sleepless night studies, library visits, park bench reading and those silent weekend afternoons where we had no choice than to join him too. Just so he could make it happen. His belief was that education had the power to solve any problem the world presents to a man, but you had to be ready for it. While he would have loved to acquire a degree in any of his studies, which could have been a remarkable feat for himself and his wife; whom he also took to tailoring school. Granting all this, the failing economy, weight of the kids and building his seven roomed dream home got the better of him.
Father believed that every ailment has a direct relation to the lack of physical fitness. And so his every medication was a jog or a skip rope, whichever you preferred after he would strongly suggest it. In which case, we grew up healthy and fit, a trait I still carry till today whenever I feel a bit under the weather. I guess it was an attempt to lower his medical bill from his ever growing litter box whilst splurging on some of his indulgencies such as healthy music collection and a book collection. He would seat close to his Super Sixty, spit and polish each and every vinyl before taking great care in placing under a very fragile stylus. His love for music was his greatest escape and would consequently rub of me in a great way. He couldn’t help but sway like Ray Charles without the glasses under the powerful vocals of Tina Turner and Don Williams.
Despite futile 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 the farm lands where he tills the land and has morning chats with his prized bull, Munda. Far from the madding crowd of modern lifestyle and ever changing micro- economics, he has managed to become a master of all he surveys and enjoy hard labour around the plot before retiring to his collection of books in his trunk in his hut.
His modest four bedroomed house became and remains our pride and joy. It is the home we have always known and shared for years, it is a sign of his resilience and hard work that pays off. It is a great reminder that no matter the circumstances, perseverance is a virtue.
Though I take great pride in my upbringing from staunch disciplinarians such as my parents, my sentiments differ when it comes to the area in which I grew up. While it started as a child’s place of comfort it 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. There has never been a continuous degradation of society, service provision and morality to a society such as what would transpire in this once was a haven for us all. Today it remains tainted with everything bad and a myriad of shuttered dreams.
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 a boy (Willus) and a girl (Chenai). It is spoken, around warm family nights whenever we meet that I was to be their last born. The Englishman wanted a cute number of three before 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 she gets the chance, much to the disgruntlement of my younger siblings.
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 in the house and I 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. I 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 a 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 as 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 back, I realise that all my mischief moulded the man I am today. So it does to every other man.
In my second grade, I met the love of my life. Seated across the room, teasingly flashing her white underwears to me with giggles and stares. At my age, this was striking it rich and I quickly sent 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.
The entire class giggled and in awe exposed my proposal.
My teacher caught wind of it and 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, first from the school head and then my father about what I deem today as a harmless piece of affection. I have no doubt the proposal was just part of my many naughty escapades that didn’t call for such heavy rebuke but I took it all in and became a news topic for days.
I was not a bad student at all, in fact was considered one the sharpest tools in the shade but it was my love affairs with mischief and the fairer sex that was constantly under the spotlight and having an intelligent big brother did not help either.
My eldest brother Willus 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, he was to become my path to follow and a example that would haunt me for a a greater part of my childhood days. My big brother took no wrong footing, he was an almost perfect example of what every parent would want from their offspring and I thought there was no way I was going to follow such a steep example of perfectionism. His grades were beyond promising of a towering career, something that could not be said of me and starting school with a raunchy proposal could not have helped me further.
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 resurfaced 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 a tall and thin looking young man who looked a bit kwashiorkor-ed largely because of the fact that I never ate that much. My head grew in-sync with my age while my body legged behind and it was a constant launch pad for curses from my peers. Mother didn’t make it easier for me as well. With her tailoring, she made sure she made everything for us to wear. The clothes she made made very little attempt to suit me. They became a source of insult, ridicule and later on, proprietorship. Any left over material from her clients were quickly turned into a pair of short trousers and very short shorts. Adding salt to injury to an already insulted existence. Hand-me-downs from big brother strained already existing envious relationship and 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 mom’s tailoring lying around the house and wanted to look just like the cool kids in catalogues and magazines. Mom tried in vain to make me look fresh all the times but I guess a little bit of scaling was needed to fit my lengthy scale. 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, despite a keen attempt by my parents to have me out on some weight, presented itself to petty ridicule from peers. I cried so hard when insulted as suffering from AIDS, largely due to the fact that then, it was amongst the biggest killers of my people in the country and region. My diseased look, which was more paranoia than anything else as I was a healthy young boy, would make me a bit stronger and choosy later in life, as I feared to turn ridicule into reality.