I have finally met someone who does not know of the nation called Zimbabwe!
Now, to be sure, before our economic and political meltdown hardly anyone cared about Zim – except of course those who were curious to get a peak at the Victoria Falls (which has always looked better from Zimbabwe than Zambia, anyway!) or those who did some form of trade with us.
But hang on, even the Queen of England and Lady Di once graced our once prosperous little land. So perhaps we were never that insignificant (to the outside world) anyway.
So I just couldn’t figure out where to begin with explaining to this poor woman about Zimbabwe. Should I tell her about our record monetary inflation, our political power struggles, or maybe even start with colonialism and then make my way into the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and then independence as a precursor to the present situation.
And then I thought, “Ugh, man, she is kidding! No one doesn’t know Zimbabwe!”
But her brown eyes fixed intently on my face showed me that her question was genuine. This was no joke – this woman needed an education!
And I only had five minutes in which to give it to her.
What should I start with? Maybe a happy story, maybe something about where I live and work, my friends…
“Zimbabwe is in Africa,” I said. “Close to South Africa.”
Her eyes lit up and I could tell we had finally chartered mutual territory.
But I must admit that from thereon, I didn’t say much else that was good about Zim. I couldn’t help but get into the politics, epidemics and pandemics of our land.
“Oh,” she said looking at me with sadness and shock, “that’s not good.”
It was only then that I realised that I had been given sole responsibility to paint the entire world view of my country for someone.
And I had painted it black.
Isn’t it funny how we often berate the international media for making Zimbabwe out to be a place of doom and gloom, and yet often do the same ourselves?
For many people Zimbabwe is a mediated catastrophe, a place they would never want to be in. And we do nothing to challenge this idea when we keep re-enforcing the idea to everyone we meet.
Yes, I know that things are really bad and we live under unjust rule. But try to find something hilarious or beautiful in this.
If I could go back and restart my conversation with this woman, I would have told her a story that goes like this:
Once a few years ago, I was walking down a street in Harare and all of a sudden, my slipper snapped. I couldn’t walk any further, unless I would do so on bare feet. And I was at least a kilometre from a shoe repair shop!
“What to do,” I pondered quietly.
And behind me came a voice with an answer.
“Take my shoes,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
She repeated the offer, explaining that she worked at the end of the block. Walking barefoot to the office door would not be so much of a hassle for her.
“Take them and go and get yours fixed.”
I couldn’t believe it – a complete stranger placing complete faith in me.
When I returned an hour later to return her shoes, I asked her why she has trusted me so much.
“I knew you needed my help,” she said. “In a country like ours, everyone struggles sometimes and it’s only when we help each other that we all survive.”
I walked away with a deeper appreciation of what community meant.
This is the story of Zimbabwe – the story of people who still pride themselves in compassion when the same has not been shown to them by their own leaders.
This is the story that I should have recounted, amid all the statistics and gory details about struggle.