If perchance you read my last post, a poetic effort, you would have understood that I was writing on the reality of being in place far removed from that where I grew up: that ‘other place’ of both heart and of ancestral importance, principally because it is where my parents both lived and died. All the same it is a contemplation on the present as much as a reflection on the past.
There was a period of my life in ‘that other place’ that was particularly hard to bear and I am aware that it still permeates my current existence. Living meaningfully in the present necessitates that we put past events and experiences into some sort of philosophical framework that allows us to cope with what was difficult and draw upon those things which gave us happiness and meaning, the foundations upon which our life here and now has been constructed.
In my case a large part of my life, my entire childhood and early adult life in fact, was lived in ‘that other place’ on the African continent. Home was the town of Harare, known as Salisbury to my parents and grandparents generations, and the geographic territory was Zimbabwe. Many seaside holidays were spent in South Africa, our southerly neighbour, and later academic studies were also conducted there. I have spent much time reading other people’s accounts of my homeland, writing about my own experiences, and trying to construct my own meaningful philosophical framework. I self-published a book earlier last year on the topic of being a ‘Jet-Setting Vagrant’ which was met with very little comment from anyone really. This was probably a result of the fact that it was a very open-ended memoir – more of a diary really, interspersed with anecdotes, philosophising and periods of retrospection.
What I’ve hardly mentioned to anyone but a select few is that there was actually an earlier effort at self-publication which I never fulfilled. This was a memoir of my life in Africa. As you’d expect it is a real mix of nostalgia and childhood memories, both happy and bitter-sweet, the conflicts and challenges of adolescence etc, all set within the context of the society and family I grew up in. I think the truth is that some of it is a bit too raw for public the public domain which is why I drew back from publication. However, it’s a shame that it has all been archived on my computer for several years now. There were a number of positive experiences to share and having talked to many others who lived in that society at one point or another, some contemporaries, others not, there is a desire amongst many of them to share those experiences with the world at large. So in a number of subsequent posts (exact number unknown) I am going to try and see what I can dig up.
By the way the heading to this post and a stark reminder of the importance of celebrating one’s life and heritage, from wherever it’s drawn, came to me a few days back. I was buying some fruit and veg from an Asian grocer’s not far from me in Charminster, a particularly multi-ethnic stretch of shops, cafes and restaurants, when I was approached by a curious little man who had evidently fallen on hard times. He was asking for 50p in change which I initially refused on the basis that I thought he was simply gathering enough for a pint at the pub directly across the road. I said as much. Anyway, his accent was curious enough for me to ask where he hailed from. “Rhodesia” was his reply i.e. the former name for Zimbabwe. Once we realised we were from the same neck of the woods we were able to have a more balanced conversation. What came across to me was how bitter he still was towards England and the English, despite having fled what was then wartime Rhodesia in 1976. “They don’t understand me” he said. How sad.
“Why did he leave?” I asked him, assuming he had served in the army at some point and was fleeing the horrors of that particular conflict. No, it turned out he had pre-empted his call-up and fled first to South Africa and then to the UK. He talked variously of how Ian Smith and the Rhodesian cause had been petrayed by Vorster (the South African president of the time) and his determination not to live under a country ruled by the ‘terrorist’ Robert Mugabe. I know that many of his generation share those sentiments. I remained quiet on the issue although I have an uncertain stance somewhere in the grey reaches of the middle-ground.
He spoke of the harsh conditions of conscripts to the Rhodesian forces as related to him through others like his mother, a hospital matron. I know this first hand through my Uncle Paul who served in the Rhodesian army at that time and who now lives a secluded life in Plymouth, Devon. So maybe he was right to get out when he did? I can’t say. He would have had to wrestle with own conscience over many years I suppose. It was just a little sad to see a man still caught up in the past the way he was. A little glimmer of some self-esteem though: relating how he was bullied by an Afrikaaner senior at Guineafowl (a private school of some standing in Rhodesia) he proclaimed “I had the last laugh! I stood up to him”. (Something about not doing a punishment prescribed him.) “I’m Irish and I’m proud of it.” He could build on that I suppose.
This was only ten minutes worth of conversation and only at the end of it did we introduce ourselves. His name was William. Before we parted I asked him again if he wouldn’t mind telling me why he needed the money. “Horses” he said with a wry smile, avoiding my eye. Chance meeting or something more significant I can’t say except that I don’t want my story and that of my people to be lost in the sands of time. After all it’s my belief that we really only tell the tales and glories of our particular tribe in order to try and reach out to a common identity. It’s one that’s in a constant state of evolution and that’s why we need to keep the conversation going.