8 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Separating Love From Materialism


"I love you so much that I am going to make you my third and last wife!" declared the hero in the Nigerian movie on Africa Magic. And the beautiful young woman looked at the hero's glittering black Mercedes. Then she turned to him softly and smiled, revealing a beautiful gap between her teeth.

She gently moved the long weave of hair covering half her face and with her head tilted to one side and her eyes blinking softly, she said, "I love you too."

Then she offered him her lips and he kissed her hurriedly, the way older African men kiss, just letting the lips touch a little, not thrusting the tongue right inside the mouth as some white men do in romantic movies.

My cousin Piri was watching all this on Africa Magic and I happened to pass by the living room and saw that particular scene. For the first time in at least four hours, Piri got up from the sofa and pointing to the television she shouted, "Some people are born with luck!"

I asked who she was referring to, the man or the woman in the movie. Piri said she was referring to the woman of course. "It takes a lot of work to get a man with money to say I love you. Ibasa chairo!"

I casually said love does not necessarily need work, it just happens when it's meant to happen.

Our elders used to say a tree grows wherever it so wishes. Vakuru vakati moyo muti unomera paunoda.

Piri laughed and said that was not the case anymore.

"Love only grows where there is money."

I reminded her that when she fell in love with Misheki on the village bus during Operation Murambatsvina, he had no money and they used to be very happy back in the village. "And where did that take us?" Piri asked, squinting her eyes and frowning at me. "Sis, where there is no money, there is no love. Pasina mari, hapana rudo. "

I told Piri that she should stop thinking about money all the time because there is meaning in the joy that comes from love. Piri laughed at me again, her laughter this time full of sarcasm. In between bouts of laughter she told me to wake up. "Romantic love died back in the village," she said "These days, love cannot exist where there is no money," she said. Then she sat down again to rewind the bits she had missed on Africa Magic.

Piri was talking to me as if I did not know about love.

She forgot that I had firsthand experience of love from the time I was in the village dancing jiti in the moonlight, mujenaguru, and playing games like choose your beloved, sarura wako kadeya deya. Back in the village, I used to see people in love. Although couples were not together that often except late at night, they still loved each other. They did not kiss or embrace in public, but they made babies quite frequently. There might have been problems between couples, but there was real love in the village. A different kind of love.

When my seven sisters and I lived in the village compound, we believed in my mother's idea of romantic love.

She used to tell us the story of her first visit to our village. In 1947, my father carried my mother on his bicycle from her village in Mhari near Daramombe mission to introduce her to his people. My mother was 18 at the time. During the journey, they stopped on the foothills of Svinurai mountain. In the hazy afternoon sun of the dry season, he pointed to the valley below and said to her, "That is Chinyika river hidden by the thick bush.

"Along that river is the village compound where you will be my mother's daughter-in-law, the first muroora, and maiguru ve musha wese." My mother's eyes quietly surveyed the landscape. She could not see the compound because it was hidden by so many trees and anthills.

In those days the forest was a jungle and you could still find elands and bucks roaming the virgin wild. My mother looked towards the Dembwa and Dorova mountains in the south-east, and beyond the Save river to Mbire, Romorehoto and Hwedza mountains beyond.

Then her eyes zoned back to the place where my father and his people lived. On that day, standing next to my father, she said she fell in love with the rivers, the mountains, the trees and everything else surrounding my father's village. Over many years my mother repeated this story to us, she said she loved everything about that landscape because it was all part of my father. But my father did not have any money or cattle to marry her.

Apart from his bicycle and the two pounds ten that he earned as a teacher, he had nothing. He appealed to his father, Sekuru Dickson, for help to pay the bride price for my mother. But Sekuru Dickson had just returned from serving the British Empire as an infantry soldier in the Rhodesian African Rifles, RAR.

He owned a very small herd of cattle. Besides, Sekuru and Mbuya VaMandirowesa were still trying to settle in the new Tribal Trust Lands, having been moved from the Charter estates to make way for British settler farmers in the 1940s. My great grandmother VaNyandoro said her cattle would go towards the lobola for my mother.

"Such a healthy strong woman cannot go back to her people because we are poor. One day, when she gives birth to a girl, she would be named after me," she said.

And so my father's love accompanied each one of the eleven beasts that went to marry my mother. My mother settled in the village compound and over the years that followed she raised eleven children, including me, the daughter given VaNyandoro's name.

Like many African fathers in the colonial times, my father hardly spent time in the village. He worked far away from home. Nobody expected him to be faithful in marriage, not even my mother. Mbuya VaMandirowesa said a man was like an ox. When the ox was away from his usual pasture, he sought new grass to fulfill his hunger. However, when the ox returned to his home, he was expected to confess what he had eaten, in case the foreign grass in unknown places carried bad winds likely to cause measles, gwirikwiti, in children.

Sometimes this male habit of ox grazing elsewhere was not always solved by confession. When my mother was unhappy with my father's grazing habits, she confided mostly to other women and to her best friend Mai Gerard, the Ndebele woman from across the river.

Once in a while we saw Mai Gerard come over to spend the day with my mother. The two of them plaited each other's hair and talked in sad serious tones at first.

Then their voices became relaxed and got lighter and louder. They were joined by other women later.

All day the women talked and laughed, their hands busy shelling nuts, making peanut butter, threading beads or making pottery. They talked about men, sex, childbirth, mothers-in-law, love, polygamy and everything else that men were not supposed to know. At sunset the women went back to their houses, the burden of men who strayed and grazed in foreign places made lighter.

The village habit of confession is long gone. Immunisation must have stopped the bad winds from bringing measles to the children. So why should a man confess about an affair somewhere and cause unnecessary pain to his wife? The men still eat grass elsewhere and sometimes stop when they are caught, chikaputika.

The only risk is HIV and Aids. Meanwhile, the grass for grazing is not lying idle either. Every day it nourishes itself and remains nice and green, waiting to be grazed with love and money.

My cousin Piri is not going back to the village soon.

She sits for hours, watching Africa Magic movies to get ideas about how to get a rich man. She says in these difficult economic times, a single woman needs prayer and medicinal spells, mushonga chaiyo to find plenty of love and good living. With careful planning Piri is convinced that she will soon catch a rich man with diamonds and a farm, shangwiti chaiyo ine ngoda nepurazi.

When I went to the hair dressing shop to get my hair twisted the other day, I discovered that Piri is not the only one on a mission to get a shangwiti. There was a lively discussion on how to capture this difficult to get man.

One expensive way, (followed by women with a bit of money) is to go all the way to Malawi where you will meet a n'anga, a traditional healer with a whole selection of frogs. She asks you to choose one frog among many.

You breast-feed it. When you return to Zimbabwe, the power of the frog will start showing you miracles, minana chaiyo. You will soon discover that all the men with Mercedes Benzes, Range Rovers, BMW's and other expensive cars, even Hummers, will stop and beg to give you a lift to wherever you want to go. Once in the car, shangwiti will ask for your love. In no time at all, he will marry you with real cows and shower you and your family with money and presents. Since you will be a second or third wife, you must aim to strengthen your position very quickly by producing a child. This way, your position is secure, wasimbisa rudo, mari yavepo kare.

Another way of securing love from a rich man is to forget about frogs and medicines altogether and simply focus on praying seriously. Ideally, young women should aim to become first wives of rich men.

Therefore the prayer method is highly recommended for young unmarried women of good character who wish to settle and build a good home.

A young woman should look around for the best church where they use bottled water or small white towels that have been prayed for by a prophet. Due to the shortage of good single men with money, some young women might have to settle for the position of second or third and final wife.

Yet it should not be like that at all. Surely there is room for love, even when there is only matemba, the dried small fish to eat.

Our obsession with wealth has taken away friendship and passion, making real love elusive.

If we could only look back and return to the meaning of love, then we might be happier finding the meaning of real love, like it used to be.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic. She holds a PhD in International Relations and is a consultant and director of The Simukai Development Project.

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