As a child, I valued all living things. I would collect crickets and dragonflies in the kitchen and set them free in the garden. As I grew up, those small things transformed into valuable assets: the values of patience, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness and forgiveness.
During the June holidays, I was on my way to Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, after living in South Africa for the last 20 years. It was time to go back to the gardens filled with those noisy crickets.
The plane takes off from Johannesburg an hour late. My friend and I wait patiently, knowing our lift has been expecting us for the last three hours. In Harare, we are greeted with sour faces: “Why are you here? What do you want?”
At R300 or $30 US (the country has decided its own exchange rate), we finally get our Visas. I have to swallow my pride and smile gratefully for the tattered pink Visa in my passport. Welcome home.
At church, a farmer tells his incredible story of loss and betrayal. John Robb* almost lost his life after debating with ZANU-PF militants on his farm. The room fills up with tears. He is the epitome of courage.
“What man intends for evil, God intends for good,” he tells us. “You can choose to flee, forgive or forget.” I decide to forgive the nasty people at the airport. I decide to forget the lift shouting at pedestrians, as we were late for church. I decide to flee my negative thoughts of my documentary not going as planned.
While my classmates are celebrating the festivities of the World Cup in South Africa, I wanted to focus on “life after independence” in a forgotten paradise. There’s magic in Zimbabwe. Some describe it as extreme spirituality.
The Shona people are known for praying for rain. It symbolizes hope. For many, the red dust of Zimbabwe settles at their ankles. It stopped raining thirty years ago. Their integrity and strength remain intact. It will rain again.
1980 was filled with the promises of a new government that would benefit all people. Today, Zimbabwe has no currency of its own, with thousands of people still struggling to buy food. The American dollar is a luxury few can afford.
John’s story inspires me to start working. A woman and her two children have been squatting outside my family friend’s house on the street for the last month. I’m not sure how to approach her. My video camera is hidden in my coat’s pocket. It takes a lot of courage for us to start talking. She stutters as I ask her name. I look deep into her eyes.
Somewhere beyond the pain of raising four children on her own (two of them are home alone), I want to get to know her. Esther is my age. But unlike me, she has never gone to school. She has never gone a day without being hungry. Instead, she fell pregnant at 15. She can’t work because her four-month old baby cries constantly. It has been sun burnt by weeks of standing on the side of the street attached to its nine-year old sister.
The little girl comforts the crying baby. She dances between the cars. Her mother doesn’t flinch. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask, pointing at a car hooting for them to get out of the way. “Yes,” she whispers, “But they know I have many mouths to feed.”
I tell Esther I need to film her. At first, it is awkward. She can’t look at me in the eyes anymore. But, her child is fascinated with being on film. She smiles, laughs and shows off her pretty but dirty dress. As the little girl walks away, another man appears. Edson is a street vendor and Esther’s friend. They met on the corner of the road.
“If I have bread, I will share with her,” he tells me, “But life is hard. I cannot feed her every day. Business is slow.”
He disappears into the cars as the traffic increases. People are rushing home, but his colourful stock of balloons continues to hang on to his arms. He has incredible patience. A Mercedes-Benz stops and buys one. He smiles and waves at me.
His honesty is made apparent when he warns me: “The police are here. They saw you filming us.” I hide my camera. If Edson hadn’t warned me, the government’s police would have erased all my film. They hate journalists.
Kindness and forgiveness
In the house, I gather up avocadoes and juice for Esther and Edson. Their kindness has made me realize how insignificant my problems really are.
These people choose to endure, rather than fight. Every day is about survival of their families, not themselves. Life for them is not about the value of money, but the value of food. Life for them is also not about the value of politics, but the value of listening.
There is healing in listening to each other’s pain. We have all suffered under this regime. There is value in forgiveness. There is value in hope.
John’s words haunt my mind: “I’d rather forgive than flee. You cannot flee your own hatred. Hatred is like drinking from a poisoned chalice hoping your enemy will suffer.”
Zimbabwe’s people have suffered enough. There is value in sharing their tale with all those who read this.
*name has been changed
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