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February 16, 2010

Lessons from Zimbabwe - part 3

I’m walking down a path outside the centre, by myself strolling around, probably whistling, and I meet a man or woman or child: “Mangwanani,” I say. They respond “Mangwanani, marara sei?” I answer, “Ndarara mararawo,” and they respond, “Ndarara.” Usually this also involves a hand shake, or hand grasp really, with one shake maybe. It all takes about thirty seconds. If they greet me first, I’m the responder. The problem is that you must go through this rigmarole with every single person you encounter. Imagine walking down a busy sidewalk and stopping for a greeting ritual with every single person. And that’s good morning; it changes to good afternoon and good evening as the day progresses, and if you meet a group you can’t say hello to the group, you have to go through the routine with each individual. Africa teaches you to slow down, which is the secret of time. Whatever you’re rushing off to do, it’s not as important as greeting the person in front of you right now.

I’m walking down a path, and I meet a boy about seven years old, one of the many children too poor to go to school and learn English. He has a ball he’s kicking made of some stuffing, grass or cloth or cardboard, completely covered in duct tape. It wasn’t very round, but he kicked it as he walked. When he stopped twenty feet in front of me, without a word I made a slight gesture with my head, and he kicked the ball over to me. I kicked it back as best I could. The day before I’d been laughed off the soccer field at the school because I couldn’t pass to my teammates. My stupid response was, “Wait till baseball season!” Now with this little boy I did better, blocking and kicking back, over and over. We played for at least half an hour then quietly went on our ways. I’ve never told this story because I don’t know what it means, but it has always stuck with me.

The pastor of the little church where the beautiful hymns were sent up to the heavens organized a dinner in my honor. Sadza, like polenta, was served with vegetables and sauce. We honored guests also had delicious stew meat and gravy with our porridge. Outside there was quite a struggle over who was allowed to sit and eat with us and who was left out. My good friend, Israel Chisosa, a young teacher, and I talked vivaciously the whole time. It was a great party. Then I was formally thanked for my visit and more songs were sung. Every single person had to shake hands with Baba Pedersen afterwards. Many were worried because I was not married. They wished me many children.
On the way home I was thoroughly happy, and I asked Baba Finster what meat we’d had that was so exquisite. “Don’t ask,” he said. “You mean it was goat?” I insisted. “They rarely eat meat. It was in your honor.” “What was?” I really didn’t get it. “That they killed the family dog.” Oh.

After I left in 1975 the war got worse as independence loomed. My friend and host, Bishop Abel Muzurewa, was the peace-making leader of a transition government, before the oligarch Robert Mugabe (1979). The freedom fighters, drunk on homemade beer, came to warn the Finsters to leave. The Dendera Community Development Centre was taken over by the rebels as a base camp, and they destroyed everything there. Now nothing remains. Well, a great deal remains actually. I carry some around with me all the time.

Happy trials and Fambai zvakanaka, Martin

Mutt: Hmmm. A contest then, a duel?
Jeff: And I’ll give you first strike.
Mutt: You’re on. Acupuncture: a jab well done.
Jeff: A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
Mutt: The dead batteries were given out free of charge.
Jeff: Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.
Mutt: A will is a dead giveaway.
Jeff: A boiled egg is hard to beat.
Mutt: You win. I give. Uncle!!!
Jeff: Nix, Mutt, nix. A gentlemen’s draw.

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