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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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Put That Woman First

My parent’s relationship is the blueprint from which I have tried to mold all the relationships I have had so far. Albeit with a far lesser degree of success than they have managed over the 32 years that they have been together. In my eyes, my parents are the dream team of the marriage game. This is not to imply that theirs has been a perfect marriage – no marriage is. And that is probably the most important thing I have learned. Theirs is an imperfectly perfect union. They are each other biggest fans. They continue to consistently make sacrifices for each other. They have an innate understanding of each other strengths and flaws. They complement each other. And even more significantly they are the very best of friends.

My parents do almost everything together. They spend as much time as they can together. They are open and transparent with each other and whatever their differences they have always presented a united front to me and the rest of the world. They even have a joint bank account! Having had my fair share of relationships I am fully aware of the level of trust and openness that is a prerequisite for such a decision. Most of us won’t even allow anyone we are in a relationship anywhere near our phones, let alone our bank accounts.

As a team, my parents each had their assigned role when it came to raising us, their kids and they both did it exceedingly well. I am a living testament to that. Growing up I naively assumed that this was the modus operandi in most marriages and families. It is only in my teens that I actively started noticing how this was not always the case. That some of my school mates came from either abusive, single parent or ‘broken’ homes. How often one parent had to shoulder all the responsibility and play both roles that my own parents shared between them. That only served to magnify the gratitude I continue to have for my parents. Everything I am is direct result of the sacrifices they have both made. And I become more and more preoccupied with the purpose of my life I have begun to look more and more at their example and to try and learn as much as I can from it.

Being a man I have looked more specifically looked to my dad for guidance as I try to navigate my way into manhood and what it means to me. A lesson I have learned from my dad and his relationship with my mum is about putting your significant other first. This manifest itself best by you able to find happiness in your partners happy.

The best example of this come from when I started working my first professional job in Melbourne. My parents flew over to visit and take what was to be their first holiday alone for the first time since they had had me. Detouring through they arrived in Melbourne two love birds crazy in love with each other. This is probably the first I actually looked at them as two people just truly, madly and deeply in love even after all the years. During that visit I realised that they were not just my mum and dad. They were soul mates.

Whilst I ran the rat race during the week they indulged themselves taking in the sights and going on dates. It was only on weekends that I got to spend time with them and even then I felt like I was the third wheel. On one particular weekend I decided to take them shopping. I remember I bought my dad this really nice suit that he absolutely adored but on that day in that particular mall my mum couldn’t find anything that was to her taste. So she went home empty handed. What happened as we made our way home and for most of that evening will always stay with me. My dad was visibly upset and disenchanted.

Later that night I worked up the nerve to ask him why he had been in such a foul mood, his response surprised me. This guy was even more disappointed than my mum was that she hadn’t been able to find anything during our shopping trip. I was pretty certain he loved the suit he had got, but he couldn’t get himself to appreciate it because his wife hadn’t been able to get anything on that day. When my mum caught wind of the reason for his sourness , she told him to stop being silly and reminded him that she still had time to get something she actually wanted. To which my dad responded ‘ You know I can never be truly happy if you are not happy. You are my happy.’

It might seem like it was a trivial matter, but in that moment my dad taught me an important lesson. Always put your woman first.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Pain Heals. Chicks Dig Scars. Glory Lasts Forever.

Its just after 2am on a September night in Melbourne. I find myself at my local sports bar in Toorak, watching the Manchester derby with fellow fanatics. We are united in our passion for the game,undeterred by the difference in time zones. A time difference , the consequence of which means we are huddled up in this sports bar at this ungodly hour on a Sunday. Even though the match is being played on a Sunday afternoon across the pond. Tonight, more than any other night though it has been worth it. The match has reached an unbelievable climax. Its a remarkable conclusion to an enthralling Manchester derby. Manchester City had looked to have snatched an unlikely point after coming from behind for the third time to level only seconds before the end of the 90 minutes. The board goes up, 4 minutes of injury time( popularly known amongst United’s detractors as “Fergie time”). Needless to say Michael Owen latches onto a sumptuous through ball from the evergreen Ryan Giggs and scores with was it to be last kick of the match. In the 6th minuteoif injury time. Pure Bliss.

The scene both on screen and in the bar is one of pure euphoria.The resulting hysteria is nothing short of intoxicating. This is embodied by Sir Alex Ferguson celebration. He sets off on an impromptu wild dance along the touchline. I mirror his celebration by partaking in an impromptu little jig and fist pumping of my own in the bar before joining the rest of the fanatics in a rendition of “Glory Glory Man United”. Shortly after I leave the sports bar, deciding to walk home which is 5 min away. In my state of euphoria as I often do I retreat to my own little world. Glory. I am preoccupied with updating my facebook status. I am keen to share my smugness , which is more pronounced than usual tonight given the manner in which we have won. Glory.

Next thing I know my back is against the wall. I am wearing a arrogant but slightly bemused smirk on my face. These two young Italian punks are demanding I hand over my wallet. The absurdity of the scene disarms me more than their demands. Who would have thought, me an African man, being robbed by two younger males of Italian descent. All this on a Sunday night in what is supposed of the safest suburbs in Melbourne. My brain races. My initial thoughts are, I can probably make a break for it.They would never catch me. They either read my mind or are peeved by my apparent lack of fear.That’s when I felt a warm fuzzy feeling in my inner thigh. In the camouflage of darkness I had not noticed the knife.The bastard had stabbed me dangerously close to my groin area. Shock settles in, wiping the smirk of my face. They steal my wallet. They try to grab my phone, I swing a punch in their direction rather feebly, before collapsing in a heap on the ground.They bolt. I resign myself to my fate. I am lying alone in the middle of the street , not a soul in sight.Could I be dying? I have never contemplated dying before. If I am really dying, how could it happen like this? Here. Now. On the pavement – in Toorak. I engage a fleeting image of my parents thought of my parents which is just as quickly  interrupted by thoughts of how stupid it would all be for my life to end this way.This is it. Things start becoming fuzzy, I m losing consciousness.I am gasping for air.A futile exercise.

The next thing I recall. My eyes are being assaulted by a bright light.The pearly gates perhaps? I try and recall the last time I saw the inside of a church. The memory is too distant. Before I can reach it, I am interrupted by a booming voice which promptly brings me back to earth. “How you going mate?. “Are you OK ?”. At that moment I recognise the source of the light. Its the policeman flashlight. I am lying on the side of the road drowning in a pool of my own blood. Blood is gushing out of my leg as if from a burst fire hydrant. My entire right leg is completely drenched in blood. Am I OK? Do I look OK? I think to myself. Before I get the chance to respond an Ambulance arrives on the scene and Paramedics rush to my aid. In between what look like exaggerated attempts to catch my breath I manage to draw on the little reserve of energy that I have. “I need morphine please, I am in pain” , I plead. No sooner have they hauled me onto the stretcher a taxi arrives on the scene.

To this day I can only imagine how my then girlfriend at the time felt. Oh what was going through her mind being confronted by that scene. The flashing lights.The blood. I can only imagine she was looking scared as hell as she made her way towards the Ambulance.In that moment it came back to me. How I had casually rang her and nonchalantly told her I had been robbed.Why I didn’t think to call 000 myself remains a mystery even to to this day. She later confided that when she arrived on the scene. She was pretty sure I was dead. Fortunately for me she had been more alert and rung emergency services. Who in turn rang me and managed to keep me conscious till their arrival. A quick instinctive chain of events that saved my life. For that I will eternally be indebted to her. She saved my life. Thank you. This was in 2009.

The present day
Last week I attended a reading for a book entitled , My Father, My Monster, by McIntosh Polela at the Centre of the book in Cape Town. My Father, My Monster is a memoir that The Sunday Independent newspaper referred to as being so painful it bleeds of the page. Now, to be honest I wasn’t particularity drawn to this book.In fact I had never even heard of the book prior to the reading.It just happened to be on the agenda for this particular Soirée. How did I come to be at the Centre of the book? Well since my protracted return from the writing wilderness, something I wrote about in my very first blog, I had started attending these Soiree’s. All in a concerted effort to surround myself with fellow writers as well as convince myself I was one of them. Ironically,as I was soon to discover it is during these soirées that I always find myself feeling less of a writer than I usually do when I m punching away at my laptop. I always feel like an amateur.(Well in truth I am), like everybody else there is better than me. Paranoia teases me relentlessly. As a result I m usually preoccupied with this nagging suspicion that someone will eventually find me out, and call me out on my little charade. In the process bringing attention to the fact that I am the literary equivalent of a vagrant painting on the side of a wall with a piece of calcified excrement. But I digress.

Let me get back to this particular Soirée. I am clearly no book reviewer or critic , no do wish to be one. There is a purpose in me sharing my literary excursions to the Centre of the Book. On this particularly day I was particularly moved by the author. His story struck a chord on a very intimate and personal level . The reading of excerpts from the book and the subsequent discussions that followed had stirred emotions that had been idle for a long time. Most significant if which was when the author detailed the effect that the process of writing the story had had.

My Father, My Monster is a story about how his mother was murdered by his father when he was just five years old, apparently because she had charged his father for sexual assault and had tried to flee. How even though he was found guilty of the murder , he served a suspended sentence and only spent a few weeks in jail.The author discusses how he dealt with the trauma. He initially entertains thoughts of revenge, allowing himself to get lost in fantasies about killing his father. He keeps a brightly polished gun, nursing his anger for the day he meets his father. When he does confront his father as an adult about his mother’s brutal death. He is in for a shock. He finds himself dealing with the worst predicament a son can ever have. How can he possibly forgive, when his father remains a remorseless, brutal and heartless murderer? During the Soirée he discusses how the lack of remorse affected him.”He would not say he was sorry”.“There was no closure.”His father refused to take responsibility.So instead he decided to write about it.The whole writing process ended up being cathartic and therapeutic and by his own admission was the catalyst in him subsequently healing and gaining closure.

The author emphasised that “Writing the book was not about wallowing in grief – it was about confronting my pain, it was about putting my pain into chapters.” Polela went on to detail how the path to forgiveness was not an easy one. In fact it was riddled with land mines. How he procrastinated a reconciliation and confrontation with his father for years. He wasn’t ready to forgive his father. Scared to test his forgiveness. In his mind he still handed reached that place were he could summon grace. For forgiveness must come with a costly grace. He felt his father had no entitlement to that grace. I knew this story.I had lived my own variation of this. In that moment I realised I had unwittingly walked into an emotional ambush.I would have to confront my own demons.

The story brought up certain issues for me that at different stages I have tried to camouflage in the bushes of normality. As I attempted to detail at the start , I had my own flirtation with death, a fling that was to change the course of my life forever.To quote Kanye West in his break out single Through the wire, ” Good dude, Bad night, Right place, Wrong time In the blink of an eye his whole life changed “. The scars I carry from that encounter both physical and emotional have been indelible.

I have since long recovered from the physical injury and for close to a year after underwent counselling to help me deal with the emotional trauma. I was fortunate that all this happened in a environment that was very supportive , from my family and friends to the counsellor. One thing thing though that I have constantly struggled with has been the fact that the morons who stabbed me where never brought to justice. That they were out there oblivious of the severity of the injuries that they inflicted on me.They have no way of knowing whether I survived or not. They have not been made accountable for their actions.The hardest thing during this whole post stabbing period has been summoning the grace to completely forgive and let go. This is compounded by what my counsellor referred to as “Survivor’s guilt”. Which basically for me was about this.

That had the ambulance been 10 minutes late, I would have bled to death.That though I have lost the use of a vein in my leg I am fortunate that they only scratched an artery , any further damage would have been fatal. That I lost so much blood , I needed eighteen satchets of blood ( 500ml each) , during a 5 hour long surgery.That I had to spend a week in intensive care on life support and a further month in hospital immobile and bedridden . Unable to eat,relieve myself ,walk. But I recovered fully and eventually the garish hole in my inner thigh, which had started out the size of a tennis ball eventually morphed into a beautiful scar . A permanent tattoo that always serves as a reminder if only to myself of my brief dalliance with that bastard death. In essence that given that I overcame all these obstacles it seems petty & maybe ungrateful to hold on to that. The guilt had its foundation in that despite all that I couldn’t summon the grace to forgive them. Though it is something I have never shared openly that I often entertained thoughts of revenge.A process that in manifested itself in self loathing because deep down I knew I was incapable of going through with any act of revenge.

This for me is where My Father , My Monster drew parallels with my own experience. Clearly no life was lost in my case but the resulting trauma was just as real. During the Soirée , the author detailed the injustice he felt at his fathers sentence. How that threatened to derail humans put his life of course.What was more important though is that he managed to turn his life around. He turned his tragedy into triumph. He is currently the national spokesman of the Hawks , a special branch of the South African security forces as well as a best selling author.

This is the hardest thing I think I have written. In fact I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface in laying to rest some of the demons that I still wrestle with. That attack which in all reality lasted not more than 5 minutes has had everlasting impact on my life. It was a life changing experience. One that brings with it a story with many different trajectories , most of which are still playing themselves out. So in that regard I m grateful that I was at that reading . Because it sparked something in me. Writing this as difficult and lonely an experience as it been has been therapeutic and cathartic. Who knows maybe one day I will write my own book. In the meantime let me ensure that my story is one worth telling.

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim—letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”

Written by Tafadzwa Tichawangana

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in HIS-story

 

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