My journey to the Motherland - Perception - Part 1
(The first installment of a two part series - Read Part 2 - My journey to the Motherland - Reality)
I met my husband initially, almost eleven years ago. It wasn’t until two years later when we began our relationship. He knew how to treat a woman, had such a kind nature and from that day made me the happiest I have ever been!
From two very different backgrounds we had an instant connection. We shared the same quirky humour and he was so open. We enjoyed every second of each other’s company. He was a college student who came from Zimbabwe. I was just after finishing school with a part time job and no certainty for how I wanted to live my future.
We lived in Tipperary and spent every other weekend enjoying student life together. We had a mixed reception about our relationship. People seemed to think our relationship had secret alternatives and they weren’t shy on giving us their outlook. We had our close friends who were genuinely happy for us but others had their doubts with Simon being an Afrikan man in Ireland. They would suggest that perhaps he is with me for a visa to stay here and would constantly remind me how he could have a wife and children back home for all I am aware. But I took a chance, I had moments where I let people’s opinions annoy me and make me doubt Simon but there was something about him that made me feel I was safe and could trust everything he said. He never hid anything from me.
We often had remarks muttered and even shouted at us on occasions. Racism remains to be something which will always be within people but we won’t let the ignorance spoil
Simon visited Zimbabwe when we were together but our income wasn’t great so I didn’t make it to Zimbabwe with him until two years ago, almost seven years into our relationship and one child later. I couldn’t wait to finally meet my in laws and was excited to introduce my son to his family and to begin to get in touch with his roots. It’s something I felt was important from the start, to teach my child about where he comes from and now we were both going to experience this journey together for the first time. Stepping off the plane one breezy August, we proceeded to the arrivals section where we filled out our visa forms. My son was turning two and was not very happy about the long flight from Ireland that we had just endured, with a nine hour stopover in Dubai to add to the mix. Air hostesses who were on our flight, passed us as we waited in the never-ending queue. “Aw Kevin is still crying” one of them joked as they walked by. Everyone on that flight got to know my son very well as he spent the whole day shuffling up and down the plane, smiling into passengers faces then crying inconsolably when boredom kicked in. The people were so nice and so understanding.
I was delighted as the lady stamped my passport for three months. I had never been outside of Europe until then so it was a novelty to have a stamp in my documentation. At 6pm it became dark outside. Back home it would still be bright until 10pm at this time of year. But I didn’t mind as I was so tired the darkness came as an advantage. Around twenty faces looked into ours as we walked out of the airport. Cameras were flashing, phones in hand taking photos of the family who they had never met before. My son was lifted from me and passed around being cuddled by each family member. He loved the attention but still had his eyes focused on his dad and me.
In the jeep we passed people walking the streets home after closing their market stalls, people tidying away statues they had carved and on display in the hope that someone would make a new purchase. Little bonfires were lit where people kept warm as they hung out there for the night. I wasn’t yet sure how to feel about Zimbabwe. I was expecting it to be hot and bright and the people at the airport were unfriendly. But I took comfort in knowing that our family was so happy to have us home and was excited to get to know each one of them.
The three vehicles went through the security gates of my sister in law’s home. My brother in law’s wife Emily was driving the jeep which I was in and my husband Simon and our son were both in different vehicles. I think this was my husband’s intention to throw me in the deep end to get to know people without having him constantly by my side. As I was about to get out of the car, Emily stretched her hand across me, locking the jeep door and putting her scarf against the window, blocking me from seeing what was outside. I looked at her with confusion and she smiled back at me. She began to shout “you have to pay to see your muroora (sister in law)” and cheering began outside and singing. Dollar notes were squeezed into the gap of the window which was slightly open holding the scarf. I found this practice somewhat hilarious.
This took me back to the first time Simon met my parents which was nothing in comparison. My parents gave Simon a firm handshake, asked him a couple of questions and we spent an evening getting to know him before watching a DVD with Chinese take-out. They say first impressions last and I have to say, this family was so fun and carefree and definitely knew how to welcome me into the family. After a couple of minutes watching dollar notes being squeezed into the window Emily unlocked the door where I was greeted by the back of someone who I couldn’t even recognise in the dark. Before I realised it, I was on top of her back and the family sang a traditional Shona song and they took me into my sister in law’s house. When she let me down I could see it was another of my sister in laws. I spent the whole introductory event just laughing and laughing. It was so much fun.
We spent almost three hot weeks in Zimbabwe and it was such a wonderful experience. Almost every night we had loud music and dancing in the living room. I found a great sense of happiness from the people in Zimbabwe and felt so welcomed by them. I felt a great sense of community here also. We bought groceries as a gesture to those who had lost loved ones while Simon was in Ireland and this is a common thing to do as a neighbour, friend or family member. I often heard about Ireland being so tightly knit as a community long ago, but now people seem to be more private and restricted. Neighbours and family members came with gifts to welcome me into the family, one lady brought a big basket of fruit and vegetables from her stall while another brought a free range chicken for us to kill and eat.
We visited the city and it was just like any other, full of hustle and bustle, very built up and mixed with Asians and both black and white Zimbabweans. I did however notice that in my time in Zimbabwe, I hadn’t seen any couples who were of a different race. I felt like white people kept to themselves like blacks did. We had a certain amount of attention from people but I don’t think it was because, as a white lady, I was in the minority. Rather their fascination arose from me and Simon being together with our biracial son. However there was no sense of unfriendliness, I felt very safe, safer than I feel in some of the towns and cities in Ireland!
We then went to Simon’s rural area to meet some of his family. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them and here I met a very interesting character who gave me a different insight into life in the rural area. When I first arrived here, I was shocked by how we even found where Simon’s family stayed! I felt like we were on a main road one minute then randomly took a turn into what looked like a desert of sand, drove continuously for around twenty minutes and finally stumbled upon some form of settlement. I could see thatched roofs on circular looking houses then in the distance some concrete blocks in a back to back “L” shape. Luckily I had explored some old Irish settlements when I was a child and the circular houses were not new to me. Similar houses were here in Ireland during the Bronze Age and the reconstructed versions can still be visited in Craggaunowen Co.Clare. It was insightful to see in the 21st century, how some people are still living. I was told how these little rural kitchens are used for the cooking and I witnessed an elderly lady picking corn from its leaves in order to grind it into maize meal. I was shown around the well and the areas where food can be cooked outside when the electricity gets cut off (braai), and those “L” shaped concrete stands which I was informed are actually toilets (blairs).
(Read Part 2 - My journey to the Motherland - Reality)