I grew up poor. I say that to sound positive. I say that so that I can remind myself where I came from and where I am and hope that this is a better place. But this is not about me, it is about Ruvheneko’s podcast.
I lied. My infant and primary education was in one of the elite schools in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I had white, coloured and Shona friends. By age eight, I spoke fluent English, Shona and Ndebele; ’til today I have never had any animosity against people of any different ethnicity — except some moments of displaced hostility or when cherry-picking one aspect of the person I hate and then conclude she is a representative of everyone. Shona girls are [insert some tribalism bullshit here]. She broke my heart, and yes she was Shona but she was also a Catholic, and a Dominican College girl. Why then do I not say “Catholic girls are [insert some ignorant thing here]”? You see, we, the “born poor”, sorry, I meant “born free” generation were socialised into tribalism. But the problem or “the cause” was not tribalism. It was politics. But I digress, this is not about me, it is about Ruvheneko’s podcast.
In primary school, I was white. My favourite pastime was swimming, in fact, we did that almost on a daily basis. I loved reading to the extent that almost all of our family friends would give me books as presents and I will devour them up. We were never religious, but I pieced together the creation story from a book a family friend gave to me, I learnt years later that it was a Jehovah’s Witness version. At a very young age, I had read the usual Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio e.t.c. My point is, I was white.
When my mother died it changed my world. I became black. This is probably the first time I am talking about it or how I felt. But this is not about me, it is about the podcast. Walking kilometres every day barefoot, without a uniform but with ordinary clothes, to a rural school was unforgiving. I had my first suicide attempt when I was very young. I knew I was depressed and I don’t want to live anymore. I ate half a cup of fertilizer. I knew that something so guarded, so precious, and so chemical was probably lethal. It was the chemicaliest thing I could find.
We survived on food aid. A close friend got a job at an NGO. He told me how adults were so grateful to him and his team when they went to deliver food aid to them. I could relate. One afternoon when I came back from school, World Vision had come, and we had lunch for the first time in like 2 years. We had large portions, just for that day. I remember I exclaimed, “saze sadla ingani kuntambama” (we are eating as if it’s supper). They used to tease me about that for years after. World Vision usually brought white maize, a stark contrast to our usual Nyawuthi (finger millet). But I loved nyawuthi, it did the job. It was prepared by manual grinding and then separated into three plates filtered based on the level of coarseness. The large would go first into the boiling water, then allow it to boil, then you pour the fine ground to make it into a semi-thick porridge, and then you add the very fine mealie-meal and you have your isitshwala (what most of you call sadza). It was served with okra or okra and on special occasions it was okra. And to this day I hate “traditional Zimbabwean food”. When I see the term traditional food my brain reads “poor people food”. And yet people pay a premium to eat that. There is a restaurant franchise in Bulawayo called Sis Bee, which serves “traditional food”, and people pay an arm and leg for it. But not me. I doubt I would eat it even if you paid me. It is poverty PTSD.
Ruvheneko’s podcast gave me a glimpse of a different Zimbabwe. A Zimbabwe of private schools with piano lessons, and horse riding as a pastime. Where both parents work and make a substantive living and they are pursuing their dreams. Where there is a possibility of growth, strike that, where there is an opportunity for growth. I believe the possibility is infinite and it always exists, but it is the lack of opportunity that limits the possibility. Ruvheneko’s childhood was filled with private school life where dating criteria included car ownership and elite private school enrolment. Some time back, a Twitter user whose father was in the army, educated in private school, and was a car owner in high school, was trying to convince us how life was difficult for them. It is not Olympics, true, but sometimes there is a lack of self-awareness and perspective from many people about how better their life is.
When white rich girls cry and are depressed because their crush doesn’t like them, I always think “there are people dying Kim”. I am at a point where I am grateful of existence, of life, of the job that I have, of the friends that I have, like Provy or Val. For some reason, the podcast made me understand Ruvheneko more, empathise with her and possibly love her as a person. It reminded me that above all, she is human. And maybe if we all tell our stories, we would understand and empathise with each other beyond class, religious and ethnic lines.
Hi, I am Mtho. Tell me about you.