2017 – The year my heart started beating again.

“Grieve. So you can be free to feel something else.” – Nayyirah Waheed

About a year and a half ago, my heart stopped beating and I couldn’t breathe. Death. Death to the life of a young black woman whose heart had packed up and sunk deep into the grave where he lay. Beneath the dirt, covered with cement, and topped off with flowers from his enemies. Gone. I remember the cry I let out when people started to walk away and go home. I remember struggling to breathe because in that moment, I died with him.

This was 2015. When the gamatoxes ran wild and the G40s had yet to really get going, and the bond notes were yet to be set free. When the vendors were told to leave again and the President was going to rule from the grave and the drought had started to claim lives of the ‘resilient’ people ruled by painful mediocrity. My heart lay still, buried under 6 feet of red earth, waiting. Occasionally it would stir up, but only to feel pain. It’s 2017. Last year, the-year-that-we-will-never-speak-of, is gone with what we thought may be winds of change. And this year is the year I took my heart back from the grave where he lies, and the year it starts to beat again.

Grief is that horrible feeling that never really goes away. It consumes you and dictates how you think about yourself, the deceased, the people you love and the world you want to change for the better. Grief strips away the pretences you held up for so long, the inhibitions you should have never had, and it jolted me out of my slumber and comfort of a good, stable life. Grief takes away, but it strange ways, it also gives. This piece is for myself, but it’s also for anyone who has lost a loved one and doesn’t know what it means to love/live without them. The beauty of new years is they give the impression of a new start. They give the kind of hope that is fleeting, but hopefully makes an impression long enough to last you half the year before you need another pep talk.

There’s so much grief has taught me, but I’ll share the 5 most lessons I’ve learned that I want to (need to) take with me into 2017.

  1. You’re stronger than you know – There will be days you can barely get your eyes to open fully and start your day. I know these days well. You will think ‘I can’t do this anymore’, and shut the world out and feel annoyed at every text of encouragement, because don’t they know you can’t do it? Cry, kick, scream, stay silent, pray, run – do whatever you need to do to make sure you wake your heart up again. If the most that you can do is take a shower and go back to bed, it’s alright. Give yourself days when you don’t have to be the you that everyone relies on, needs and turns to. You will surprise yourself when you wake up the next morning, and you’re breathing again. Give yourself time, you’re stronger than you know.
  2. You can’t ‘do life’ alone – To this day, all I want most of the time is to be alone. People can be irritating as fuck when all you want to do is wallow in your misery and loss. But people can also be kind and loving. Allow people to love you and to want to be there for you. Tell them when you need some alone time, but don’t hide from them forever. They mean well, I promise. No one is an island, and no one is expecting you to suddenly ‘be okay’. You know who your people are so keep them as close as you can.
  3. Value your peace – For months I felt like all I was doing was calming the storm inside of me. It was loud and angry and violent. I had no peace, and the storm was destroying me. When you find a slither of peace, be it in a novel, with a friend, on a morning walk, while you pray in your garden – GUARD IT. Guard that slither of peace with your life because you and I know how seldom it comes around. Guard it and never let anyone take it away from you, no matter how important they are in your life. Be kind to yourself and value the peace that keeps you sane.
  4. Everything you need is within you – This is a great time to introspect and understand yourself better. It’s a time I realised who I really was, what I really thought, and what I really wanted and didn’t want. Everything you need to heal and succeed at life after this pseudo death is in you. It’s in your passions, your frustrations, your dreams, your actions, thoughts and gifts. Don’t doubt yourself.
  5. Don’t give up on yourself – This is something I still need to work on. Trust that you have what it takes to make it through this year. You’re all you have, and at this point you need to take a step outside the grief circle and believe in yourself. And if you can’t muster up all that faith, call a friend who affirms, loves and is always there for you. Don’t give up – we’ll make it through.

My heart is beating again this year, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’m hopeful and excited about the year because I know what it’s like to lose hope completely, and I never want to go back there again. I hope that in whatever way, this piece brings you peace and you can take away a few things that will help you calm your storm.

“Grieve, so you can be free to feel something else.”

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Christmas Day, 2016. The day I decided to get my heart beating again. Also the day I danced heartily for the first time in months.

The living dead – A letter to Amos.

You died.

You did the one thing I needed you not to do. You breathed your last breath and heaved your last sigh and blinked your last blink, and slipped into the afterlife, like your life here with us meant nothing. I can still hear your voice, a year after you’ve been gone. I’d give away all I have to see you again. I miss your smile. I miss your terrible jokes and your thoughtfulness. I miss your love. The world is colder without you, and I don’t know where to find my sunshine again. A piece of me died with you that day, and I don’t know how to get it back. I don’t know how to live when a part of me is dead. I don’t know how to breathe when the air you left us is full of questions, conspiracies, politicking and hatred. I don’t know how to breathe when the air is thick with uncertainty and when I breathe in grief and breathe out grief. I wish I had more answers, but you died. You did the one thing I needed you not to do.

You’re no longer with us.

You’re gone, far away and never coming back. Nothing prepared me for your departure. No tickets, no itinerary, no warning. One day we were together and the next we weren’t. You’re not here to see the mess you left behind; your colleagues and frienemies have ran us all into the ground. You’re not here to see the destruction and greed, the lack of urgency and the pain. You’re no longer here to answer tough questions and deal with being on the wrong side of history. You’re no longer with us. You’re not here to hear how they hate(d) you, how they saw you as nothing more but a cog in the machine of a devlish system. But, almost gladly,  you’re not here to perpetuate that system, and maybe that’s for the better. You’re no longer with us, but your actions (and inactions) haunt me daily.

You passed on.

You passed from one life to the next, painfully so. I wish I had known when you were leaving. I wish I had known. It’s been a year since that hot winter’s day when we found you. A year since my heart stopped and my lungs emptied out and my soul left my body for a while. It’s been a year since I saw your face. It’s been a whole year. So why does it feel like it happened yesterday? I can still hear my mother crying, I can still see her pain.

I’d like to celebrate you, but I’m not sure I know how. You did the one thing I needed you not to do. I knew parts of you they’ll never know, and I’ll cherish those forever. But I can’t celebrate you until I find my sunshine again. So for now, while the police investigate, and your frienemies rejoice in your death and wreak havoc on this land, I’ll say a quick prayer for your soul and hope that we’ll meet again. I miss you. Bring back the pieces of my heart when you have a minute.

Love you forever. (And no, you can’t rule from the grave, soz.)

Vimbi.

Bank queue thoughts.

My father had a terrible singing voice. Cringeworthy, deep and without melody, the only song I remember him singing was the national anthem. Yes, the national anthem. He used to belt it out on the days he decided to burden us with his singing, creating strange harmonies and misplaced crescendos. This morning I thought of him as I heard the anthem over the radio, just before the 6AM news. I smiled and cringed – I haven’t forgotten what his voice sounded like. Yet.

Perhaps the feelings towards my country came from the way his singing made me feel. I hated it when he was actually singing, but I somehow found myself humming the anthem, smiling to myself as I went about my daily tasks. Sometimes I’d join him, mostly to improve the quality of the performance. I was much younger when he sang the anthem, and Zimbabwe wasn’t perfect, but it was a much easier country to live in.

Fast forward to this morning. “Kushandira mari kwacho, kunorwadza. Kutora mari yacho, kunorwadza. Nyika yacho yese yaakutorwadza,” says the man in the bank queue in front of me. He has spent the last week queuing for no more than $200, at ungodly hours. According to him, we were headed back to 2008 times, when shop shelves and fuel pumps were empty, our money worthless, our political freedoms stifled, our hearts heavy and our sense of hope wavering. A time when dreams were dashed on the rocks of a callous government and a desperate and trigger happy ruling party. A time of all night prayers, of shady deals, ill-equipped hospitals and dying patients, unpaid workers and late school fees payments. A time much like the present. Pessimism is our ideology, political polarity our bread and butter. Politicians politick and people hurt and hustle. Life is not normal. It hasn’t been for a very long time. Mega deals come and go, corruption makes overweight, potbellied men richer than they can articulate. Morals don’t exist. Every person fends for themselves, just to keep their heads above water. Street children return, begging bowls deeper. Vendors return, fighting for their right for a decent life. Debt collectors take furniture and cars, evict tenants and dare them to take it up with a legal system that bleeds your already empty pockets dry.

The line gets longer and longer, those last in line hoping they’ll make the cut. I keep humming the national anthem, thinking of how we got here. Thinking of the hundreds of doors of opportunity that have since closed for so many citizens. I glance over at the elderly woman a few steps away from me and think of the pensions that were lost and the grandchildren whose parents toil away in foreign lands.

An argument breaks out about a man who tries to jump the queue. Two soldiers join the argument and it ends promptly.

I wonder what it will really take for things to change; for our leaders to care again. For our lives to not be an endless pit of pain. 

I’ve stopped humming.

Keeping it together outside my comfort zone.

“Keep it together.”

 

It’s 4.21am and I’m knee deep in development studies reading, Bryson Tiller in the background, the sound of the occasional truck passing in the main road, a few birds chirpin’ the shit out of their morning songs. I tend to work in the early morning, because my mind is less cluttered. During the day I have classes and seminars, books to read, ideas to critique, conversations to have. I like the quiet, calm ambience at this time of the day. I feel somewhat ‘put together’.

As a person living in the diaspora, I am constantly battling with my desire to be home with my grieving mother and being here – seemingly doing something constructive with my life and following my passions. Everyday I think of my country. I think of all of the wonderful, idealistic things I would love to do there. I think of my father’s death and the sluggish (or non-existent?) investigations around it. I think of how much I love the vibe, the people and the potential in Harare. I think of home A LOT. I have no idea where my life will take me after this degree. Most of my days are honestly spent updating my CV and website, applying for jobs, sending countless emails, thinking of where I would like to work versus where I can find work, whether I have what it takes to start a business of my own and so on.

It’s a strange feeling, being here. In some ways I’m seen as privileged (and I really am, don’t get me wrong) for being in the diaspora surrounded by so much promise and opportunity and stability (to an extent of course). In other ways I look around and see a space that has everything it needs to succeed so my contributions here would inconsequential. I feel so very ‘UN-put-together’ in a space that is so very orderly and efficient and where everything seemingly ‘works’. I feel scattered – neither here nor there, and neither succeeding nor completely failing.

There are things I find particularly difficult about having different “locals” as a young(ish) person in the globalised “shrinking” world we live in today:

  1. The pressure to succeed- This is obviously something most people feel, no matter where they’re from or where they are. But there’s a lingering voice in the back of my head that says “You’ve crossed oceans and seas to get to another continent. There’s no room for mediocrity here. Especially here.” My life is different now. I have pending financial obligations I don’t know how to meet, a family to think of, a career I want to build, and many structural problems I have to face to get where I want to. Because I am where I am, I feel the pressure even more. I have to fight the feeling that I constantly need to prove myself and never ever drop the ball(s). Because the ball(s) will drop. Eventually.
  2. L.O.V.E – I haven’t been in a relationship for a few months now, and being single has been both painful in the beginning, but liberating for the most part. I’m not actively looking for love, but if it comes my way, then I have a score of questions I need to ask. Where is he based? (*insert my mother’s tone*) If he’s here, do I stay? (Highly unlikely) If he’s home, do I go home? With what job? If I stay, does he do long distance? If not, is it even worth exploring options? Do I want to be married one day? Would he move for me? Am I asking for too much for someone to love me in my absence? I can barely figure out where I’m going to be in the next few months, let alone figure out who my life partner should be. There’s a constant tension between wanting to be home, building a life with someone, and wanting a salary that can give me the life I want and the capacity to build something at home.
  3. Making a difference – I’m an ‘over-thinker’. Anyone who knows me well knows that I tend to pick apart and analyse almost everything. I’m intentional. If I care, I’ll show you. If I don’t, I’ll also show you. I don’t take things for granted and I don’t like the idea of half-baked initiatives that don’t address real, deeply rooted problems. This has been my downfall, I suppose. When I think of making a difference in my country I think of a few questions: who do I want to help and why? Am I helping out of the guilt of my privilege? Am I concerned more with results than the people I want to help? Did they ask for help? Who am I to think I can help? Can they help themselves? Is this patronising? Are they really benefiting? Do I think I’m better than them because I’ve been abroad? How do I ‘make a difference’ as humbly as possible, cognisant of my privilege, aware of the pain the very mention of my surname may cause in some spaces, and a difference that addresses the heart of the issues that are faced by those I want to help?

 

Adulting without one of the main adults in my life to guide me has been an absolute roller coaster, but it’s the very questions I’ve outlined above that are shaping me into who I am. Being away from home sometimes can be just as difficult (albeit in different ways) as being home with all of the daily stresses one faces in Zimbabwe. In some ways I feel as though my life is a microcosm of my country – still a real state but just surviving day to day, juggling opposing forces internally and externally, semi-efficient and semi-focused. I still feel very ‘scattered’ and very ‘un-put-together’, but I’m hopeful that my constant mental battle will lead me somewhere meaningful.

 

 

Gathering the pieces of my heart

Today holds a special space in the hearts of many a Zimbabwean. Many of us spend hours slaving over lunch dishes, opening presents, laughing with siblings, rolling our eyes at drunk uncles and throwing shade at the one relative who thinks they’re better than everyone because of their stint in the US. I wish you all the best Christmas you can have in an economy like ours, and the kind of peace that calms your storms. May whichever deity you pray to or large white-bearded man you believe in, grant you your most precious Christmas wishes.

This Christmas, my mother is away. Her fierce smile and love for life fills most of my heart, and so her absence is felt. My dad is also away, but his is a more permanent absence. It’s one that has left a void in my soul, and has granted me countless sleepless nights and lost me a few pounds. The stress of dealing with his estate has taken a toll on all of us. Grief isn’t something I have experienced to this extent, and I have tried dealing with it as best I can, but I’m mostly floundering. I’ve received some flack for writing about Amos the politician and his former party. So I’ll change course, and write about Amos the father – the guardian of the biggest piece of my heart.

There’s a Christmas I’ll never forget. It was 2008. I hated dad for his involvement in politics . This was the year of waves of political violence from both Zanu and MDC, but mostly Zanu. It disgusted me, and I couldn’t understand why he was part of a party that condoned this kind of behaviour. But it was Christmas now, and by now I had mastered the art of ignoring him when he talked about the party and politics. As usual, we were at the farm, and I had spent the past two days writing and reading. After a big lunch and presents, my dad and I took a walk. He took long strides in those obscenely big farm/miners shoes that come with every commercial farmer starter pack. His Zanu hat was far too big for his head, as ill-fitting as his involvement in the party, I thought. He had got a hair cut a few days before, so his ears stuck out, pointing up to Palestinian Jesus. At some point he stopped in front of the cattle pen.

“I am sorry,” he said. “For what?” I asked. “For being part of things you don’t understand. I know you’re angry with me, and I know why. But this is who I am, Vimbai. But you are always first. Mese ana Tinashe, naMama. You are always first.”

He kept walking, and we didn’t speak for the rest of the walk. My dad never told me he loved me. At least not directly. It’s just not a thing in my house. But god, did he show it! There was never a Christmas he didn’t remind me that I was his priority. There was never a day he didn’t look genuinely happy to see me. There wasn’t a day he wasn’t willing to take my criticisms of his profession. There wasn’t a day I questioned his love for me. He holds the biggest piece of my heart, and so my writing is a way for me to frantically get it back, so I can live in peace again.

I’m going to his grave today. I haven’t been able to go since I cam home. I tried the other day, but I broke down in tears before I got there. So I’ll try again today. The biggest piece of my heart is there with him, and I’d like it back. I’d like to feel real peace again. I’d like to think and write about him without shedding a tear. I’d like to stop feeling the pain I feel when people mention his name. I’d like the biggest piece of my heart back. This is my Christmas wish.

Happy holidays readers 🙂

Pasi neMhandu.

 

A tribute to my grieving, powerful mother

Zvinorwadza vasara.” (“It hurts those left behind.”) – Gogo Kamba

The car my father’s body was found in sits in our driveway right now. Mukoma has been washing it once a week or so. I haven’t asked why, I just assume it makes him feel better, like he’s preserving dad’s memory or something.

I remember too much from the five-day long funeral. There was so much noise all the time. Varoora gossiping about people’s husbands at the fire, vakuwasha pitching tents and drinking beer in the garden, cars driving in and out, trucks dropping off food and firewood, phones ringing constantly, people wailing as they walked into the house…It was overwhelming for the most part.

But Amos Midzi has had enough airplay to last a lifetime. On to the black woman that speaks to my soul.

My mother sat in a corner in the lounge, next to her mother and sister and cousins. Occasionally I went to sit with her, squeezing myself past the Zanu people who thought they had a right to sit close to her. I watched her everyday. I made sure she ate, made sure she was surrounded by the right people, made sure I was in every side-meeting she was called to, checked on her when she was sleeping, and tried desperately not to cry in front of her. She never cracked. I lost it a few times and shouted at a few zanu people and reporters, but she stayed calm. Her character was consistent. There was a sadness in her eyes that resurfaces some days, but not once has she crumbled into the mess I find myself in at least once a week.

My mother is a black, Zimbabwean woman with a smile that blinds the wicked and a heart the size of Kanye West’s ego. Her love is fierce, her anger damning, and her strength humbling. We’ve never been close, mama and I. She’s always been a little less affectionate than me, and I’ve always been a little more reserved than her. Nonetheless we’ve always looked out for each other. She grew up in a rural area with a strict, religious mother and an equally strict, patriarchal father. She met my father in a Zanu office, where she used to work just before and after 1980. In 1982, she married him, and in eight years, had three children. She followed my father to both his diplomatic postings as an Ambassador – Cuba and the US. She was the perfect diplomat’s wife. She cooked a mean lunch and has the most amazing sets of china and silverware. Her decor, hostess skills and style meant she made my dad look good at the numerous events they hosted and were invited to. At least that’s how the world saw her. But I know her better.

Being a politician’s wife can’t be easy. She sacrificed so much for him to pursue his dreams. She supported him, even when he wasn’t always around for her. She raised us all with the fear of black mothers, and the love of a thousand gods. She dealt with our mood swings and her having to be the ‘bad cop’ while my dad was the angel who swooped in with presents from far away lands. She built a career in a country that, for decades, saw women as nothing more but mothers and wives. She pursued her passions and followed her dreams. She defied the odds against her.

My mother has lived through different phases in the world, and she’s conquered them all. She’s conquered racism in colonial Rhodesia, she’s conquered patriarchy both abroad and at home, she’s conquered the voices in her head that told her she couldn’t make it, she’s conquered motherhood, she’s conquered hatred and she will conquer grief. She is my inspiration, my muse. She marches past the haters and takes on the world, strapping womanism around her waist, holding on to black Jesus’ hand,  and laughing in the face of those who have hurt her.

There’s something to be said about black mother’s grief. It’s lined with a hardness that only a lifetime of oppression and misogyny can give you. It’s cradled in a love for her children that brings us all to our knees. It’s a grief that tears through her soul but never resurfaces for too long – lest she be taken advantage of. My mother’s grief is steeped in anger, but also in clarity. The womanist that she is, she can’t help pushing me hard and making sure I reach my full potential, never letting the “man’s world” get the best of me. Her grief is my grief, her sadness my sadness, her joy my joy. Her grief shows her humanity, but it also reveals the god in her.

She’s sitting in the lounge now, headscarf on, blanket over her knees, falling asleep. God, she’s everything.

Finding my sunshine: A Tribute to Amos

“Pain demands to be felt.”

– John Green (from the passage written for the movie “The Fault in our Stars”)

Perhaps the most common thing people have said to me since my dad’s passing has been, “Be strong.” It’s a strange thing to say, I think. I know they mean well, and they mostly want to prevent me from going down a path of self destruction, but it doesn’t help. I’m already strong.

I was raised by an independent, thoughtful and kind father who wanted nothing but the best for his family. He raised me to never give up and to keep swinging, even if I was lying on my back, my opponent standing over me. He taught me to hold my head high and never take no for an answer. He taught me to fight for what I believed in, even if no one else was on my side. My whole life I’ve been strong. Vulnerability has never appealed to me, and showing my full emotions to people is still something I struggle with. But these days I find myself weak and lost – using only my father’s words to find my strength.

When I was a little girl, my father would come to my room every morning and scream “Goood morning Nestle Cerevitaaaaa!” (I was obsessed with that advert, and I loved cerevita more than VP Mnangagwa loves saying “Pasi nemhandu!”) It was the first thing I heard every morning and he was the first person to make me smile. On the way to school he would tell me jokes, explain things I didn’t understand in the paper, and would smile at me periodically through the rear-view mirror. His voice was always so soothing. Unfortunately, he did the Cerevita thing until I was in Form one. It annoyed the crap out of me and I told him to stop doing that. He did, for about a day, and then he went back to doing it for at least another year. Ha! He was my sunshine.

Around the time of my first period pains, love interests and obsession with basketball, our relationship grew even stronger. We had heated debates about ZANU and its corruption, its disregard for human suffering, and mostly its culture of violence. He knew and loved a ZANU that had fought for the equality of all and the liberation from whiteness as the normative standard of what is good, correct and desirable. He understood ZANU as a party that cared deeply for the welfare of all people, and whose members were ready to die, that Zimbabwe might live. Unfortunately, greed and excessive privilege tainted many of his colleagues, and the party wasn’t what he had known it to be. Alas, he loved his job, he loved people, and he loved what the core values of the party were. So I supported him. I would go to rallies once in a while and marvel at the amount of people who were there just to hear him speak. For a few hours I forgot my skepticism and I went along with the slogans. His words inspired people, and that made me happy. He was their sunshine too.

One day when we were arguing (again), I asked him why he continued to pursue such a precarious career path in politics. He said, “Vimbai mwanangu, we must try. We must try and fix the things that have gone wrong in this country. Even if we fail here and there, we must keep trying. Our existence depends on it.” That just about sums him up. He was a man that kept going, until the very end. He was determined to see Zimbabwe be better, do better for its people.

Pain demands to be felt.

During his funeral, I told the members of ZANU that they should be ashamed of what they did to him. That their words, like his, carried power and weight. Their words hurt him deeply, and for that I will never forgive them. I am certain that my anger will not subside any time soon, and that Karma will come knocking on their doors one day. I am also certain that there are people who are hurting with my family. People who miss him and who remembered his amazing personality. To those people – hugs all around.

My father was a man who cared deeply about those around him, and whose legacy can never be erased. He lives in me and through me. I am weak now, but I know that one day I’ll find my strentgh. I’ll find my laughter again, and I’ll find the courage to finish the work he started. I’ll never stop loving him.While this pain demands to be felt, I demand to feel love and happiness again as well. i will find my sunshine again, and I’ll rest in the strength of my father’s memory. RIP Comrade. Save me a seat next to Palestinian Jesus.