Today, 18 April, is Zimbabwe’s 40th Independence day celebration. I am 40 years 4 months, exactly and so I feel very aware of the significance of the number 40. I mention this, not to bore you with national history but because living in Zimbabwe had prepared me for this crazy time we all find ourselves in. It has built a resilience that I only now realise is strong and deep.
Flashback to 1998 my first year in College and the year the economy began to decline, street protests, tear gas and farm invasions. I got married in 2005 and had my first daughter Zoe in 2006. When I asked for a gas pain relief during labour, the cylinder was empty. Life was tough. I remember my whole teacher’s salary going to pay rent and my husband and I couldn’t even treat ourselves to a cup of coffee out.
By 2008, the year my second daughter, Xanthe was born we were in hyper inflation, with the government issuing a 100 Trillion dollar note. Shelves were empty, bread and petrol and everything in between were scarce. We were living with frequent electricity cuts and very little municipal water being pumped to our houses. I remember going to the supermarket to buy some tomatoes and I was 5 cents short, I felt so desperate and embarrassed, but the cashier let me take the tomatoes anyway.
In early 2009, I found out I was pregnant with my third daughter, it was unplanned and I cried for two weeks wondering how on earth we would manage. But manage we did, and Zara was born on Christmas Eve, 2009. The government had by now accepted defeat and trashed our local currency and adopted the US$ as legitimate currency for local use, so things began to stabilise.
Looking back it was a crazy, tough time but when I pause and watch my 3 beautiful girls, I realise the story was worth living through. Their names put together, stand for Life (Zoe) Xanthe (Bright) Zara (Flower) and they are a reminder that there is always the gift of something beautiful in every chapter, if you just believe.
From 2010 we had 8 years of the economy gradually improving and more money flowing in and opportunities for entrepreneurs opening up and then suddenly in 2018 the Government issued a mandatory 2 percent tax on every single banking transaction, in addition to the existing bank charges on transactions and this caused the economy to down spiral again, a few months later the US$ was no longer legal tender and we had another new currency. We began the power cuts again, the price increases and the hardships. But we once again took out our raincoats and umbrellas and weathered the new storm.
As Zimbabweans we have learned that life is unpredictable and the most important thing is relationships. We have learned about helping our community, sharing what we have, upcycling and recycling, eating more healthily, being grateful for the small things, allowing ourselves to bend and not be broken and above all, to never let go of hope. If you were to ask any Zimbabwean, if you are going to be okay and get through this, if the world is going to recover, we will all say, “yes”. This too shall pass, and we shall make it through together, braver, stronger, truer and more filled with love.
I include a Vignette I wrote to capture the intensity of the moment earlier in 2019 when our rugs were pulled from beneath our feet again. I have learned through all the ups and downs that journaling and reflection and writing anecdotes like this one and writing free verse poetry work in the same way for me as a spotting point works for a pirouetting ballerina. They keep me from falling over when the world spins fast. Here it is –
The house should be silent. Everyone knows that even the magic of fairy godmother’s wears off at midnight.
Yet in Harare, Zimbabwe, on a what would be quiet street, I am awake. Stirred from my dreams by the beep of the alarm keypad re-activating and the gurgling and coughing of water as it pushes the air out of the minute ago empty pipes. My stomach growls, hungry from not enough supper. I breathe a deep sigh, and now energised by these midnight calls, I arise from my warm blankets in the same way as another person, in another place may rise to the sound of an alarm clock heralding the new day, or to the crow of a rooster, greeting the dawn.
What has happened? Why this strange ritual. Is Zimbabwe war-torn, enemy invaded?
Any person living far away would ask these questions. Why else would a person in the year 2019 be going to bed hungry, waking at midnight to fill buckets of water in the small window of light that comes at midnight.
In other households washing machines are whirring, spin driers wringing out the excess of water of at last clean clothes. Further down the road my neighbour takes out her iron, she is a step ahead of some of us, she washed her clothes last night, so tomorrow she can have the luxury of choosing what to wear, instead of looking for what is clean and not too crumpled.
“Should I bake some biscuits for the children too?” I ask myself. Soon the scale is out, the meagre portion of margarine cut carefully to keep enough for when we do get bread for sandwiches. No butter anymore, that is a luxury at 79 ZWL. ZWL? The best way of describing it is, Zimbabwe Latest currency. Divide by 10, that still means that 500g of butter is equal to US$7.90
I eat two bananas, best quick snack.
The washing has finished its cycle. Small moments of gratitude. I go out into the cool, damp, now early morning to shake out and hang up the washing as carefully as I can to minimise the need for ironing when it dries.
The biscuits are now done. MMMh the warmth of ginger infused dough. I can’t resist. I flick the switch of the barely used kettle and make myself a cup of tea. I take a moment to sit in my favourite chair in the dark lounge and nibble on the delicious sweetness. I turn on just one lamp, to enjoy the glow of light as I watch the steam waft off the top of my favourite red mug.
“SMORS”- small moments of reflection. Even in the urgency of the midnight hour, if I can still myself and replenish my soul. I will make it through. I think I may begin to adapt to my new normal and learn to thrive”.
Together as we share our stories we paint a collage of hope and resilience. Yes we can.