Chronicles of pain/ in memory of those who perished in Chiyadzwa
by Nigel Jack
The quest for good life in the countryside was as hope exhausting as looking for virgins in a maternity ward. The patience needed is as stupendous as indefinite because they are always babies. Only the fool hardy could keep their hopes buoyant, most of us ran out of patience and courage to embrace obscurity and live like the unborn.
My friend Ezekiel and I would share day dreams in which we were in the city making the best of our time. We would talk about making lots and lots of money and driving cars that we had no names for, just “nice cars.” We could see ourselves glowing with the city lights even though our present state could only be envied by one who was heading for the gallows. It was a practical exaggeration of misery and an insult to humanity.
We were conscious of our penury and were very much given to change than we could realize. Our challenge was in turning our fantasies to reality. Our closest desire was to bid a lasting farewell to the communal lands of Chiweshe and their evening scent of smoking huts, say goodbye to hitting down dew in the morning- on the way to the cattle pen and never to hear them moo in our ears again but only to meet them as meat in our meals in the city. We were tired of bathing in Manwanzou River standing on slimy algae coated stones under which lived huge crabs that we most dreaded whenever the soap slipped off our coarse hands into the milky water. We also wanted an end to harnessing tamed and goring-crazy semi-tamed oxen that had names of most towns and cities in the country.
Most nights we would plan to escape the rough and rustic teeth of the countryside. It was easy fusing our ideas because my friend and I used to share bedding, a double layer of thin packaging blankets that kept us awake and shivering all night long, and a single layer of a dusty prison blanket that kept sliding on a smooth and cold cement floor. Our dialogues usually started in higher tones and ended in whispers that still were very loud in the dead silence of rural nights. Most times we would allow sleep to catch us only after the first cork crow to wake up a few hours later with tired eyes and sour mouths. We could hardly rest.
One Christmas Eve an opportunity presented itself, not long after our graduation from teenage, we received an unusual visitor. It was one of my several distant Aunties who travelled on her own four wheels. The purpose of her visit did not really matter to me; all I wanted was to know when, would she go back to Harare. One of the few evenings that she sobbed with us to the smoking dry cow dung that was slowly burning by the fireplace in our round grass-roof kitchen I asked for a day or two in the city with my friend. My mother gave me one of her looks, even in the flawed light of a kerosene lamp her eyes flashed a warning signal but Aunty was quick in response, it was in the affirmative. Although I knew she had no much of an option, I took her response serious.
The following evening we were in Harare, somewhere inside a high density residential area called Mabvuku. Housing units were clustered and the air was heavy. We were surprised to see dry and rusty water tapes. Like in the countryside they were fetching water from deep wells, though theirs was right in-front of the house. Electric power would come and go without notice like winter rains. In the morning we realized there were numerous streams of human excreta running with soapy water just outside the yard and the dozens and dozens of people that were chatting and playing football on the roads seemed very much accustomed to the stench that they showed no signs of discomfort whatsoever. Some children were holding bunches of local dollar notes that could not fit in their pockets anymore, heading to the tuck-shops to buy bread that was slowly becoming scarce. As we watched them with much awe as if they were blue cows with three hones I closed the inner holes of my nostrils with my tongue, carefully inhaling small pockets of dirty air and when my chest got full I would burp out spitting furiously like a pregnant woman. I was very disappointed, the city was worse.
At my aunt’s place we were sharing bedroom with one of her in-laws who had his own fantasies. He wanted to go and pick industrial diamonds at Chiyadzwa diamond fields in Mutare. After that he would buy a house in Borrowdale Brooke and drive Crystlers and Hummers. He talked of sipping on expensive and exotic tastes of wines and riding with untouchable beauties of the country. His fantasies neutralized ours that had proven to be one of those childhood quirks.
After a few days we all bid farewell to Aunty and James the in-law also indicated he was set for his rural home in Gutu. The three of us walked to Mutare Road, and out of the pocket of our new friendly stranger, hitch-hiked to Mutare. The journey in a van was an expeditious one, two tyre punctures on the way that we helped fix, and two drunk gentlemen who when not telling jokes and laughing themselves out, would be singing discords with tangible passions.
At first I just forbade myself to laugh, maybe in silent protest of their ill-humor, but not until one of them started telling a joke of a dump woman who, when buying meat in her favorite butchery that was adjacent to her place, would just point at of her body part and the butcher-boy would know which part of a slaughtered beast to give her.
“But there came a day when she wanted sausages and she had problem expressing that by pointing to one of her body parts so she rushed to her house that was nearby and came back with the husband,” he said with a huge smile on the face. Tension rocked the canopy side of the van because we were also travelling with two female passengers. People could not continue laughing fearing his drunkenness would be stimulated to strip him off the guard of reasoning and say what was considered taboo in our societies.
“You know what happened when she came back with the husband?” he said and I closed my eyes pretending to have fallen asleep. Then I quickly thought it was ridiculous so I started singing my own composition,
I grew up down there
Out of the outermost
Back of beyond
Where the corks are alarms
And poverty is life
And there from the mountains
We gaze in the woods,
Deep in the woods
Stood dear mud-poles slumps
See boys in the river swimming
Girls down bathing
The sight is awesome
The plight is awful
But today is handsome
While I was deep in the song his friend interjected, introducing a different subject of the grandeur of mountains and the esthetic form of indigenous trees but his friend would not relent.
“The husband told the butcher-boy that they wanted sausages,” he said and everybody laughed like that was their last laugh on earth. I laughed hard too.
After a series of police road-blocks we finally arrived in Mutare in the evening. None of the three of us knew any relative or friend in Mutare so we had our supper which was a dry loaf of bread and water. After vigorous munching and loud swallowing we picked card-boxes from a nearby temporary dumping site, tore them into boards, spread the cardboards on the pavement and slept like street kids. It was winter so we had no problem of mosquitoes but the cold itself. We woke up pale in the morning and found no tape with running water to wash our faces so we proceeded to breakfast which was not any different from the supper of the previous night.
For a couple of days more we lived like that, James wanted to gather more information on Chiyadzwa diamond fields. We learnt it was no walk in the park. We met a lot of other people who had come from different parts of the country to get on the same expedition. They said once you were in the fields, it was do or die game. Its either you would come out of the fields and prosper or you’d die. One of them told a story of the soldiers who were deployed all over the fields. He said they were contenders too, they were soldiers of fortune and they were ready to kill whoever they would see in the fields, only to search them and get their findings. Another one added that two soldiers tore apart one man they had shot dead, just to confirm if he had not swallowed the precious stones. The soldiers were ruthless, they were shooting illegal diamond extractors while they were still in the pits and the whole area smelled of dead bodies.
“Hey Christopher, what do you think?” Ezekiel asked me just before we left.
“About what?” I wanted to be sure if that is what he was asking.
“Do you think we should go?”
“I don’t know,” my response was sincere.
In Chiyadzwa events started unfolding like in a nightmare. Before we could put our tools to task we could hear hounds barking in the woods followed by echoing gunshots. Two men soiled from head to toe raced a few yards from where we stood and behind them were three fat hounds panting with anger. We shivered to the ground and I could feel I was holding hard not to piss in my pants. Before we could utter a word to each other two camouflaged soldiers wielding riffles on their backs were breaking grass and small bushes with the sores of their high boots as they ran after the culprits and dogs.
James panicked and took to his feet at high velocity like a whirlwind. The gunmen turned back and went after him. For a moment the fields went dead silent. Then we were startled by distant gunshots. We spontaneously got on our feet and ran for dear life.
“So how did you escape and even get money to comeback,” my mother asked when I was telling her the story and I cried.