Every child who grew up in Zimbabwe will remember playing mahumbwe - known worldwide as playing house. Bridgette Malenga's nostalgic tale rewinds the clock back to her childhood.
My parents often remind me of things from my childhood that I would rather forget. One of the things they routinely tell me about is how I used to refuse to play with our white neighbours, who had a pool at their house and always invited me to their birthday parties. I apparently would glower at them, sucking my thumb, watching them ever so suspiciously when they would jump over the fence to spend the afternoon with me. It seemed they were very thick skinned because they never not came over to play, and never not invited me to their parties.
I did grow a little older and I quite liked having friends sometimes. And it helped my friend attraction credits when we finally moved to a house with a pool.
Playing house in the 80s
My friends and I used to spend endless hours playing house - mahumbwe in Shona. As a result of this water feature in our front yard, our auditions for the 'mahumbwe' cast at our house had a fantastic turnout always.
Playing house consisted of someone volunteering to be the mom, the dad and the rest of the cast would play varying ages of children. Costumes were very important in bringing the reality alive, and so playing the mom or daughters was a coveted role. Before I outgrew my mom's shoe size, I'd get to wear her stilettos, which I'd return to her wardrobe in the nick of time before she returned from work. The best part of being a female cast member was the hair. The long flowing hair consisted of a bath towel clipped down in your own hair, then someone realised that pulling the neck of a T-shirt around the hairline was even fancier, because the 'hair' would 'flow' better than towel-hair. I found some doilies made from a very fine silky thread, and very soon this became my standard and I always landed up as the mom because of my superior, flowing doilie-hair. Jewelery ranged from mom's necklaces, clip-on earrings to clothes' pegs, nicked straight from the washing line - which were as equally painful on the earlobes as each other.
If ever anyone amongst us had an issue with someone, we would collectively discipline that person by casting them in the most derogatory role - the cockerel. This was the least respectable role to have, but ensured that one was 'in' while being castigated; one had no power and could be slaughtered for dinner should the matriarch choose so.
During play, any real life injuries were promptly healed by pouring heaps of sand to stave off bleeding. Looking back now, with the wisdom that comes with growing up, it is a marvel how we survived infections.
The first order of business once roles were established was that everyone went to bed! We slept first. Then in the morning, we rose to bake mud cakes and had tea, and then slept again. Sometimes we would take shopping trips where we would have as much money as the leaves closest to pick off tree branches. In my childhood money did grow on trees. A very busy time indeed, from which our nannies would draw us away to scrub the filth from the drive way to make sure that we were squeaky clean for our parents' return from work.
When grownups are playing house
Lately, I am drawn back to these memories of playing house as I observe the actions of the government of Zimbabwe. I really do think that they believe that they have run a play play country into a play play pit of despair and play play hopelessness and play play survival gear for the toy citizens they rule over.
In a broke country, we have a substantial cast of ministerial portfolios alone, who follow their First Mummy and First Ancestor Still Alive to bed, upon arriving wherever it is that the cabal is deposited in their shiny tinted windowed Mercedes and Range Rovers and Discoveries. I imagine the level of air release that goes on as these obese and aged children snore happily away at the expense of the national budget and stretched tax payer.
The roles of ministers in playing house
I imagine The Minister of Finance having spent the previous night at a sleepover with his best mate The Reserve Bank Guv'nuh, each wielding a crayon, colouring in reams and reams of Typex bond paper which they will fill up into Zimbabwe's banks the next day and convince the nation is real money. If we had known how easy it was to make money, we would have pulled off more leaves off the guava tree when we were youngsters.
The pals from the Ministries of Lands; Agriculture; Environment; Stratosphere and Plate Tectonics will huddle together and discuss their new fleet of vehicles and how they have come up with a great plan to, not only extract refined diesel from granite, but to sell diesel, paraffin, gas and petrol at inflated prices to line their inflated pockets.
The chaps from Housing; Development; Small Holdings; Small Houses and Brick Laying, who cannot work out a swamp from a street, put their heads together to play eenie-meenie miney-mo, which neighbourhood to raze down to the ground today!
Sniggers from the Ministries of Psychomotor; higher; lower; beneath and between education; inventions and economy, where they are insulated in a bubble which no shame, humiliation nor empathy can penetrate. The health oriented guys' scientific knowledge of the 'sand on the wound' have them gleefully piling up corpses in public health institutions. Reinventing the bottom of the barrel is definitely their motto.
The homeboys in state security, armed with dart guns, take pleasure in aiming at an average dad, whose daily struggle is to feed his children. Throw a tear gas canister, kindly donated by equally sadistic foreign friends whose business is war, onto a mom or young man or woman, whose dreams were once bigger than cracked heels, lips and empty stomachs under cardboard box for a roof.
And that cockerel? The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Just enough voice to wake everyone up, but no clout to stand up against anyone really. Always teetering on the cliff of 'in' or 'out'.
Opposition parties also playing house
We are not fooled by the glowering child in the corner act. The Opposition. Who somehow doesn't want to play with the others... but really wants to play with the others. They will lap up any freebie tidbits - mostly foreign acquired - that their gracious play play hosts throw their way. Such bliss that little scraps have them forgetting themselves.
See, the difference between the political players in Zimbabwe and my childhood friends and I playing house, is that we knew where the line was drawn - children at six or seven knew the difference between imagination and reality. It all ended at half past three, half an hour before our parents came home.