#BeitbridgeMemoirs: Of memories, tears and healing

Last December I went home. Home is Beitbridge. I was received with tears and admonishes for having been gone too long.

I was surprised by the outpouring of emotion, the overwhelming love and mostly, I was surprised that my absence had been so keenly felt.

I will explain the source of my surprise.


I was surprised because I had never quite considered just how much I mattered to my father and my mother’s relatives.

When my parents died, I felt like my value and worth in the family structure had severely diminished. I grieved for my parents as if I were the only one who felt the blow of their passing on.

In fact, I somehow convinced myself that no one else could have been as shattered as I was and I reckoned that if no one else was as shattered as me – it meant their pain was not worth noting.

This was 15 years ago and it has taken me a long time to realize how wrong I was. Grief is a strange thing.

Sometimes it makes us so self-absorbed that we cannot see beyond our agony to acknowledge the pain of others.
I have an inclination towards asserting my individuality such that even in grieving; I sought to individualize the loss and refused to let it be a collective and shared grief.

This past Christmas I took the opportunity to visit my maternal and paternal relatives, some of them had last seen me at my parents’ funerals 15 years ago.

They were very emotional. And they kept talking about my parents. This outpouring of emotion made me aware for the first time of just how much my parents had been loved and cherished by others.

I felt ashamed that I had so disregarded their pain, discounted the depth of their own loss and failed to be a comfort to them even as I’d refused to draw comfort from them.

My maternal uncle’s eyes welled with tears and his voice choked with emotion when he saw me after so many years.

Virginia’s child,” he said, “Is this you? You, who have been gone this long? Without a call or even a random letter to let us know that you are well. I have missed you and not a day goes by that I don’t mention your name, to ask where you are and if you are okay. How could you go and not return, just go and not remember us. Don’t forget us who love you even if we may have no material things to offer you. I am your mother too, even if I am a man – I am your mother too.

I was moved and I was shamed. I had forgotten what it means to be ‘important’ to other people. When my parents died, I stopped expecting people to see me as important so that it wouldn’t hurt me if they neglected or forgot about me.

My maternal uncle was happy and upset at the same time. He adored my mother (his baby sister) and when he acquired a house, the largest and most prominently placed portrait in his living room was one of his late baby sister.

I have many siblings that I love dearly and I cannot begin to imagine how I would cope with losing a single one of them. I only realized now how much comfort and joy my maternal uncle derives from seeing me and from having some ‘tangible, living, breathing, walking and talking’ reminder of his late baby sister.

Yet I had discounted all this in my self-obsessed immersion in grief.

I remember how my maternal grandfather died three months after he buried my mother (his last born child and his favorite too).

My maternal grandmother insisted that he had died of a broken heart. I had been skeptical at the time. For my maternal grandfather had one leg, the other had been amputated below the knee and for many years he limped on an iron stump that was very heavy. My father later bought him an artificial leg and he was able to wear both shoes which he enjoyed immensely.

I recall thinking that a man who had lost a leg was very strong, so strong that surely he could not die from sadness. But over the years, I grew to learn that my grandfather had suffered many things but never had he buried his own child until my mother’s death.

Now that I am a parent, I can begin to fully appreciate the impact of my mother’s death and the lives that were irrevocably changed the day she died.

My maternal grandmother spoke of how my grandfather simply lost the will to live, withdrawing from everyone and often preferring to not converse with anyone. Before he died they took him to the hospital where a nurse scolded them for troubling an old man because she said his blood pressure was so high it probably meant the family was stressing him.

It was not stress, it was soul-destroying grief… the kind of grief known to a parent who has to bury their child.

How I could have possibly imagined that my pain was unique, so extraordinary and so much more important than the pain of my grandfather and other family members is beyond me. In retrospect, I was too immature to have known better.

While they grieved with me and for themselves… my family had to make time to grieve specially for me – for the daughter who had lost a mother. And yet I could not step outside of my own anguish long enough to grieve for them and to acknowledge their loss – the brother who lost a baby sister, the father who lost a daughter, the husband who lost his wife and so on.

For a long time I viewed the death of my parents as something that happened exclusively to me. I bore the grief of losing them as an individual and solitary process, a pain that I felt and suffered alone. I was wrong in imagining that mine was the only pain that mattered because they had been MY parents.

It seemed to me back then that no one else was as hurt as I was…like no one else ‘could be’ or even ‘should be’ as hurt as me. Over the years I have come to appreciate and understand that my relatives lost two people they loved and cherished the day my parents each died. It is such an obvious thing to me now.

But I was so blind to it back then. Trying to elevate my pain and suffering and loss and grief above that of others. Trying to assert a more exclusive claim to the burden of grief as if others did not feel it as keenly. It shames me now to recall how self-centered I was.

This past holiday I realized what a comfort I am to my relatives…seeing me and talking to me gave them so much comfort and eased their pain. And I had withheld such comfort by being so distant and straying so far from them. I was chastised.

I am not the only one who lost someone the day my parents died. My paternal uncles lost a big brother who’d vigilantly watched over them all their lives. The youngest of my uncles was expecting his first child who was born less than a month later. It must have been such a bittersweet year for him.

I reckon it must still hurt to know that his big brother did not live to see his first child. In any event, my paternal uncle went on to name his first child after my dad. Now when I visit him, every day the name of my father is mentioned when we call his namesake. My uncle also gave his son a Venda name – Aifheli – which means something doesn’t end.

I asked him about it once and he said, he meant that memories do not end. The memories we have and carry of people we’ve loved and lost, they do not fade or end – we do not forget them. I have no doubt he was thinking of my father mostly when he named his first child.

Looking back now, it feels like I never fully appreciated the depth and texture of my paternal uncle’s grief.

How could I when I had been so busy elevating my pain above that of everyone else. So selfish of me.

It didn’t occur to me that other people were as hurt as I was by the death of my parents. I failed to consider that my parents were deeply loved by others and that their death changed other people’s lives forever.

I was not the only one who loved my parents and who mourned their passing on. Even though it seemed like everyone just carried on with their lives despite my parents’ death.

The fact that they could carry on with their lives after such a terrible blow had been dealt seemed to suggest that perhaps they had forgotten because perhaps they had not been as deeply wounded or affected as I was.

But now I know we can move on without forgetting, we can move on in many aspects of our lives but in other aspects we can stay stuck, stay grieving, stay hurting and stay remembering.

I learnt a lot over the holidays spending time with my relatives from both sides. Maybe because I was emotionally ready to learn and maybe because I was met with such breathtakingly fierce love that I found myself wondering why I never noticed.

I think it is because I felt lost without my parents and didn’t know how to claim or locate a place for myself within the family without them.

But going home was a therapeutic thing. Lots of painful memories relived and lots of tears and healing was gained.

Every now and then I think it is important to just go home.

Home where people know you as the child of so and so…. where your status and position and education and accomplishments don’t change who you are in the eyes of those who watched you as you grew up.

And when we lose the ones we love, we must never hesitate to draw comfort and strength from the pool of people who share in that loss.

Some glimpse into my parents can be found here —>

 Remember me…or maybe not (written when I forgot the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2010)

My father – A man of emotions (written in fond and bemused memory of my dad)

The day Mmawe followed me (written as a nostalgic recollection of my mother’s protectiveness)

The frightening ‘normalcy’ of domestic violence

One of the funniest stories my mother ever shared with me was a story about violence.

Actually there were two – one is just less funny owing to the horror I still feel when I imagine how it could have all turned out.

My mother’s side of the family had some colorful characters, chiefly my maternal uncle papeNever (the father of Never) and my maternal aunt mmeDubekile (the mother of Dubekile) who were both ex-combatants and had a penchant for regarding physical violence as the best conflict resolution strategy.

The first story my mother told me was of an incident that occurred when I was three days old.

My mother said that when I was three days old I was nearly killed by my uncle papeNever (her big brother) who had drunkenly and wildly swung an axe on the bed I had been laid on.

My uncle papeNever had burst into the hut my mother was resting in wielding an axe in hot pursuit of his wife, my aunt mmeNever (the mother of Never) over an unspecified dispute.

But generally, papeNever didn’t let not having a good reason get in the way of giving his wife a good beating – especially when he had imbibed.
On that day, my mother had arrived from Beitbridge hospital with three-day old me – her first and newborn baby – exhausted from the rigors of labor, fatigued from the journey by bus from Beitbridge town which was concluded by an arduous trip in a donkey-drawn scotch cart that had to negotiate its way over and around bumps, ravines and crevices to get to her parents’ homestead in the hinterlands of Tshapfutshe.

And on that same day, my aunt mmeNever had been tasked with preparing a hut for my mum and she had taken to the task with much gusto seeing as she and my mum were very close – sweeping away the cobwebs on the thatched roof, applying a new layer of cow dung to polish the mud floor and making herringbone, chevron and checkered patterns as decoration.

She had attacked the mud walls with a stone to smoothen the inner wall surface and also used rich red, grey and white soils to paint the outer walls of the mud hut which she decorated with precise drawings of flowers on one side and shapes inspired from a deck of cards like the diamond, the heart and the ace of spades on the other.

I know all this because my mother had described it – she approved very much of cleanliness and was highly particular about the details of maintaining a presentable hut.

My aunt mmeNever had apparently done a sterling job on that day.

Everyone was excited about me, perhaps they were more excited about Virginia (my mum) the spoilt last born in the family, becoming a mother.

My uncle papeNever had missed my mother’s arrival as he had gone drinking – presumably.

Which is why when he had chased after his wife, all the way from his own homestead, yelling while she screamed – both of them failing to enjoy the beautiful orange hues of a setting sun in the horizon – my uncle had not known that mmeNever’s intended destination was the hut at the far end of my grandparent’s compound where my mother was resting.

He had chased after her, following blindly with the singular intent of catching up with her and teaching her some manners.

My aunt mmeNever had rushed into the hut and immediately dived under the bed which rested on bricks to elevate it (it made sweeping much easier) without offering any explanation to my mother who had been sleeping and oblivious to all the commotion.

Before my mother could gather her wits, my uncle papeNever, who had been about to catch up with his wife had also burst into the hut seconds later swinging his axe wildly – more for show than with any intent to actually strike his wife.

He was like that my uncle papeNever – always seeking attention by abusing his wife whom he knew everyone adored then waiting to be restrained and pleaded with and begged to ‘please calm down and stop doing this’.

On that day however, my uncle papeNever had not known several things.

He had not known that my mother was back from the hospital, he had not known that I was on the bed and that the bed had been changed from its usual position during mmeNever’s frantic spring cleaning so when he swung wildly, he tripped over one of the suitcases on the floor and his axe arced and impaled a shawl I had been wrapped in on the side of the bed where I had been laid.

My mother had moved me earlier to breastfeed me and had fallen asleep and had not laid me back on that shawl.

My mother told me that she had screamed. Screamed at her big brother.

Screamed for my grandparents to come and see, see papeNever try and kill her baby.

And my mother’s screaming mingled with mmeNever’s own screams for help whilst I obligingly joined this chorus with my own cries.

My uncle papeNever had not seen me yet and upon realizing who was in the hut he had tried to reach out and hold me, to quiet me down and meet his new niece but my mother would have none of it, screaming that he must get out.

It was my aunt mmeDubekile, my mother’s big sister, who had dragged my uncle papeNever out of the hut and then proceeded to viciously pummel him with fists, kicks and all manner of ex-combatant fighting moves until my grandmother had cried out to say she would not have it… she would not have anyone try to kill her son before her very eyes.

I was a newborn when this happened but my mother told me of it with such vividness that sometimes it feels like I remember the violence through her narration and experience of it.

The other story my mother told me, I cannot get into it in this post. Maybe next time.

I was reminded of this story some days ago when I read of a man that killed his 10 day old baby whilst trying to assault his wife.

It frightens me that the more such stories appear in the media, the less outrage and action they provoke.

I think that no matter how much we witness these incidents or read about them – we must never regard them as normal or as an unchanging and unchangeable aspect of life as we know it.

Perhaps we tend to think of domestic violence in terms of what ‘other’ people are doing and never in terms of our own actions, attitudes and choices.

It frightens me that violence against women, against children, against men should become a normative way of life as reflected in our media.

And I am frightened by our collective nonchalance because in many ways, I think the biggest challenge in fighting gender based and domestic violence is the perception that violence is not only normal but inevitable in our nation’s homes.

p.s: apparently my father hadn’t even had a chance to see me when this incident occurred as he was away on business in Bulawayo… so you can imagine how much ‘drama’ (I am understating it) it would have caused if any harm had befallen me

May I live as I believe

I woke up to a distant memory.

19 years ago an 11 year old staged a mutiny, rebelled against ritual and stood her ground against custom…. *sigh*

I’m making it sound more dramatic than it actually was.

Let me start again.

When I was young I went to boarding school for the better part of my Primary education and the family ritual was that we had to spend one holiday of each calendar year visiting my mother’s side of the family in Tshapfutshe and Tshaswingo, places that were remote and snuggled very close to South Africa.

Each year. Religiously. Without fail. Non-negotiably. We were packed into the car by my mother and transported to my maternal relatives.

I loved my mother’s side of the family but I did not like the discomfort of staying with them.

I adored my maternal grandparents but I couldn’t stand the fact that there was rarely a book to read and I would resort to picking up random scraps of paper in despair just to quench my thirst for the written word.

And my mother’s side of the family spoilt us rotten whenever they got the chance.

Goats slaughtered. Chickens and sheep too.

My maternal uncles would fall over each other parading their prized cattle before my grandmother insisting theirs was the fatter option to slaughter for the new arrivals who graced them one holiday per year.

My mother’s side of the family was full of fun, side-splitting family drama and one was guaranteed days of endless laughter, adventure and ‘royal treatment’.

But that holiday. When I was in Grade 6, I didn’t want to go.

I didn’t have a special reason for not wanting to go – I just didn’t want to go anywhere.

I wanted to stay at home in rural Siyoka, by the Makhado highway, close to the Jopembe hills and about 20 kilometres from Mazunga and approximately 80 kilometres before Beitbridge town.

This was home. It was where I wanted to be. I did not want to be anywhere else.

I was rather untactful in broaching the subject with my mother (something that the 30 year old me can now admit with the requisite winces and cringes).

I had interrupted my mother in the stream of her enthused speech about the pending holiday plans for Tshapfutshe… the clothes that needed to be packed, the date of departure and the estimated day of return as well as the things we could look forward to.

I had interrupted my mother midstream to mumble, “But I don’t want to go”.

Now I have to make something else clear.

These trips to my mother’s side of the family where ritualistic in more than one sense.

They were a ritual because we always went.

One holiday out of each calendar year we would be packed off.

But these trips also represented a more veiled struggle on the part of my mother who would begin negotiating with my father long before the holidays in order to get ‘clearance’ to ship us off.

And whenever we actually made the trips, it represented an immense triumph for my mother – she would have bargained her way into making the trips a reality and keep her family from complaining of how little they saw of us.

My father was stingy with us.

Not in a mean way. Just in a proprietorial ‘these-are-my-precious-kids-and-I-cant-really-trust-anyone-to-take-better-care-of-them sort of way.

It must have been annoying to all our relatives – both maternal and paternal – who wanted to have us over but had to contend with his ‘mother bear’ attitude.

Guarantees had to be made.

Guarantees that we would be safe while we were away. That someone would keep an eye on us at all times and that my father would be immediately informed if anything went wrong.

To understand this quirky behavior that my father exhibited you can read my blog on him titled “My Father – a man of emotions”.

Back to my mother.

So here I was. All 11 years of me. Interrupting my mother’s excited torrent of speech to say, “But I don’t want to go”.

She stopped and looked at me, “What did you say, Delta?”

And I looked at her and repeated a bit firmly, “I said I don’t want to go”.

I am not sure but I must have worn my expression.

My expression that said you can beat me up right now but I will keep saying exactly what I am saying and you can pack me up kicking and screaming to this holiday you’ve planned but I will keep reminding you that I said I don’t want to go.

The others were quiet. Looking at me like I was a troublemaker.

Looking at me like I would get all of them in trouble too.

My mother was Sotho, very light, with a light peppering of hair on a mole on her chin that was made more discernible by her light complexion and she had a fierce temper.

My mother’s anger was like spontaneous combustion when you tripped her up. Instantaneous. Lethal. And unbridled.

Her temper was made more fearsome by the fact that she was – on the surface of it – very accommodating, easy-going and warm until you got on her wrong side.

So here I was, 11 year old me saying I didn’t want to go and spend the holiday with her side of the family after all the trouble she had gone to with behind-the-scenes negotiations to make this trip happen.

I hadn’t meant to blurt it out.

But it slipped out. As a mumble. An ill-timed mumble that unfortunately coincided with her catching a breath in mid-speech.

I had said it and now I did not want to swallow it. Because I meant it.

And because the others were watching me.

And because I knew if she hit me I could take it.

And also because I had a niggling suspicion that if she hit me, my father would not be pleased that my mother was resorting to beatings just to get me to go on holiday.

My father would probably have said (rather gleefully and triumphantly I imagine) something like, “Leave her alone, if she doesn’t want to go let her stay”.

In any event that’s not how it went down.

Instead my mother gave me a penetrating stare as if to weigh the level of my determination by the look on my face.

Then she completely surprised me by saying, “Fine. If you don’t want to go, you are not going.”

Then she turned to face the others and kept talking, more enthusiastically now.

Painting vivid pictures of all the fun those who were going would have – placing emphasis on those who were going.

The conversation took a rather sour turn from there.

My mother spoke of how those who were going would naturally have to go into Beitbridge town and get new clothes.

Those who were going would naturally be gifted with chickens which they had permission to come back with and add to their existing flock.

Those who were going might even see my SA-based maternal uncles who would be coming down for Easter with lots of goodies just for them.

In fact, said my mother, those who were going should prepare a list of what goodies they wanted from South Africa so she would make sure that they were delivered.

And so it went. The subtle emotional blackmail. But I stood my ground.

Yes, it would have been nice to have all the benefits of going without actually having to go but I just wanted to stay home.

And so I stayed. And they left me. All of them. A whole holiday at the homestead by myself with no one except the help.

No one to play with. No one to talk to. Nothing.

That was when I wrote these lines of what was meant to be a poem;

We choose to stay when we can go
And sometimes we choose to go when we can stay
So I guess life is about choosing

I think I may have written a lot more than that but it escapes me now. Anyway.

That incident taught me something. The power of choosing.

If I could choose now, I would go.

I would go to make my mother happy had I known I would have her for such a short time in my life.

But what’s done is done.

I am very big on choices and on owning the consequences of those choices.

I have stayed in bad places because I did not have the courage to admit to myself that I had put myself in a bad situation.

And let me tell you something. Sometimes people are places.

They are places we create in our lives and stick to even when they’re so clearly wrong for us.

I have found that knowing I have the choice to go is what makes staying a delight.

There are places (read people) that I will never leave because they matter to me.

But then there are places (read people) I have come across and walked past.

Regardless of what others may have thought, regardless of what they will think and regardless of all the ‘fun’ they will have on their journey – I will always chart my own path.

I will go where I want to go.

I will love who I want to love.

I will leave whomever I want to leave (as others will choose to leave me too at one point or another).

I will be who I want to be.I will not apologize for this.

I will always be the girl who stays when others go or the one who goes when others stay for no other reason than that it is my choice.

As I turn 30, I remind myself to not inconvenience myself just to fall into the plans of others. I remind myself to live as I believe.

I am what I am.

Of all the things my mother got right (and there are many) - my brother Dalton is the best of them!

Of all the things my mother got right (and there are many) – my brother Dalton is the best of them!

We’re just a bunch of ‘tryers’

My close friends and I congregate around whatsapp messaging quite often because most of them live out of the country so keeping tabs on one another is an endeavor requiring more effort than before.

Over the years, I have noticed that the texture of our conversations have changed and without realizing it – adulthood crept up on us.

...if we've survived the drama of the last decade, we'll survive whatever the next decade throws at us!

…if we’ve survived the drama of the last decade, we’ll survive whatever the next decade throws at us!

The carefree years of high school life (where the biggest problem was which love proposal to accept or reject) made way for bigger dilemmas involving whether to accept and live with the fact that our husbands have mistresses or simply pack up and get out of the stagnation caused by interminable love triangles.

We have chosen different paths, prioritized different things and now with the age of 30 looming ahead of us – we are all taking stock of what we did with the last decade of our lives and grappling with whether or not we made the right choices.

All I have been able to ascertain as I have reflected on where the years have gone and on what we did with our lives in that time frame is that we did with our lives the only thing anyone can do – we tried.

All of us tried.

Whether we failed or succeeded, at least we gave it all a shot and for better or worse the choices we made over the years have brought each one of us to where we are today.

We are just a bunch of tryers.

We have tried to follow our hearts, and where we lacked the courage to do so, we have followed the expectations of others.

We have rebelled against our families in the name of love, shacking up with men who never paid any bride price but went on to impregnate other women while we waited on them to go meet with our elders and set things right.

We have wasted years deserting our spouses only to reconcile with them before changing our minds and calling it quits or we have spent the years following our men across the globe – trying to make the reality of marriage and relationships tally with what we once fantasized it to be.

We have held on longer than we should and sometimes we have let go too soon but in all those things – we have tried.

We have made mistakes in some things and we have learnt from them but the older we grow the more afraid we are of making the wrong choices because it seems as though our chances of rectifying them become more limited with each passing year.

As we get to 30 we start to think, ‘if I don’t do this degree now, I might never get round to doing it at all’ or ‘if I don’t accept this marriage proposal now, I might never find someone else’ or ‘if I don’t have a child now, I might struggle having one later’.

It feels as though the clock ran out on us and suddenly we’re just trying to catch up with all the things we thought we’d have done and accomplished at 30.

Whether we choose our careers ahead of our love-life or chose love and familial duty over careers – we get to stop in our tracks now and check if the gamble paid of.

I may not be certain as to what the next decade of our lives will hold but all we can do is what we have been doing all along – all we can do is try.

Try to make the right choices and where we fail, we simply dust ourselves up and try again.

We will try to love the right people for the right reasons and at the right time and in the right way – and where we fail we will bruise our souls, break our hearts and grieve our spirits on our way to getting over them.

We will make tough choices and sacrifices concerning whether we will leave or stay; fight or reconcile; hold grudges or forgive.

We will just try to do the best we can with what we have wherever we will be. No more, no less. So to my girls…here’s to another decade of trying.

My father – a man of emotions

My father was a man of emotions, the strongest of which was love.

He loved us (his children) with a breathtaking intensity. There is no doubt in my mind we were his greatest vulnerability.

I think we were a vulnerability he either didn’t care to conceal or simply didn’t have the means to conceal. His love for us was fierce, overt and abiding.

My father was not a very expressive person. Yet his love for us was so incongruous with his nature – it forced him to wear his heart on his sleeve.

My father could never abide to witness the pain of any of his children. He was incapable of stoically absorbing any hurt we endured. If any of us got hurt – it always affected him deeply.

Considering what a tough and fearful man he was perceived to be – we found this trait endearing and slightly amusing.

My father would get so agitated whenever one of us got hurt, regardless of how minor the ailment appeared to be.

He hated not being able to protect us from getting hurt. I knew (and took for granted) that he would always try to place himself between us and harm.

My father could never endure the agonizing spectacle of our wounds.

I remember when I was about 7 years old and had tonsillitis. I got hospitalized and operated on. My father was tormented by every hospital visit – fearing that I might have died in his absence.

We teased him behind his back for a very long time after that. We laughed at how he would send an ‘advance party’ to my room to check that I was still breathing while he waited anxiously in the lobby.

One day, my big sister Shonisani stumbled, fell on the tarmac and scrapped her knee. My father made her miss school, took her to the doctor to get her knee checked out, insisted that they place a bandage on her scrapped knee (it was totally unnecessary) and then he purchased lots of unnecessary painkillers which the doctor had not even prescribed.

To be honest, I did not count her injury as being anything noteworthy – her pain of course was something else – but the knee didn’t look too bad to me.

But the highlight of my father’s fretful vigilance over our wellbeing occurred the day my brother Dalton came down with malaria (or something which presented with malaria-like symptoms).

To this day my father’s reaction is a laughter-inducing topic. It is probably one of my fondest memories of him. My laughter and my tears often accompany that recollection.

Dalton fell sick in the most random and undramatic fashion. I, for one, was totally unimpressed with his symptoms thinking that he was feigning the illness.

Part of my nonchalance originated from the fact that I was nearing the end of a fantastic thriller novel and could not afford any distractions.

We, the children, lived at home while my parents mostly stayed at the family’s business complex in the Siyoka village of rural Beitbridge. The complex incorporated a bottle store, a grinding mill, a supermarket and a vegetable garden/market.

My big sister had seniority, we all deferred to her and when Dalton fell sick – it was my sister who decided the ailment was serious enough to alert my parents.

Knowing our father as we did, we had developed a habit of not getting alarmed about minor injuries or ailments so as to not set him off.

My parents’ arrival was heralded by a cloud of dust swirling from afar as my father – true to form – sped to the homestead without a care about how many of the neighbours’ chickens he might run over in his haste.

It was an altogether hilarious sequence of events.

My father strode into the room, with my mother anxiously in tow (Dalton was the ‘baby’ in the family). My father instructed that Dalton be brought to the lounge immediately.

I ditched my novel long enough to catch the unfolding drama that inevitably took place when my father had a sick child on his hands.

I arrived in the lounge in time to witness my father laying out the last bottles of medications he’d brought along with him.

There were dozens of over-the-counter medications and pills on the table. I wondered whether he’d looted a pharmacy on his way home but that was unlikely – because Siyoka village has no pharmacies. This must have been his own stash kept (with dread) in case of emergencies.

My father proceeded to engage Dalton in the most unconventional diagnostic dialogue I have ever seen. It went something like this:

My father would ask, “where does it hurt Dalton?”

And my brother would respond with something vague like, “my head hurts”.

Without further prompting my father would point at some packet on the table and tell my mother, “give him one of those”. My mother would comply.

As soon as Dalton was done swallowing, my father would ask for the next symptom, “so what else hurts?”

And that question would also elicit another ambiguous response from Dalton who’d say something like, “my throat feels itchy”.

My father would then ponder that response while glancing over his collection of medicines before grabbing a spoon and saying to my mother, “hand me that bottle over there, with the green lines”. My mother would comply.

Then Dalton would have to drink a half teaspoon of whatever it was (probably cough mixture).

When he kept pressing Dalton for more symptoms he eventually got rewarded with a feeble description of how Dalton was feeling cold one moment and then feeling hot the next.

This particular set of symptoms seemed to leave my father stumped. He started reading some of the labels on some of the bottles to find out if they could remedy this hotness and coldness his precious son was enduring.

Eventually, it was my mother who (helpfully) ventured that it sounded like malaria, but didn’t that happen when you got bitten by mosquitoes?

My father immediately announced that Dalton had to get into the car – they were going to the hospital right away (which is what I had personally thought should have been done all along, but no one asked me).

Dalton got better. But I will never forget how my dad frantically tried to single-handedly kill cure Dalton with his pharmaceutical ‘concoctions’.

That was my father. A man who watched over us vigilantly, who loved us with the entirety of his being.

He was a man of emotions. Ultimately, he taught us to love unconditionally or not at all.

I miss him. He did not live to see the woman I have become. I like to think he would have been proud.

In loving memory of my late father, Desmond ‘Dazzman’ Manavhela Ndou – who gave to me the gift of self-expression and taught me to value the counsel of my own heart.

I’m here….somewhere

This article started off as an email to a close friend of mine and ended up a deep introspection into the space I have found myself in these past few weeks. Sometimes you only realize that you were searching for something when you find it; at other times it finds you! Being far from my usual environs is the reason why I am able to finally start looking for myself…because I know I am here… somewhere.

I saw your missed call and got your text message thanks for checking on me but I am fine. Jus appreciating being by myself, with myself, for myself.

In this country I have no role to fulfil or play in anyone’s life. I’m a mother but I’m not ‘mothering’ anyone, technically married but practically living single, I am a sister, daughter, friend but the pressure of performing any of those roles is lessened by the distance.

Because I’m so far; all these people allow me time out – out of their immediate problems that (thankfully) they can no longer suck me into! Feels so liberating and great.

Here I am alone. But never lonely. I have responsibilities but only to myself; I have duties to perform but only the ones I choose to assume (like my midnight Library sessions).

I have pressures but only what I anticipated I’d have to handle. I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m loved by those that love me without my having to be an active or proximal participant in their lives! Or having them set up a similar vigil or immediate surveillance over my own life.

I’m 27 and for the first time since I was 19, I am myself. I am by myself – accountable to no one and accountable for no one. There’s a sweet sense of contentment I carry every day.

An appreciation that at last each day is all about ME. About MY needs and not those of others…

I am coming first, second and last – everything in my world revolves around me – no external roles, expectations or needs are on standby waiting to be met by me.

I am free. Its not an intoxicating thought but its very empowering and when I’m done here; I do not think I will be willing to surrender this. To give up the space I have marked out as “Me, Myself and I”.

I do not wish to give up any inch of it jus so that it becomes a space darkened once more by the intrusive presence of others and by the taxing demands of sustaining familial, friendly or strenous love relationships.

I didn’t know I would write all this.

I just woke up, grabbed my phone to check the time and thought of passing you a greeting too but somehow it has morphed into this – this conversation with myself, this awareness of myself and unflinching acceptance that I am selfish and refuse to try to be otherwise.

That I am now first and no one else can reclaim this position in my life – only my child may fleetingly share it with me but even for him and to him, it is a temporary indulgence on my part – because he will grow and eventually not need to occupy so sacred a spot in my life.

Perhaps with more contemplation; I will consider surrendering this spot to God; whom I am certain will allow me to do more for, about and with myself than I could entrust myself to know how to do.

This email may have been meant for you initially but now its jus a private conversation with myself and sending this to you is jus my way of saying I want to be alone but sometimes; it would be nice to be joined by you in my ‘aloneness’.

Remember the day you were depressed and needed a pick-me-up motivational prep talk? You asked me what I admire about you; and I told you all the things I know I admire about you.

There’s one thing I did not mention because I had not realized at the time how much I was drawn to it; how refreshingly unthreatened it made me feel and how much I have wanted to associate myself with you thinking it was the only way I could possess it.

Your “aloneness”.

Your unencumbered emotional existence; loving freely but never having people take what you will not give. Your generous nature, balanced out by your ability to withhold whatever deep emotional attachments that would enslave you and make you bend to the will, wishes, whims and unsolicited expectations of others.

I like your aloneness. It makes me feel safe knowing that you will not sacrifice your aloneness to swallow up my self-hood or wish to bend me to your will or dominate me. And my self-hood has been swallowed up in a lot of things, in a lot of cares, roles, relationships and external expectations internalized over time.

So now each day is an opportunity to discover what I want or what I thought I wanted. Who I want or who I thought I wanted. Why I wanted it or whom I wanted it for.

Each day that goes by I fall in love with the only person here to love – myself.

It is an enlightening place to be in my life right now.

I am glad I thought of writing to you because it enabled me in the end to write for me.

It must have been a consequence of waking up with a rested mind, refreshed soul, clear conscious and the rare but precious commodity called inner piece.

I don’t know how long this has turned out to be but from the ache of my neck angled in one way for too long on this pillow and the discomfort in my wrist from excessive phone typing – I fear it is a very lengthy piece.

You are allowed to ignore it! I have no right to inflict it upon you or upon your ever hectic schedule or burden your half-a-decade old laptop with the weight of its contents.

Enough! I must stop!

...outside of the roles I've juggled over the years...there's gotta be "me" somewhere

As I prepare to leave for my studies; a lot of packing has had to be done and in sorting through my stuff and the files saved in my ancient 4 year old Acer P3 laptop (which I have since replaced twice over); I came across several articles that I wrote way back then. This one I wrote the day my sister, Shonisani Manavhela Ndou called me from South Africa for the first time in 5 years! Like many other Zimbabwean youth she had left for SA and simply disappeared… this is what I felt the day she called. I was 16 when she left and I was 22 the day she called!

Time, distance and, especially, the yawning silence between us has made us strangers.

Perhaps you will be sad when what you remember no longer tallies with what I have become.

Would it have been different if you had stayed – if time had frozen, preserving forever, the innocence of our childhood?

Would it have been different if we had had the sense to defy both, distance and time, by bridging the gap with words?

For words are everything. And silence is like the insidious cancer, that eats away at the core of even the warmest sisterhood.

So many things you did not witness, so many sorrows and tears shed in your absence, but then again so many triumphs, joys and miracles celebrated without you…Which words do I pick?

So many words I can choose from, but all I need to say is that I look forward to the day I will see you again, with the bittersweet mixture of delighted anticipation and anxious uncertainty.

Now nearly half a decade down the line, I hear the sound of your voice carried over the phone.

God made us sisters but love made us friends....

There’s an avalanche of memories; blinding flashes of fresh remembrance.

A single tear stings my eyelid.
A lump of pain grips my throat.

And I remember. Forgive me, my sister.

For remembrance presupposes that one had forgotten.

It is not human nature to remember unless one forgets. So I remember because I had forgotten.

Perhaps what I recall is not a faithful replica of you. For I would lie if I said otherwise. Like an aging book whose pages have yellowed, and frayed at the edges, so are my memories of you.

Has life led us through such different paths that they simply can not be reconciled?

Will we laugh and cry without shame or shake hands with the cool detachment of mere strangers?

Will there be an outpouring of our hearts, secrets revealed and deep personal pains shared or will we paste smiles on our faces, measure each other up, in the manner of rivals and strive to outdo one another in telling tales of brilliant success, boasting of how we conquered the world – single-handedly of course.

What is it I want to say? That would suffice as a summary of the past 5 years of my life?

There are no words, just so many tears. And I cannot be sure whether these are tears of joy or sadness, pain or gladness, a swirling of emotions that I can’t quite put my finger on.

It’s been a long, hard, winding, gruesome journey – for somewhere along the way I took so many wrong turns, made so many – in fact – too many mistakes.

It’s been too long, but that’s no excuse. You’ve stayed too far, but that also is not an excuse.

I only need to explain how it came to be that I should have forgotten you.

My sister. Where were you?

I should have written, you should have too. I should have called, so should you. But that hardly matters now.

I can only think of your return. I am afraid of who you have become. And I fear too, that you will find nothing of the girl I was, in the woman I have become. My sister.

Tell me, will we like each other or merely tolerate one another. Will we screech again in laughter or chuckle with the awkwardness of strangers forced to breathe the same air?