Long, Long, Ago, in a far away time….
Below, I have posted stories which happened when I was a kid, or when we were farming…mostly to practice my writing
A couple whom I respect tremendously encouraged me to begin writing. They said I portray a character or scenario so well.
Useless at English at school, I didn’t think it would work, didn’t think a person who didn’t know me would understand without all the body actions and verbal noises!
I began by writing short pieces about things which made me laugh, or which made my cynical streak scream out, and I didn’t bother too much with the English. I don’t know how successful I was, but my plan was to have a whole library available to use when I began my first novel.
Understand here folks, that is my rational side working. I began writing a love story and abandoned it, for Silk Threads. (although I still expand on the main characters, in a quiet time!) My rational side disappeared entirely with Silk Threads. I wrote and wrote furiously.
Now, finished with Silk Threads and busy with the second one, I have times when I just write…its difficult to explain it, but I just write…stuff…which comes to mind.
I wrote about being fat, the other day. What I remember about what it felt like to be fat, how much I hated it. And then, last night, I decided I should probably face my ‘demons’ and write about what I felt during the ‘Land Thing.’ If you feel its inappropriate to attribute to Frankie, this rather flippant persona, let me know and I will create another blog. I would hate to appear another whiner or one of those people who, living in the UK or elsewhere, pose as farmers, kicked off their farms in Zimbabwe.
All of us casualties of the ‘Land Redistribution Program’ in Zimbabwe, use one device or other to remain sane. Some of us block all the memories, others talk about our experiences all the time, and others drink themselves into oblivion. The divorce rate is high and some of our number are begging in the car parks in the Borrowdale, or pumping petrol in Australia.
When our house, the one we built together on the edge of the water, was torn down for the wire mesh under the thatch, we felt terrible. We said we would have preferred someone to move in and use it. This, until we spoke to a fellow casualty, who has someone living in her house. We were at least able to take our furniture away. She, away the weekend ‘they’ came, never went home. Her husband, badly beaten spent three months in hospital. We cant boast of anything like that. Our ‘warvets,’ actually ex employees, were very polite. So were our police. Unlike in other areas where the police were directly involved, ours politely called us and checked we wouldn’t be around for the ‘Jambanja.’ We returned home unhurt to our office trashed, the shed looted. I have a few stories from that time, but since it didn’t really fit in with the Frankie Kay personae, I didn’t post them. But Frankie is a survivor of the ‘Land Thing’ as we here in Zimbabwe call it.
I remember clearly the day we had to leave. I don’t think it had really sunk in that we had to go. I didn’t want to go. I had seedings in the ground, plans for the new paprika crop, winter onion sets sat in the shed waiting for us to plant them.
The rooms echoed. Unlike many farmers, we had somewhere to go. We had a house in Bulawayo and my in laws house on the other end of the farm. I pasted a smile on my face, acted all busy. I pretended to be happy about the move, the bigger house, the equally good garden. I was crying inside. Rabson, my gardener was crying on the outside. He kept saying, “But you cant dig up that standard rose. They don’t like to be moved. Remember when you moved that one…” The groom, stoic, felt the same about the stallion. We had no stable for him on the other end. Snaring was out of control where the mares were to be housed. The dog, always morose when we left for town, didn’t shift from under the tree. Hopes and dreams ended.
Enemies of the state. That’s what we were called. White farmers. Were we enemies of the state because we were white, or because we were farmers? We were called ‘British,’ and ‘settlers.’ At no stretch of the imagination could I be called British. My husband, yes. But at a very big stretch. He couldn’t get a British passport, but he has the looks, the accent, the breeding. I’m part Irish, brought up to hate the British. I was confused, unhappy and really sad to be rejected by my own government and added to a generic ‘farmer’ label.
Yes, we are farmers, I chose to become one at eighteen years of age. Luckily, Cush didn’t. He went off and got a useful qualification. But ‘farmer’ is such a broad term. We were ranchers. Rich, we were called. I will post below, a ‘before and after’ picture of our cars. Make up your own mind!
Yes, we were rich in some ways. Free time to be together for five lone years before we had kids. Beautiful, quiet surroundings. We could build, we could plan, we had a future. We picked organic veggies out of our garden thirty minutes before lunch. We woke up to sunlight streaming in through our bedroom window, our alarm, the hippos in the dam below the house. Yes, we were rich. I never felt the lack of money. I chose not to pursue the expensive sports. People urged me to play polocrosse. Yes, cush would have paid for the horsebox, the car to pull it. But did I want all that? The competition, the alcohol, the gripes? No.
I could have worn the fancy clothes, shoes, the makeup. Cush loves that kind of thing. Even the car. I didn’t mind. I would rather drive our old, clapped out Peugeot, than have had to live in town. In the end, I drove the old car, did without the expensive cosmetics and ended up in Bulawayo anyway!
And, for a long time, I didn’t even have my memories. For some reason, I seemed to lose the happy ones. They all got jumbled together. Lumped with the ‘Land Thing’ memories. The realisation that people you cared about only thought of you in terms of your colour, your heritage.
Something to do with my upbringing, I hardly ever look down at myself and see my skin colour. During the early rise of the MDC, I was caught in a riot, a particularly nasty, political one. I was pushed into a doorway and protected by a crowd of black people. They hid me, at their own cost from the marauding government condoned ‘rioters,’ and gently chided me later for being around that area. Several white people were hurt that day, and an Indian had his shop windows broken. I must have looked so clueless, standing there on the street oblivious of the dangers. I resent that I must learn to look at my skin colour.
I had to fetch someone from Renkini recently. Worried she was arriving from a different direction, I asked her how I would find her. She looked at me strangely. “No. I will find you. Easily.” Of course she would. I stand out like a candle in the darkness, a sore thumb, like a zebra amongst the wildebeeste. Of course she would find me. I have never seen another ‘white’ at Renkini and certainly none standing around waiting. Unlike South Africa, its perfectly safe. Actually I go there to get maize for my workers, fish for the kitties, metal buckets, axes, brooms. Its cheaper, cos poverty is all around you right in your face. Its far far away from the shops on the East side. The coffee shop next to the gym, a perfume shop, the civilised car park.
I want to tell you our kids are built tough…
My son did acrobatic dancing with Desree Ludik. Now – Desree Ludic is a world class dancer who has chosen to spend her life in Bulawayo teaching our kids. She drives a cronky Datsun 120Y and travels between our schools and she is amazing – thank you Desree.
She also has a studio with a wooden floor and takes lessons there in the afternoons. One day I collect Ant and Tafadzwa intending to return them to their boarding hostel. Ant gets in the back of the car with his mate and pretty soon says, “Mom, I got a thorn in my toe from Desree’s floor.”
So what am I supposed to do about it, I’m driving. “Ok, well I havn’t got a needle here, I’ll ask the San sister (Sr Tucker spelled with an F) when we get back to school. So then he says, “Well its got a piece sticking out,”
“Well then, pull it out for goodness sake. Stop whining about it.”
You see that’s the problem with Anthony. He says things like that. I’m supposed to fill in the rest.
We carry on this bickering all the way down Hillside Road, until he finally subsides. He says he would prefer to wait for me to take it out, than pull it out himself. Bloody woosie, he was just like this with the nurse who couldn’t find the vein for his blood test. He threw up on her. I remind him of this. He tells me it hurts. We pull into the curve outside the Whitestone hostel and I look around at this ‘thorn.’ It wasn’t a thorn at all and it wasn’t in his toe.
Anthony is dyslexic – Ah – dilexic, to use his own words. A toe is close to a nail, especially if that nail is on his toe. So why bother to tell me he has a splinter the size of a pine tree under his big toe nail. In fact I would not be surprised if someone told me it was the entire plank, stuck up his toe nail. I’m surprised he didn’t have to get in the car sideways.
And he had walked down the stairs from Desree’s school, across the road, into the car,…to Whitestone. Yes, he told me it was sore and that it was in his toe. And he did say “But mom…”
You see, I was supposed to fill in, “But Mom….I need tweezers. But Mom…I need a local anesthetic, I need a scalpel, gauze bandages, I need to go to the emergency room, I need a doctor,”
We didn’t do any of that, I just slipped that grey ended tweezer thing out of my Swiss Army Knife (I should have used the pliers in the toolbox under the seat) and pulled it out. I told him to stop bleeding all over my back seat and go to Sr Tucker (spelled with an F) but I don’t think he did.
Built tough, our kids.
There is nothing like a Ndebele woman in full scorn.
I have seen it few times in my life and it never fails to make me smile. The first time, I was about fourteen years old. My dad bought a much nicer property across the valley and suddenly, was under pressure to sell the old one. When I say, under pressure, I don’t mean from the money point of view. Oh no. He was under pressure from a political angle. A guy, in charge of the ‘youth brigade’ in Esigodini wanted it. Redolent of Hitler’s ‘brown shirts’ in my father’s opinion. Understand, Zimbabwe was only a couple of years old, and we didn’t know the personalities, we didn’t know who this guy was (later found out hardly any one did) and so we thought to tread carefully.
Anyhow, he kept pestering my dad, phoning him at work, stopping him on the road until finally one day, he arrived at the house, and muscled his way into our lounge.
We had no idea what to do. We are white. At that time of the day, we drink tea, with a couple of sandwiches. We sit around in the lounge discussing our days. As a family. My little sister, still crawling, messing about on the carpet. Margaret, her nanny, having spent all day with her, would take her out of the babula and leave her with us.
So here we were, wondering if we should offer him tea, or a beer, or simply hide under the chairs. A really awkward conversation ensued. He wanted the property but was only prepared to pay a piffling amount.
He accepted the offer of tea, sat his big bulk down and just about accused dad of refusing to sell his property cos he, Dube was black. My dad doesn’t take to threats or being labeled a racist, but mindful of the situation I laid out above, managed to be polite.
We had not gone very far in our discussions when Margaret came in with the tea tray. She settled it carefully on the middle table in the lounge and stood up to her straight-backed Khumalo height.
No one could take their eyes off the tray. Open mouthed, we all stared at the neatly arrayed sugar bowl, milk jug four delicate china cups and a tin mug. She simply stood, magnificent, her eyes flashing, her chin up. Defiant. The horrified silence dragged on until I managed to calmly say, “Oh, its OK, Margaret, you can bring Sissies bottle today, Ill feed her with that.”
Dad fumbled for his cigarette pack, mother slumped back, Dube blinked and eventually, Margaret reached down, snatched the offending mug off the tea tray and walked off. She didn’t stomp, she walked off exactly as if she had a full 20l bucket on her head.
I could have cheerfully murdered her and I told her so too. But she simply looked down her nose at me.
A similar thing happened to me years later:
I was standing in the middle of one of our paddocks, watching the guys carrying feed out to a herd when a man arrived in his car. A huge, black man who introduced himself to me as Ndou. (That means elephant in some languages) and he looked like one too, huge and slow moving. He wanted to buy some heifers.
Now I must digress here….Every year, we had a certain number of female calves (heifers.) We would keep what we wanted, and sell the difference. Usually about 20 of them. I often sold them singly, occasionally two or three.
Old men would come and carefully count out their money, spend ages choosing their heifers. They would talk and talk. It used to drive me nuts, but it was good cash and good for community relations, so I did it. The guy would then mark his heifer and herd it away. It usually took a couple of months to get rid of all of the spare heifers in this way.
My customers often came back the next year, or the year after, cos our heifers, although not very good looking, were tough and had a calf every year.
Now, back to Ndou. He wanted to buy some heifers from me. Unfortunately, I had sold the last of them the previous week and told him so. He looked at me in surprise, then scanning the grazing cattle nearby and said, “But you have got plenty cattle.”
I explained that I had sold all the cattle I had for sale the previous week. We talked around this point until he eventually said I didn’t want to sell him my heifers because he was black.
Fed up with him by this time, I said, “OK. I dont want to sell any cattle to you cos you are black.” I walked away, got in my car and drove off. I didn’t see him again for some time.
The next I saw him, he was trying to collect money for the MDC. He had to be polite, so suggested the reason I had not sold him the cattle was because I had plenty of grass that year.
I bumped into him a year or so later when he had become a ‘land beneficiary’ and wanted to put down a borehole on his plot. His reason this time was he had come with the wrong people. He felt that if he had come to see me in the company of a few locals, I would have sold him some cattle.
I never got it into his thick head that we didn’t have any more.
I’m dying to hear what his next reason will be…you see, I never sold any heifers to a white person in all the years I was responsible for selling them…
Long long ago, in a far away time, we had been working very hard. It was a bad year, the rains were long long gone and no more on the horizon. Cush had been working non stop too, cos no one had any water, boreholes were drying up.
We had two kids, both at brat age and we were enough, enough, enough.
Luckily, so was our neighbor. He said, “There is so little we can do at this time of the year, we may as well do nothing at all,” and he invited us to stay on his house boat on Kariba.
Great, except I don’t drink and I don’t fish, but never mind – we thought we needed the break.
We didn’t even have to drive, ( I hate cars, and I hate driving) we caught a lift with our hosts.
Its a fairly long hot drive and I think we were still in ‘work’ mode and without the aid of alcohol we didn’t manage to wind down until after the first evening ‘booze cruise.’ It was really nice, out on the water, the amazing sunset, the wonderful smells.
Now let me tell you, those boats are sure designed for entertainment – they have huge entertainment areas, massive bar, dining room great area off the back to fish. Upstairs are more open areas, a jacuzzi, a pool, loungers etc etc, but man, the rooms are tiny. Sorry, cabins. Not a goffal cabin either, a real cabin. With a porthole, hardly any room to put down a suitcase. No room to swing a cat. No room to swing anything.
Cush is six foot five inches and he has size twelve feet.
No way I could accommodate that… foot.
We tried this way, and we tried that. The bed is really narrow. Sorry, bunk. The walls paper thin.
You cant get off the bed, cos the floor is also not more than six foot long. So it was kind of like ‘sex in the back of the car’ and for the first time, I perhaps understood the appeal.
But man, no one would look us in the eye the next morning!