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Finding My Way Home

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During my run this morning it dawned on me (see what I did there?) that I have been home for eighteen months now. That is the longest I have lived in Zimbabwe since I was nineteen. Before that I lived in Cape Town for a little over two years, and before Cape Town I called Australia home for seven years. That means I have lived all but the last year of my twenties outside of Zimbabwe’s borders. That is a long time to be away from your family and the place that you grew up. A place you have called home for most of your life. Because of this the museum of my life’s memories is divided into two main sections. My childhood can be found under the Zimbabwe section, and my adult life would almost entirely fall under the Diaspora section. Who I am as an adult at times feels so far removed from who I was as a kid. I often wonder how different of a person I would have turned out to be if I had never left Zimbabwe. I imagine that I would probably be married and have a kid or two by now just like nearly all my friends who stayed behind.

My childhood memories are exclusively Zimbabwean and that is the Zimbabwe I have held onto even in adulthood when it was a land far far way. But that is not the Zimbabwe that I returned to. The Zimbabwe I returned to was a completely different place from that of my childhood. I wasn’t so naive as to expect not to see changes given that I had been away for long. And maybe I should have been naive because on my return the infrastructure looked either the same or in a worse state that I remembered. During my hiatus from the Motherland it seems to have stagnated. On my return I remember experiencing a mild culture shock. The people had changed. Not just they were older but it was the change in their attitude and general outlook on life that struck me. Their natural optimism had been drained out of them and most seemed resigned to accepting that as a nation we were going nowhere fast. This was not the Zimbabwe I remembered. The Zimbabwe of my childhood. All this made it difficult for me to not only find my way home but also to feel like I belonged there. I felt like an outsider, a stranger in my own country. And that I wasn’t prepared for.

About a year ago I wrote about how even though I am a Zimbabwean, I still call Australia home. This was my attempt to try and confront and deal with my culture shock as well as an attempt to redefine what home meant to me. In that blog I sort to deconstruct my own preconceived and limited understanding of what home was to me. I accepted that I belong and understand many worlds, that home for me at the time was more of a transient concept. I decided that ‘home’ for me would be me being comfortable in my own skin. So wherever I was as long I was assured of who I was as a person I was ‘home’. Once I decided that I began to study myself by looking back at all the experiences I have been privileged enough to have. And during that time I have tried to reflect that in my writing in the hope that it would provide a map for anyone else who might be trying to find their way home.

As often happens during my runs whilst chasing the rising sun I slipped into a reflective trance again this morning. This is what happens on the days I am not running with my muse. It’s just me, my thoughts and the open road. Pure bliss. I have only ever found such serenity and clarity of thought between the margins of the blank page. This morning I found myself reminiscing over the last eighteen months. The highlights of the last eighteen months are that I got to exercise my democratic right to vote for the very first time in my life, I also managed to tick bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge of my bucket list and I more recently I had a fulfilling HIFA week which stands as one of the best festivals I have ever attended. All this has gone a long way in making me see a different side of Zimbabwe that I never got to experience as a kid. I finally have some adult memories in the Zimbabwe section of my memories museum!

This past December we had a family reunion. This was the first time my extended family was together in the same place in over a decade. With people dotted all over the globe chasing a myriad of hopes and dreams it has been next to impossible to bring us all together in one. Whilst we have seen each other intermittently over the years we have not been all in the same place at once. People have wed and some have passed on and still we could not all be brought together by these events. So it was a blessing that everyone made an effort to pitch up this December. And boy was it a special and memorable experience. We laughed, danced, ate, drank and we got to know each other again. I feel like we now understand and accept each other for who we really are now and not the people we were ten years ago. We have all had different experience over the last year but despite that bond that we have as a family seems as strong as it’s ever been. And our family at large is better for the collective experiences we have had. And that is a beautiful thing.
After eighteen months I feel I have a more nuanced understanding of what life in Zimbabwe is like in the present day. I have taken off my nostalgia goggles that made me look at Zimbabwe with an idealised romanticism that was so far removed from the realities of present day Zimbabwe. When I lived abroad I remembered only the Zimbabwe of the late 80’s and the 90’s. And because of that I have had to learn to love Zimbabwe again as an adult for different reasons than I did as a kid. I now view it through the eyes of a man who has seen a bit more of the world. I appreciate its unique beauty and I see its great potential. Zimbabwe is a nation that is flawed but stitched together with good intentions. We are nation of survivors and the most innovative of entrepreneurs. Despite all our challenges we are a proud nation but more importantly we are still a happy nation.

Being Zimbabwean has always been and will always be my heritage. My roots will always be here. No matter how far beyond its borders I venture out again it will always be home. It will always welcome me, one of its many ‘prodigal sons’ back no matter how long I have been gone for. After eighteen months back home I no longer feel the need to validate my Zimbabweaness to myself or anyone else for that matter. I am Zimbabwean. I will always be Zimbabwean. No one can ever take that away from me. I used to feel what I call ‘Diaspora guilt’. That because I wasn’t there when Zimbabwe experienced its most trying times I was less Zimbabwean. That my Zimbabwean experience wasn’t as authentic as that of those who stayed behind and kept this country going. That was foolish of me.

I am just as Zimbabwean as those who stayed behind. Whether I was in Melbourne or Cape Town I was representing you. I was offering up a more positive narrative than that which the world had come to associate Zimbabwe with. And for that I am just as ‘authentically’ Zimbabwean as you are. Wherever I go in the world I will always be that Zim guy, and that makes me proud. Already to many of the friends I have made from all over the world I will be one of the first few things they think of whenever Zimbabwe pops up on their radar. And I am proud of that because in my own small way I have put my country on the map. That has been my contribution to this great nation so far. In conversation with so many others who have lived in the Diaspora I have picked up a very encouraging trend. All of us want to use our Diasporan experience as a springboard for us to make this country a better than it ever was. For my part over the next couple of blogs I intend to share some of the lessons I have picked from living abroad for so long in the hope that sharing my experiences will encourage all of us at home and abroad to contribute to this great country in our own different ways.

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I Am Zimbabwean, But I Still Call Australia Home

I have been home for the last five months. The longest I have been at home over the last decade. I use the term home rather pensively and maybe even a little awkwardly. Home to me has always been a a transient concept and is an ambiguous place most times. Most people identify home as the place that they were born and most likely grew up. This is usually one particular place. So what do you call home if your upbringing has been a nomadic one? If all your life you have never lived in one place for an extended period of time. Lately I have been musing on this rather incessantly. I have asked myself “What does home mean?” Where is home?” For most people these are simple questions. For me?, not so simple.

One thing I can definitely identify with is as a Zimbabwean. I was fortunate due to my father’s career as a hotelier to have lived in many different parts of the country. Albeit mostly in hotels. By the time I was eighteen which was the time I left Zimbabwe to go and study in Australia for my university education I had already called Harare,Victoria Falls, Troutbeck, Bulawayo, Hwange, Kariba, Masvingo, , Mutare, and Juliasdale home. I lived in all those places for at least a year at a time. I had a rich Zimbabwean experience growing up. Home for me has never been one particular physical address, but instead it has always been a transient place. The only constant being my family. Home is where my family is.

My parents now live in the Eastern Highlands town of Mutare in Zimbabwe. Mutare is also referred to as ‘Kuma komo yo’ in the manyika dialect of the Shona language which loosely translates to ‘in the mountains’. It is a small town where it often seems like everyone knows each. I don’t know anyone. Which is why I sometimes feel awkward calling it home. The reason being I only lived here during my gap year between high school and university. But it is the place that my parents have called home for the last decade. This place I have hardly lived is home.  Home is where my family is.

Whilst some might look at all the moving around as a source of instability for my young mind I look at It differently. It was as an enriching experience and a big factor in cultivating my open mindedness. It has allowed me to adapt to different environments relatively smoothly. It might also explain my commitment issues, but let’s not get into that. That’s a whole different blog. What I know is that the man I am today is a product of all the experiences I had growing up in different places all over Zimbabwe and the ideologies I carved out for myself as an adult.

 I spent a major part of my twenties living in Australia. A period I slowly came into my own as a man. Australia is where I spent all my university years, the place where I got my first job, paid my first bill and experienced my first heartbreak. Just about everyone I call a friend I met in Australia. Australia is the place that, when my parents visited for my graduation they finally told me the story of how they met. It is the place I saw them go on dates and first viewed them as lovers and not just parents. It is the place I first bought my Dad a six pack of beer. Most of my adult memories are safely tucked away down under. So if home is a place filled with some of your best memories then ‘I still call Australia home’.

 I haven’t lived in Australia since the end of 2010. I briefly moved back to Zimbabwe for a few months before packing up and moving to Cape Town, South Africa for work.  I have called the Mother City home for the last two years. With Cape Town it was love at first sight. This is because as a place and for the struggling culture vulture in me Cape Town has many similarities to Melbourne. There also happens to be a lot of Zimbabweans living in Cape Town. Nine times out of ten, if I am in bar or I take a cab I can get away with ordering a drink or chatting to the cab driver in my mother tongue Shona. Cape Town is also the place that has nurtured the writer in me. Most Capetonians fancy themselves creative’s at heart. So I guess for me it was a case of when in Cape Town, you do what the Capetonians do.

Whilst it might seem like I struggle with a sense of belonging and I do ask myself “Where do I belong?” I still consider myself fortunate to not only just visit, but to have called so many places home. I have had the privilege to have had my primary and secondary education in Zimbabwe, which at the time had the best education system in Africa by far. My world view has greatly been enhanced by the opportunity to study and work in the Diaspora (especially when juxtaposed with the perilous state of my beloved Zimbabwe for most of the naughties)

The politics and complexities of what home means aside, I’ve found ‘belonging’ and being familiar with different places has made my life richer. I‘ve had a deep insight into different cultures. I’m aware of their points of tension and area of overlap. My perspectives and experiences have a width and depth they would otherwise lack. Ultimately growing up in different places has taught me the lesson that all people have more in common than they believe. We all seek the same things, love, acceptance and security. We simply have different methods of pursuing our aims. If a person is good (or bad) it is not because of their culture or nation of origin, it is in spite of it.

I remember growing up and cringing at some of my parents idiosyncrasies. Exhibit A; my parents named a cow I inherited from my late grandmother Bendigo, after the university town I initially studied in. Exhibit B; our family dog is called Toorak, after the Melbourne suburb I was living in when my parents visited. I had no say in the naming of either. When I m not cringing at such trivialities I often look back and marvel at why my parents have achieved. These are two individuals who came from broken and disadvantaged homes but have still managed to build a respectable life. Both my parents grew up in the then Rhodesia and never went to university. Still they made great sacrifices to send me to a world class university at a time when it was easier not to. They did this through hustle, determination, tenacity, belief and vision. My parents have not only given me a better life. They have given me many homes that are and mean many things to me.

So that question again. Where is home? … Home is where my family is. Home is where some of my best memories are. Home is every place I have lived.

I am a Zimbabwean, but I still call Australia home.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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