Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
THE WhatsApp message from my niece Shamiso said, “Hello Tete, it stopped raining here in Bocha on the 5th of February and then it has not rained ever since. There will be no harvest this year because of the drought. The cows were allowed to eat the drought stricken maize at tasselling stage. What else could they have done?”
She sent it on the evening of Good Friday, after she arrived with her husband Philemon to visit relatives over Easter as most of us with ties in the village still do. Philemon paid the bride price for Shamiso two years ago and they have a baby boy called Prince who is now 15-months-old.
There were more WhatsApp messages from Bocha. “We ate sadza with dried fish last night. Today Mbuya VaChiseko gave Prince a goat. It was killed and I made goat intestines. Everyone liked the way I rolled and tied them together and cooked them over the fire for hours.”
My cousin Piri and I smiled reading the texts. As the aunts, vanatete, we had brought up Shamiso well. Now she was cooking good traditional dishes and making us proud among her husband’s people.
Then the WhatsApp messages changed tone upon the arrival of Philemon’s uncle Sekuru Zinhopi from Buhera. While they were skinning the goat under the mango tree, Sekuru Zinhopi told Philemon that Shamiso will now stay in the village and help Mbuya Chiseko around the village homestead. She would harvest the nuts from the fields and then grow fresh vegetables in the garden. Because there had been a drought, there were no pumpkin leaves left in the fields. Throughout the dry season, the family was going to rely on home grown garden vegetables and tomatoes. Donors were expected to bring food handouts of maize-meal and beans around May or June. Mbuya wanted Shamiso to go and stand in the donor food handout line several kilometres away. Philemon agreed with Sekuru Zinhopi.
When the decision was communicated to Shamiso later in the evening, she quickly said she could not stay in the village because she planned to go back to the city and look for work. “What work do you do? Are you a nurse? A teacher?” Sekuru asked rolling his tobacco in a newspaper, sitting on the kitchen bench where other male relatives sat.
“I can do any job. I can sell second hand clothes, I can plait hair and I can work as a maid,” said Shamiso.
She was stirring a big pot of sadza preparing to feed more than 10 people sitting around the fire in the kitchen hut.
“Sekuru, I totally agree with you one hundred percent!” Philemon said.
He was drinking home brewed beer from a big metal mug.
“I wanted someone with real authority to tell Mai Prince that she belongs here and not the city. Mbuya needs her here.” Mbuya, who was holding baby Prince on her lap nodded and lifted baby Prince in the air, playing with him and singing, “Iwe namai vako sarai naMbuya, sarai naMbuya,” meaning, you and your mother will now stay with me. Shamiso kept on stirring the sadza quietly. She dished it out and the goat meat as well.
After the meal, everyone relaxed, told stories and jokes. Then Sekuru Zinhopi reminded everyone that one reason for his Easter visit was to tell Shamiso that so far she had shown little respect for Philemon’s people by refusing to stay in her husband’s village. If Shamiso did not want to stay in the village as every muroora should, then she was free to leave Prince and go back to her own maiden village and find another husband. As if to lessen the tension, Mbuya said the best family planning method was to keep Philemon and Shamiso apart so they did not have another baby too soon. Everyone laughed. But the decision for Shamiso to stay in the village had been settled.
“How can I leave a child who has only just come off the breast in a village where there is nothing to eat except maize from the last season?” Shamiso sobbed when she arrived unexpectedly at Piri’s house on Easter Sunday. I was not there but Piri told me the whole story of how Shamiso ran away from Bocha on Easter Sunday when everyone was still asleep. Philemon was asleep next to his uncle, Sekuru Zinhopi. When there are many relatives around the homestead, women share the same room while men do the same. Philemon only found out that Shamiso had gone well after sunrise. By that time, the kombi was heading towards Chivhu.
This was not the first time Shamiso had run away from her husband’s village in Bocha. One time, when Piri and I had left her there, she left her husband’s village after 10 days. She was six months pregnant then. She took the overnight kombi from Bocha and arrived at Mbare market in the morning. Philemon called Mbuya Chiseko, to ask why his wife had left the village without his permission.
Mbuya Chiseko said Shamiso left because she was unwell. When a pregnant woman, especially a very young and inexperienced one, says she is sick, then she must be allowed to go to a clinic or a hospital. Down in Bocha, the clinic was very far. Besides, there was nothing at the clinic except panadols, a few bandages and black liquid medicine for infected wounds.
Mbuya Chiseko said Shamiso was a very nice girl with hunhu, respect. But there was only one problem: Shamiso’s phone. Shamiso often left the village to walk right across the hills to the shops where there was someone with a solar phone charger.
She paid R5 to charge the phone and she had to wait a few hours for her turn since there was only one adaptor and there were several phones to be charged at any given time. While Shamiso waited for her phone, Mbuya Chiseko needed help to cook, fetch water, look for firewood, grind, and pound and also feed the two orphaned grandchildren belonging to Philemon’s older sister who had died from Tuberculosis the year before.
As the aunts, vana tete, Piri and I had given Shamiso good advice.
But we did not tell her to stay away from texting, reading messages on WhatsApp, Face book, playing games and listening to music on the phone.
Soon after her first escape from Bocha, we tried to give Shamiso and Philemon some counselling. I recall that I sat on an armchair next to Piri, looking at Philemon and Shamiso. Here was a young couple, expecting their first child. Philemon lived in Harare where he sold airtime, windscreen wipers and other gadgets. Shamiso asked where and how love was going to grow between her and Philemon given that she was meant to be in Bocha while Philemon lived in town.
She looked into his eyes and asked, “If you really loved me, why would you let me stay with Mbuya in Bocha, especially in the rainy season when I am expected to work like a donkey? What kind of love is that?” Philemon looked puzzled and perhaps a little nervous and unsure. He turned to Piri and me. With a tone of sadness or begging, he said, “I love my wife. I just want her to go back to Mbuya Chiseko and I will be with her at Christmas.” But Shamiso said she would not go back. Philemon scratched his head several times, tapped his knee, looked at his phone two or three times, and then he got up. He clapped his hands in respect to us and said he was going to think about the situation. In the meantime, could we look after his wife for him? We let him go.
We sat there, looking at each other. Then Shamiso said, “Why should a young pregnant girl be forced to stay in a strange village where there are no hospitals? And why should she live without her husband? ”
In the end, Philemon gave in and Shamiso stayed with him in Harare. They rented one room in Chitungwiza. Fifteen months later, Shamiso and Piri were back in Bocha for the Easter break. This time, the elders were determined to keep Shamiso in the village.
“Before Prince was born, they forced me to stay in the village and I refused. Now they want me stay there again,” Shamiso said, sobbing, upon arrival at Piri’s house on the afternoon of Easter Sunday.
Back in Bocha, Sekuru Zinhopi told Philemon that he had wasted his bride price by paying for a woman who did not stay in the village and help build the homestead.
He took Philemon aside. They sat under the mango tree and he said, “Son of my sister, as long as women live in the city, they will hate the village. A good woman does not live in the city.”
Speaking very sternly, Sekuru Zinhopi advised Philemon to divorce Shamiso because she was nothing but trouble.
“Murambe muzukuru,” he said.
And Philemon nodded in agreement.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.