Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
THE elders used to say, “Ndakaziva haitungamiri.” The direct poor translation of this meaning is: “If only I had known the future, then, I would have made a different decision to the one I made.”Back here in the village, if we had known that the rains will be so unpredictable, then we would have not grown maize in our village fields.
This year, our maize crop is a disaster. We would be lucky to harvest half a tonne from our five hectares of red soil.
In November last year, when the rains came, we celebrated.
The kids danced around saying: “Mvura ngainaye tidye mapudzi — Let it rain, so we can eat pumpkins.”
We were happy. We said God and the ancestors had not forgotten to send us rain at the right time.
Then we got the ploughs out and planted commercial type maize seeds.
We no longer use seeds from last year’s season from the granaries, because those seeds will not germinate well.
A few days later, the maize germinated and the whole field was a beautiful sea of green.
People stopped to admire our fields, asking what seed we used and what fertiliser we were going to apply.
Then the rains stopped coming.
In mid December, I stood in the fields, with my cousin Piri, my brother Sydney and friend Beatrice.
We held the shrivelled remains of maize seed that were drying.
We walked around the field to examine the plants and everywhere the whole field was showing a picture of sad dying plants.
We looked to the east and saw dark gray clouds circling and partially covering the sun and no sign of rain.
The moisture in the soil could not remain nurturing the new plants for long.
We felt the sun beating us as the wind dropped away and the merciless baking heat resumed.
And then the sun broke through, the wind dropped away and the merciless baking heat resumed. We stood there, in the blistering sun, feeling a teasing wind bringing clouds from the east, casting shadows that moved fast over the rows of turned red earth. We had no choice but to discuss the best time to replant the maize and how much it was going to cost.
In December, soon after Christmas, we replanted again. And waited. The germination was very good. We paid for help to weed. In February, the maize field was pleasing to the eyes. We added fertiliser at the right time and the maize started tasselling. Towards the end of February, the rain disappeared again. Every day, people looked to the sky. They held rain making ceremonies, mukwerera.
The Christians prayed in the churches and in the valleys. But the rain did not come back. The maize thirsted for water and struggled. In the end, we got the smallest maize cob with the poorest density that we have ever seen around here.
“This year I will not eat sadza twice a day, like I am used to do. There is not enough maize in my granary to do that,” said our cousin Jemba, helping us to remove the young maize cobs from the dry sheaves.
Everyone in our village eats white sadza everyday. My cousin Piri says she feels very sick if she does not eat sadza for more than one day. Jemba is the same. Because his wife refused to join him back in the village when his job at Hwange Safari lodge ended, Jemba cooks for himself. He rises around dawn, works in the fields, pulling weeds, harvesting or rebuilding his garden.
Around 8am, he goes back into his hut, makes a fire and heats up sadza and vegetable left overs from last night.
He drinks water from the village spring. He relaxes for a short while before going into his maize field again.
During the dry season, Jemba goes hunting for birds and mice to compliment his sadza meals. Sometimes he lies under the mulberry tree in his homestead, catapult in hand, and waiting quietly for the birds to come and pick on the mulberries. Soon as a bird settles and is enjoying himself or herself, Jemba carefully lies on his back, gets his stone in the right position, pulls the thick elastic while holding the Y shaped catapult, then aims and shoots. When the poor bird is hit hard on the head or on its body, it will fall, without fail.
Jemba picks the mangled bloody bird and places it in a plastic bag, away from the hungry dogs.
He will catch two or three birds.
Then he unplucks the feathers, takes out the guts and smokes the bird gently on the fire.
He roasts half a quarter of a bird and he eats the quarter bird with his sadza.
Then he drinks water, puts on his home made tyre sandals, his father’s old coat and takes off to the shops where he will sit and talk politics and soccer with the others while drinking Chibuku.
In the evening, he returns home to cook more sadza and eat it with the roast bird. Every day, like most people here and in the city, Jemba must eat sadza.
We grew up eating white sadza everyday.
Occasionally, we ate sadza made from zviyo, red millet, or mhunga, sorghum. Whenever my grandmother, Mbuya VaMandirowesa wanted to give us a special meal, she spent a long time, preparing the red millet or rapoko sadza.
Then she cooked a village road runner chicken to accompany the millet sadza rezviyo.
These days, we hardly see that millet sadza. Only white sadza.
And yet, when we were growing up here, maize was not always the main crop.
Most people grew a variety of grains, including mhunga, mapfunde, red millet or rapoko.
There is a mbira song by Maungira eNharira where the female voice says, “Muzukuru woye, sadza ramunoona iri, taidya rezviyo…nyama tichifusha wo…”
In translation, there is a grandmother telling her grandchild that there was a time when the people could eat so much sadza made from red millet or rapoko.
There was also a time when the people could store a lot of grain in the granaries.
In those days, there were many majakwara, the gathering of the communities to thresh the red millet.
In those days, back here in the village, there was a man called Munhenga whose fame for growing rapoko stretched from here to Mbire, way across the Save river. Munhenga grew maize to feed the cattle because he said maize was not meant to be the staple food to be eaten by Africans daily.
He said maize was brought to us by the British settlers because it was easier and quicker to cook sadza than to prepare rapoko flour and cook it quickly.
To save food preparation time, road workers, miners and farm workers were encouraged to make a quick sadza meal with vegetables; dried or small pieces of salted meat then get back to work.
Munhenga’s view on maize might have been right. But history tells us that maize was introduced to us more than 150 years ago.
It came with the Portuguese.
Originally, maize came from Mexico. Over the years, we have adopted maize as our daily staple food.
Today, as you drive down across Zimbabwe, you will see good maize in some fields towards Chinhoyi, Banket and other places.
But if you drive down towards our village, in what used to be called the Tribal Trust Lands, you will see the most miserable maize crop.
We look at it and say, if only we had known that the rains would be so bad.
Then we would have grown more red millet or other drought resistant plants.
Now that we know that we cannot trust the rainfall patterns any more, should we keep on growing maize and eating sadza and more sadza everyday?
Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.