Hey, It’s Good to Be Back Home Again

When I abruptly stopped blogging in the middle of my thirty-day blogging challenge, I never thought that it would be almost three months before I returned to the blog. I was swept up by the helter-skelter of moving and it is only now that my head is bobbing above water. I last blogged on the 18th of April from the coziness of my first apartment in dear Denton. Now, 3 months, 2 countries, 3 cities, one bus ride and 5 flights later, I’m back. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

“Sometimes goodbye, though it hurts in your heart, is the only way for destiny.” – S Club, ‘Say Goodbye’

May marked the end of a beautiful 5-year love affair with the city of Denton. Saying goodbye made me sad, yet I knew that I had learnt everything I could there. Denton had given me all she could, and it was time to move on to new things and new lessons. But I’m still going to miss Denton, especially The Candy Store on the Square.

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” – Louis E. Boone

I spent most of June in South Africa taking in the beautiful sights of Kwazulu Natal. There really is no place like Africa. It took me a little longer than usual to get back into the groove of African life. I kept telling my mother, in exasperated tones, that people in this place have no respect for personal space. Personal space – that is definitely a concept a picked up in America.

There really is nothing like returning to a place that hasn’t changed to see how much you have. The last time I was in South Africa, I went to the beach every day hoping the ocean would tell me what to do with my life. Obviously, it didn’t. The ocean has no answers. But now I returned to the ocean with none of the fear, anguish and confusion of two years ago. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I always knew what I wanted to do. I just didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. But now I can boldly declare I AM A WRITER! Instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong, I try to think only of the things I can control. I can’t change the current book market. I can’t change the odds of getting published. But I can show up every day at my desk, ready to write, ready to revise, ready to work at making my dreams come true.

“Home is where the heart beats the loudest and proud.” Freshlyground, ‘I am an African’

And now in July, I can finally say I’m home. It is no accident that my return to blogging has coincided with my return to Zimbabwe. This country inspires me. I didn’t get any writing done in my first 2 years of college. I kept trying to write stories about my new environment and failing miserably. Only when I started to write about Zimbabwe did the proverbial dam break.

The pace of life in Zimbabwe lends itself to writing. People just aren’t in as much of a rush as people in America. And here, I have no responsibilities, no job, no classes to go to, no homework. All I have is time.

And with that folks, there’s really only one thing left to say. I’m back where I belong.

Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe

“Who is a patriot? He is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings his love of his country. He is one who cares deeply about the happiness and well-being of his country and all its people. Patriotism is an emotion of love directed by critical intelligence. A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-comings without giving away to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot.” – Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria

I love that so many Zimbabweans are talking about how proud they are to be Zimbabwean today, but I hope that y’all remember that being a patriot is more than just saying you love Zimbabwe, wearing a shirt that says “I Rep Zim” or having a Zimbabwe flag hanging on your wall. I hope that you’ll still feel this pride when you wake up tomorrow, and on any other day that’s not Independence day. And I hope that pride will lead to the courage to say “Things are not right with my country. Things have to change. What am I going to do to make it better?”

Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe

A Zimbabwean ABC

As I’m packing my books for the move, I’ve split them into 3 piles: those I will leave in Zimbabwe, those I will have sent to me in Wyoming and the precious ones that travel in my hand luggage for fear of losing them. The very first book in the hand luggage was my “An African ABC” by Jacqui Taylor. I think my dad must have gotten it for me when I was 6 or 7. I remember being spell-bound by it. As you’ve probably guessed, it goes through the alphabet listing things in Zimbabwe that start with each letter. It is magnificently illustrated. As I was thumbing through it today, I was trying to remember which of the illustrations was my favourite. Each page I opened, I thought “This is the one. I always loved this one!”, but then I’d turn to the next one and think “No. This one is the one!” So I’ll post a few here, but the pictures really don’t do the book justice.

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I remember looking at the book when I was 7 wishing I could visit all the places it mentioned. Now I realise that I’ve gotten to see most of them. I’ve seen the majestic elephants. I’ve gone fishing in Kariba. I’ve seen the hippos and I am here to tell Jacqui Taylor that they’re more likely to bare their teeth menacingly rather than wallow with glee! I’ve sat around the fire at night listening to the sounds of the bush wondering what lurks in the darkness. I’ve watched the kapenta boats, eaten roasted mealies by the side of the road, and gotten sick from eating mangoes straight out of the tree. I’ve ridden a boat down the Zambezi, and watched the mighty river tumble over Victoria Falls. My gosh, Zimbabwe is a beautiful country.

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I am definitely going to get my niece this book for her next  birthday. Hopefully, she’ll fall in love with the pictures, look at her dad and say to him, like I said to my dad, “When can we go see these places?” You haven’t lived until you’ve been to Zimbabwe.

I Write to Learn

I’ve been busy all weekend starting to put together my applications for getting into MFA Creative Writing programs so I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. In my statements of purpose, I try to explain why I write, and so far the answer that rings truest for me is that I write to learn. Whether it’s about human nature, or about history, I write because there is something I don’t know or understand so I write a story to figure it out.

This is especially true when it comes to Zimbabwe and Shona culture. There is just so much I don’t know and even more that I do without understanding why. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad Zimbo or Shona woman because I am sometimes so clueless about our culture. I can go through the motions but don’t ask me to explain the process. So I write stories about people trying to navigate their way through the culture and as they discover the answers I discover them too.

Judging by the traffic that finds its way to my blog, I’m not the only one looking for answers. The most popular Google search terms that lead people to Curious Chido are some variation of “Jacarandas Zimbabwe” and “Red Msasa Trees”, but the next 3 popular search terms are all about traditional beliefs, mitupo and whether Chishona and Shona culture are still relevant. There is a dearth of information about Zimbabwe on the internet and it bothers me. Zimbabweans pride themselves on how smart and educated we are. Why isn’t there more information easily available? When I go to the library to find books about Zimbabwe, the vast majority are written by people from England or America. Even when I search African journals, the articles about Zimbabwe are often written by somebody else. Yet the traffic to my blog suggests that Zimbabweans are looking for answers about themselves.

So I spent quite a few hours of my Sunday afternoon pondering the question of why there aren’t more Zimbabwean academics, or even just couch nerds who like to curate information about Zimbabwe. I even started working myself into enough of a state to write a rant about Zimbabweans just not being proud enough of their culture. “Why aren’t Zimbabweans writing about Zimbabwe?” I wanted to say.

Then I remembered that NoViolet Bulawayo’s first novel We Need New Names just got shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. And I remembered that a new Charles Mungoshi book has just been released. And I remembered that I’m going to get my MFA so I can keep writing stories to learn more about my country. Zimbabweans are writing still. I just wasn’t looking.

Happy Monday y’all.

You Never Experience Darkness in America

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

You never experience darkness in America, not even at night. There are lights everywhere. You never have electricity cuts that force the entire family to gather in one room to save candles. You never have time intentionally slowed down by having to watch a pot slowly come to the boil over a fire. You never get to experience the full moon in all its glory. There aren’t as many stars in the sky. Then again, you never look up at the sky. You’re constantly surrounded by artificial light, even during the day. Once you step into a building, you’re going to have artificial lights. You never experience darkness in America.

When I was a child, I used to spend some of my school holidays with my grandmother in Chivi. She had no electricity. In the distance, you could see one or two lights from the closest town. Otherwise, it was darkness. I say darkness, but it wasn’t really. When there was no moon, it was quite dark, but when the moon was full, it was so bright you could move around as if it was day. On nights like those, we would stay up longer than usual, sitting by the kitchen steps, talking. On a clear night, you would look up at the sky and see millions of stars stretching out in every direction.

I never appreciated those trips to Chivi when I was a child. I missed electricity too much, yet now when I’m homesick, I often think of those days. When life is going too fast, the only way to slow it down is to switch everything off, lie on my floor and stare at the ceiling remembering the stars of the Chivi night sky. It’s a little strange that a place I didn’t like as a child is now what I think of when I want to go home. My eight year old self would hardly believe this, but I wish I could have those days with my grandmother back. I wish we could be sitting under the stars again, eating dinner. I wish I could remember what it was that she said to me under those stars. Sometimes I hear her say, “One day you’ll miss this.” She would have been right, but I know she didn’t say that. Ambuya wasn’t sentimental.

It’s not just my grandmother I miss. It’s the quiet, room to think. I miss the darkness and the silence that came with it. You never experience darkness in America, but sometimes it’s just what you need.

Mitupo and Myths

It is said that a long time ago in Masvingo, there was a terrible drought. People, livestock, crops were all dying from thirst. Every day, the women would go to the dry riverbed and dig deep trying to hit the water table and every day, they returned with nothing. There was no water left in the region. So the Rozwi king challenged his male subjects to find water for the people. The reward would be his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage. As you can imagine, every man was eager. It would be an honor to be the King’s son-in-law. So they all set out and searched for days and days with no luck at all. Then legendary Ngara ancestor shot the face of rock. Those around him must have thought the heat was getting to him, but he shot the rock two more times, but nothing happened. He released a fourth arrow, and again nothing. But as he pulled back his bow to let loose a fifth arrow, water gushed out of the rock and the village was saved.

And now, when the men in my family are thanked, they are recognized as the descendants of the great Ngara Ancestor.

Maita Chirasha, maita Nungu

Hekanhi Chikandamina

Weshanu uri pauta

Zvaonekwa mukwasha wamambo

Wamambo as in mukwasha wamambo, the king’s son-in-law.

Chikandamina, the one who shot four arrows at solid rock to get water.

Chirasha as in chirashamihwa, like the porcupine, that loses some of its quills when attacked.

Ever since my sister-in-law told me she was pregnant, I’ve been trying to turn this story into a fairytale for my niece. She’s almost 3 now and I’m still not done. I think a part of me doesn’t want to finish the story because it pains me that all this story will ever be to her is a fairytale, a story told by her grandpa back in Africa. But that’s my precious sweet, American niece. What of the Zimbabwean niece? Is this story going to be anything other than a story to her? Will she take pride in knowing the roots of her family, take pride in being called Maposa?

I’m not sure. I think like me, she’ll doubt the veracity of the story of Wamambo. Who could believe that a man could really hit a rock with arrows and water would gush out? But it is a myth and that’s why it’s important. Great empires have been built on myths. When you read epic poems like the Aeneid, the Iliad, or Beowulf, they all have an aspect of the supernatural, the extraordinary. Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus who were supposedly suckled by a wolf as babies. Virgil extended that myth by connecting Rome to the Ancient city of Troy in the Aeneid. He validated the Roman Empire through a myth.

At the heart of every great empire is a myth, a story the people rally around that spurs them on to greater things. At the heart of my family is the myth of Wamambo. I know it because my father is a storyteller and because I was that curious child who always asked why. “Why are you sometimes called Wamambo?” But how many Zimbabwean youths nowadays know where their totem came from? How many of their parents know? It’s a part of our culture that we seem to take for granted. I find for a lot of people my age, it’s just something their parents say is theirs, but they don’t truly own. I can imagine in a couple of generations this tradition disappearing because it no longer seems relevant.

I remember when I was nine, sitting in my maternal grandmother’s smoky kitchen as she thanked my uncles. We sat on the floor, clapping our cupped hands rhythmically as she recited her thanks. It was pure poetry, a heartfelt thanksgiving. But you could tell that most of the people in the room felt it was an unnecessary ceremony and they only tolerated it because it made my grandmother happy. It was pretty but it didn’t seem necessary.

I get why kudetembwa kwemutupo is receding into the background. It’s clunky and tedious and doesn’t really apply to the modern man. Thanking my brother with his professional job by comparing him to a porcupine doesn’t quite seem right. I get why people find it so easy to let go of this tradition. The trouble with just throwing out a tradition wholesale is you lose the lesson, and in this case, you lose the art. We made such a ceremony of saying thank you to emphasise the importance of showing gratitude. After all the saying goes “Kusatenda huroyi.” To fail to be thankful is akin to witchcraft.

We’ve found new ways of thanking but the old ways need to be preserved somehow. These are our stories and we need to take ownership of them and take pride in them. We cannot let these myths disappear into the past as our grandparents pass on. Myths spur us on. They remind us that we are building on a rich history. Culture is changing so fast in Zimbabwe that traditions do not always have time to evolve, so they get left behind. I worry that the values will get left behind as well until Shona culture no longer looks like itself, but rather a hotchpotch of things we’ve adopted from other places. It bothers me that my niece will never feel the same pride I feel when someone calls me Maposa, the comfort in knowing I come from a long line of strong Maposas who refuse to back down. As a writer, it really bothers me that we’re allowing our stories to quietly pass away.

The Road Home Keeps Getting Longer

I’ve come to the realisation that my homesickness has two peaks a year, November and May. In November, it’s when the weather turns cold and I start dreaming of warm, rain days in Hatfield. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be approaching, and family oriented holidays always make me think about how scattered my family is.

In May, I think the trigger is the end of the semester, the end of another school year and starting to chart the path for the next year. That path never seems to lead to Zimbabwe. Each year, the road back home gets longer, the bends increase and it gets harder to imagine myself living in Zimbabwe again. This time last year, I was thinking about how going back is not the same as staying. Now I’m wondering if going back is really an option.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to do when I graduate, where I’m going to go. The thing is, Zimbabwe never features in my near future plans. Sure I think, “If I were in South Africa, I would be close to home”, but I never consider settling in Zimbabwe now as a serious option. In the back of my head, I hear 19-year-old me screaming “Sell-out” because what she came to America for was to get an education that would help her help people back in Zimbabwe. A part of me wants to go home, but I have no answer to the question, “Go home and do what?”

The only conclusion I can come to now is that it’s complicated. In the meantime, here is one of my favourite tracks for when I’m feeling homesick. It always makes me think of the days when I’d be sitting in my dad’s car and he’d be belting out Leonard Dembo tracks. I hated the music then, but now it makes me feel a little closer to home.

Iyi nhamo yedu iyi tiri vaviri, tikashinga tichakunda, ini neZimbabwe.