A day in the life.
My eyes open at around 5am. I can hear a cockerel cock-a-doodle dooing it's lungs out nearby. My alarm goes off at 5.30am. It's quiet apart from birds chirping conversations. Mai Nini (our hosts sister in law. Her name is Faith) is starting her day. I can hear her either washing clothes by hand in the bathroom, hanging them on the wall in the yard outside or else she is preparing breakfast for the boys and putting water on the stove to heat for washing.
Our host works in the mines and has kindly offered his hospitality whilst we stay in his house. His eldest son, Bradley (12) informs me that my hot water for lemon tea is ready. I am sure, if I let him, he would make it for me and bring that to my room. I am retaining this ritual as part of my own morning routine.
The older boys who live here, Bradley and Ryan (8) have gone off to school by 6.45am. Natalie and I share the bathroom attached to my bedroom so she comes to bathe whilst I continue my morning stretch (at 56 this is a must for me!) When we have both finished I go to the kitchen for water to wash that Mai Nini has heated. She pours it into a large container that I carry to the bathroom. Her 14 month old baby, Bryan, eyes me curiously from his mothers back where he is carried for safety and comfort. Washing involves two large buckets and a flannel. Cold water to cool and to brush my teeth flows from the tap.
We dress in layers. Zimbabwe winter is characterised by chilly, sun-filled mornings and days that gradually heat to 24/25 degrees in the sunshine. The sun goes down promptly at around 6pm when the temperature also plummets. Stars shine brightly in the sky and as there are no streetlights where we stay in Chikanga district it gets very dark. In the daytime I typically wear socks and trainers and a head wrap. Then a cardigan over my chosen outfit followed by my jacket and a colourful shawl. I can then reduce layers as the day progresses.
Side note: last year I made a Union jack design embroidered patch in traditional colours mixed with kente style fabric. It started as a poster of solidarity during the Brexit elections and hung on my front door. After the election shambles I decided to sew it into the back of my vintage denim jacket. Unfortunately, as a 'foreigner' I look very different to the locals. (I have been called 'Murungu'. I'm told that it means 'white' or 'boss'. A sobering reminder of Zimbabwes colonial history. I am treated by some as a curiosity. It's fascinating, unnerving and irritating in equal measures.) The Zimbabwean elections are at the end of July this year and election fever is beginning. Wearing a Union jack on my jacket may bring unwanted attention to me and anyone I travel with so I have been advised by the director of FACT, Mrs Shumba, to cover it up. So my shawl has two purposes!
Breakfast is eaten either in the living room area or we take it with us to eat once we arrive at FACT offices. For me It's fruit (orange and a banana that Natalie isn't keen on. Understatement.) Generally we both have soft white bread and either avocado, an omelette or peanut butter and fruit spread. All are blimmin' delicious.
At 7.50/8am Our driver makes his presence known by honking his horn and we hurry to push back the heavy iron gate before he honks again. FACT drivers rotate districts so we have seen Mr Michael, Mr Alan and Mr Andrew so far. After customary greetings we settle either chatting or listening to the radio. The 10/15 minute drive to the offices is gorgeous so I often look out the window or video the scenery to look at and reminisce when I'm back in London. The sun shines brightly but it's still chilly. Mountain views line our journey in the background. The highest one we see on the way is called Christmas pass because of the spectacularly lit up view visitors to Mutare are greeted with as they descend the mountains into the valley below. People are up and on their way to school or to busy their day. Road sellers sitting waiting for customers and kombi buses swerving like mad things to avoid potholes and pick up fares.
FACT offices bring more greetings in Shona (most common local language) or in English . 'Mamuka sei?' 'How are you? Did you sleep well?' A response followed by 'Ndamuka' which means 'I'm fine thank you'. In the office we get our resources ready for the workshop. From our window we can see the early arrivals of some eager students. In the office we eat breakfast if we brought it with us or check we have everything for the days workshop. If there are documents to be photocopied these have to be done in town so a driver will take me and Rumbi, one of the interns attached to our programme, to do so whilst Natalie leads the morning workshop.
The meeting room is a striking feature amongst the FACT buildings. A central circular construction with a beautiful thatched roof set amongst lush gardens, I can imagine it is a welcome respite from the hot temperatures that can reach 38 degrees in the Summer (!) . Now that it's Winter it's simply COLD so our layers are necessary. Many of the female students have brought lengths of cloth to wrap around their legs as they study. These have a two-fold use as women wear what they call a Zambia to cover their legs as a sign of respect especially when meeting elders or in formal places. Trousers are not acceptable for women in these situations. If they do wear them, then a Zambia in the bag to be used when the occasion presents itself is important.
The day unfolds thus:
9am - study
10.30am - break. Tea, chicory and coffee, cake or mini pastries and tiny sandwiches are provided.
11am - study
1pm - lunch. A full meal - sadza (a carbohydrate made from maize similar texture to polenta), white rice, meat, kovo (greens), cabbage, coleslaw - and a fizzy drink is provided for each student and teachers.
2pm - Study.
4pm - Close. Refreshments similar to the tea break are provided once more then students dismiss themselves.
Zimbabwe is very religious and Christianity is their faith. Prayers to open and close meetings and before food are customary. So each session starts with an opening prayer led by one of the students. The same custom is followed at break, lunch and at the end of the day. I can't say that I'm religious but the collective calm this small group action brings to the room each time feels lovely. Hard to explain.
Once we've packed up we are met by one of our drivers who takes us back to Chikanga. By that time we're usually tired as the day has been 'full on'. The sun is lowering and it's getting cooler. It feels good to return to a welcome by the boys, Mai Nini and baby Bryan who is warming more to our presence in his home gradually every day. He smiles and giggles with us now! The boys take our bags to our rooms then return to playing football in the yard. Mai Nini starts to prepare the evening meal. Bradley has realised that I like to drink ginger tea - a gift from my own daughters before I left for Zimbabwe, so he brings the cup of hot water to my room so I can add the tea bag. Natalie and I review the days work in my room and discuss what needs to be covered the next day or following week. Sometimes the three boys join us. Yesterday Bryan happily stayed and played on my bed for a while without his family in the room. Progress!
The boys call us for dinner around 645/7pm. When we sit, Bradley brings a bowl and a cup of warm water to clean our hands as is customary practise before and after every meal. After this they present our food to eat in our laps. If Mai Nini hands our food she kneels low. This is a sign of respect for a visitor (is it for age too? Not sure) So far we've had sadza, rice, kovo (greens), lettuce, tomato salsa, matemba (tiny fish half the size of whitebait) onions and carrots and pea stew. Zimabaweans uses a lot of salt to season their food, Mai Nini has adapted quickly to our plea to season more lightly and meals are filling (I can never finish my sadza mountain) Meals with sadza are eaten without cutlery. You use your dominant hand to pinch and roll the sadza then scoop/pick up accompanying food. I won't tell you the mess I made the first few times I did it. Natalie seems to be an expert as only the tips of her fingers get dirty. Me? Not first date runnings that's for sure. But I'm determined not to give in and ask for a spoon! Mai Nini and the boys usually eat with us. Mai Nini feeds Bryan small morsels from her plate as he watches on. After the meal the boys remove our plates and pour drinks if needed.
In the evening we might watch Zimbabwe popular tunes in TV (or recently World Cup football!) Zimbabwean dancehall is a thing! Mai Nini is quite the dancer - she has a slight body and an unassuming manner - so when she got up to dance we could only watch in awe. No one could replicate her moves and yes we did try! She loves to laugh. Mostly at our (my) use of Shona phrases. Her laugh is a wonderful sound. The boys respect for her is clear despite her young age (22 and looks younger) . When their father (also Bryan) is away working Mai Nini is boss no doubt. If there is a power cut then candles are lit and the boys tell stories. Ryan speaks in Shona and Bradley translates. Mai Nini corrects (or directs!) in Shona from the audience when the need arises. Each evening has been a gloriously warm gathering for sharing stories, playing childhood games (Natalie taught them a pattycake game that has been a delight to practise each evening), mulling over points of view and above all, lots of laughter. So far there have been two power cuts in the week we've been staying in chikanga. One was for 24 hours and the other a couple of hours. It's best to make the most of the power when you have it as we gather together in the dark for comfort and to pass the time. The other evening the power was only off for about 90 minutes. We cheered and hugged when the lights flickered on!
Natalie and I usually go to our respective rooms around 830/9pm leaving the rest of the family to watch TV/ play cards or continue to tell stories. I write a bit in my Zim journal then I usually read until 10 before settling. Wifi is poor and if I haven't topped up my 'Econet' (Eco- net, -cash, -sure and -bank seem to be everywhere in Zimbabwe) airtime it's non existent so there's no point in looking at my phone. I turn it off. Although I can hear music or dogs barking outside I always manage to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly. No doubt I snore.
I wonder what the weekend will hold? Besides washing clothes that is. Watch this space.
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Famba zvakanaka ( pron- fam-ba ja-ka-na-ka) - 'walk well'.