Makadini! How are you?
Tiripo!! I’m doing great, thanks. I’ve learnt the correct Shona response at last! People here in Zimbabwe never forget to ask, no matter what troubles they may have at home. Even as I walk in to work every morning, passersby will say, Mamukasei! Good morning! They smile and wave from across the street.
This morning, I met a man looking for a job. “I am in big trouble,” he said. He rents a room for about $60 a month and his mother, wife and sister all live in the same space. He makes less than a hundred dollars a month, so he has very little money left for food and other basics. These are US dollars I know, because I see Zim dollars strewn about the roads like trash. “Look at my shoes!” He laughs, showing me his worn-out soles. “I cannot even afford the bus!”
“Does Save the Children have a job for me?” he asked, as I turned into the office gate. I didn’t have an answer for him. He left his cv with us anyway. He wants to be an office boy. I’ll never forget how cheerful he was, even though he was chatting to me about his biggest worries. In fact, I’d been feeling a bit low on my walk. I didn’t notice the beautiful pink blossoms on the corner of Oxford Road, which I usually stare at in wonder as I go by. Then, he stepped alongside me, smiling, unwavering, and showing no signs of losing faith. I love that about the Zimbabwean people.
At Victoria Falls, where I went on holiday last weekend, we were being “hassled” by a bunch of young men who wanted to sell us things. I bought a carved Nyaminyami, a staff used to invoke the serpent-headed river god that lives in the Zambesi, from one of them. All the other men wanted us to buy something after that. They were crowding around us, getting too close for comfort.
“Why do you get angry?” one of them asked, when we tried to ward them off. “We are just asking you to share your business with everyone. We are all hungry, we all need the money.” I had to avert my eyes, to stare at my shoes, when I said, “Please, just leave us alone.” I’d looked into his eyes, and I knew he was right. He wasn’t sad, or pleading, or anything like that. He was simply telling the truth.
Drenched to the bone with the spray of the falls the next day, we screamed, “Rise Nyaminyami! Rise Nyaminyami!” just for fun. One legend about this very powerful god of the Zambesi is that he broke the Kariba Dam, the first time it was built, because it separated him from his partner. The dam has been successfully rebuilt, and Nyaminyami has been silent ever since. Nyaminyami did not rise. Maybe he’s gone on honeymoon to the Indian Ocean, and has forsaken his people.
Or maybe, Nyaminyami knows that his people are strong, like the force of the nine million litres of water that thunder down the falls every second, and that they will rise up no matter what the odds. If you look into a proud Zimbabwean face, you will know exactly what I mean.
Makadini, Zimbabwe? Tiripo, my friends, Tiripo!