I vividly remember the excitement that I had the first day that I started school at a mission school, a few kilometers away from our rural village in Chirumanzu District ofZimbabwe. Little did I know that by 15 years, I would be the major contributor to our family survival. My father abandoned us after he realized that my mother had tested HIV positive. This ushered a new way of life, which demanded struggle to make ends meet. Despite her poor health, my mother would go farming in other villagers’ farms, and do some vending, just to get a pittance to sustain us. I had to support her efforts, at the same time giving attention to school work. My father would at times remember us but intermittently.
At the age of 16, the year in which I was supposed to be sitting for this life course determining exam – Ordinary Level examinations – that’s when I found myself out of school. Initial immaturity made me to feel that now I was free!!! But this feeling only lasted for about a week. The week after, I was already missing school, missing chatting with classmates and colleagues. Now I was spending time with elder people and they seemed to like it that way. At home, it was more than just a blessing in disguise. They now had someone they could send to do all the errands. I would go fetching firewood, then fetching water from the village borehole, then go weeding, then spend the remaining part of the day herding cattle. This became my routine, introducing a new life, a life of hard labour, and a life that seemed to lack a door of a new hope!! Indeed, as each day passed by, there was no hope for anything different, except the changes in natural seasons – from dry season to wet season, from winter to summer.
Day and night, I was now thinking on how best to move out of this new level of prison. A prison without visible walls and without visible bars. Yes, I fully realized that I was surely in the innermost cell of a maximum prison. While herding cattle, I would admire others of my age going to school. They seemed not to even see how much privileged they were, and it was so surprising to me how they seem not to even know or care. One thing which also made my time in the maximum prison to be a tough nut was being excluded by my usual colleagues, right from the time I dropped out of school. They no longer wanted to interact with me and would really put all effort to dissociate themselves from anything to do with me. Or was it just in my mind? This feeling of being excluded, and being looked down upon. Whether it was my mere thinking or not, I strongly felt the isolation and initially this caused some sleepless nights and at worst, even some nightmares. However, as days went by, I accepted the new reality and went on to develop new, and surprisingly, far better friends. The friends were both tamed and wild animals, nature, and my best friend, silence.
In silence, I learnt to observe. I enjoyed observations. They brought more joy, more things to stimulate and challenge my thinking and more satisfaction in discovering solutions to puzzles generated thereof. I would observe the throaty laughter of women at the borehole at sunset, drunk middle aged men fighting at local beer parties, elderly men sharing jokes and challenges, children chattering as they go to and come from school. I observed virtually all the interactions that were at my disposal - the girls interacting, the boys interacting, girls and boys interacting, the well-up interacting and the poor interacting. I would observe how animals interact, how trees seemed to communicate life to the often too busy and inattentive animal world. How rivers would roar giving rhythm to the wonderful songs by birds and together creating a perfect harmony which fell on the busy ears of people and animals that it went unnoticed. As I did this, no sooner had I started to realize I was learning far more about most things that surround me than anyone or anything else!!!
Sunday was equally a special day to me as it was to all who were in our community. Sundays afforded me a once a week opportunity to see the Priests, the Doctors, the Nurses and the Teachers, that served at the catholic mission school, church, and hospital. The Priests seemed to be the much more fascinating among this group of the learned people of my society. Most of them that served at our mission seemed calm, collected and only the softer side of their personalities could be seen as they mix with people of all age groups and social classes. I particularly found the expatriate missionaries who were mostly white, very interesting. The church services they conducted were unarguably boring though well attended by most of the villagers including myself, who enjoyed watching them as they struggle desperately to make people understand the word of God in the little Shona language they had gathered over their little stay in the country. Of course we never laughed at their mistakes openly for fear of losing out on the many gifts that they were known for giving those that attended service, but we would laugh our lungs out on way back home, while majority of the village men would also laugh on their way to the beerhall at local shops before proceeding home under the cover of darkness!
The rest of the workers that I would see in the church made me realize thatthere was much pride in being a medical doctor, teacher or nurse. It was a shame; prospects of me being a respected doctor, nurse or teacher were shuttered on my exit from school. It was obvious that they were the ones who contributed much in the love offering basket every Sunday. They were our icons of success, every child in school dreamt that one day they were going to become doctors if they were exceptional or nurses and teachers for the mediocre. Even parents of those children who were not so much academically gifted also hoped that one day their children would also become doctors, teachers and nurses. As for me, I had to teach myself to understand how it is to be out of this dream of the success equation, at least by the standard of my community understanding. And so, I would derive much pleasure in observing those who had achieved interact with those who wanted to become.
Some of my observations when I was out of school were as follows
Even if I was out of school, learning could still take place, even more. Whether this learning was useful or not, I would not know. There was no certificate to be given anyway! I realized that I was learning a lot about me, who I am, where I come from, about our community and how people relate,…about our community life and norms, about relationships, about how children going to school were not even looking at how privileged they were,…All this wasin myobservations.
Learning to Become: I also noted a strange thing within my community among those that had made it to Advanced Level of Educationor graduated in Universities/Colleges. If they took time before getting a job after graduating, all the knowledge they supposedly have acquired in years of schooling over time, even up to those greater heights, suddenly became not so useful to their own lives, to their families and to the community! Those who got a job were looked at with high regard in the community and this included businessmen, Teachers, Doctors at the Mission School and Hospital. However, still you could visibly see that themselves and their immediate family were now looking fine, more stableand seemingly happier, but, unfortunately, there was still zero changes to our community. As a matter of fact, I made the following observations linked to the ones that seemed to be more affluent in the community:
Cross-generational Sex: It was largely these educated and affluent men, that were also the ‘well off’ of the community, who were taking younger school girls, and having sexual relationships with them in exchange for fancy things, food, clothes, etc. They had resources to spend and they had admirable status but seemed to be weaker whenfaced with girls and even some younger women.I noted that girls that were out of school, sameas me, were also spending most of their time with such men or seemingly doing their best to impress such men to be in relationships with them! I desired to know more on exactly how these girls were thinking, but could not get much clues.
Child Labour and Sexual Exploitation: In all the farms that I would go to work so as to get some money, it was farms of these educated and more affluent. They were ready to employ a 15 year old boy in their farms for a wage! They even enjoyed the benefits of almost getting work done for close to nothing in terms of cost. Yes, I did not know how to place a value in monetary terms for my labour! Up to the level to which I went out of school, this area was not taught either in the school or even at home. Additionally, some children who would have dropped out of school, especially the girl child, would be carried away by such affluent and educated persons to the city to work as their domestic servants for a pittance. Seeing them going to the city made me to feel I my being a boy was disadvantaging me! Even if I had not set my foot to see what was happening in the city, something inside me was suggestingthat city life was not asstrenuous as village life.Being stuck in the village, I also noted that some of the girls who would have been introduced to sex earlier, ended up engaging in prostitution within the community before they could disappear to the city. I was confused about what education was bringing to the persons like me up to time I dropped out of school, and even worse, l feared the most for my younger sisters!What would happen to them as they grew being out of school? These educated and affluent persons, what are they going to turn my younger sisters into? I was told the antidote for a snake bite comes from the snake also, and this left me with bit of assurance that if the girl child push through the education system they seize to be ease prey of some of these “enlightened” men!
Early Marriages: I also observed that some girls that were out of school were married at very early ages of under sixteen, presumably as a way to run away from their situation. And normally, they would have found a bit of a descent provider, who also is aligned to the affluent within the community.
I had so many questions. Yes, it was so clear that education had transformed the lives of those who sweated in its course, but why is it that despite all the knowledge acquired in the years of studying those books even up to university levels, they come back to employ a boy like me without even seeming to think once?? Employing the young girls as maids and taking them as sexual partners?? With all they have learnt in school and passing all those examinations, why are they still happy to have me weed their fields at a time when their own children of my age were in school? I felt I did not want to be anything like these kind of men. I just wanted to be different. My desire to be myself increased exponentially with how much observations I was making. I desired so much to bring the change and to show the difference in all deeds! I looked for role models to imitate. Initially, I saw the doctors, but dropped them within a few weeks after I realized they were also taking some of the young girls as sex partners and some would even smoke!! Could it have been right education and rightprofessions that attracted wrong personalities? I wondered. Then I thought I must become a Priest!!! So I started engaging in prayers and fasting and it became part of my life!! But I did not have the word of God revealed to me, because no one was speaking the revealed word to my ear and the Bible itself was far from my reach. I only had to listen when it was read for a few minutes at church on Sundays. I thirsted for the word of God and nothing seemed to be able to quench this thirst. Not even my observations!
This is also the time that I realized that all this time that I was getting an education up to time I dropped out of school, I was just interested in learning to become, ….as initially, I wanted to BECOME a Doctor!! Yes, I wanted to become a medical doctor and attend to my own mother!!! But through my observations, I saw that while this was excellent for pushing me into the group of the more affluent, by giving me a more rewarding job that grants money and improvement in social status in addition to possibility of contributing to my mother's well-being, my learning in school seemed to have beenrunning short of other pieces that I was almost convinced by my observations that this group did not have, but which I considered to be critical. So, in addition to learning to become, from my observations, I added the other bits which I thought were critical for me to grow intoas, LEARNING TO BE (I thought it best to build my character), LEARNING TO LIVE WITH OTHERS, and LEARNING TO ACT!!! It was also a sad realization for me to note that there was no subject called “marriage” in school and yet people in my community were getting married after school, and there was no subject called “money” in school yet everyone was using money daily, including paying school fees itself!!I did notlike the idea of using something that not much is known aboutexcept counting it, spending it and banking it! I desired to know how to act in the presence of greatness, how to act in marriage as a husbandor in singleness as a teenager as I was, how to act in the presence or absence of money, and a whole lot more.
I was excited and satisfied by my observations, and wanted to tell someone. But that’s when I realized that the family and community people were not ready to listen to the voice of a school drop-out. This again was a painful realization at that time, and this realization brought a new and stronger desire to come back into the education system and get an education.Despite all what I had noted to be key aspects missing from the education, I just realizedit was the best that anyone in the community could get.Indeed, as I grew up, I realized that it’s a fact that no one is prepared to listen to the wisdom of a poor, uneducated man. Education surely grants a voice that can be allowed space to be heard!!!
Whilst I could not change what had already happened, I was fully convinced that I still had an equal opportunity, just as any other child of my age to make it in life. I noted that the way my colleagues quickly switched over to start isolating me and distancing themselves was only a matter of their minds. If I was academically better than them, I remained better even out of school. I realized again that my difference with them is they were like soccer players who had a coach to polish their talent, and that’s what I surely lacked at that time. A coach to help me polish my talent!!! My being out of school was depriving me of a qualified and certified teacher to polish me up!! I quickly noted that even if I had no known teacher being out of school, there were teachers all over the village! Teachers for smoking were readily available. Teachers for beer drinking were readily available. Teachers for womanizing were readily available. I became scared of the dangerous teachers that surrounded me and this was more of the reason why I chose to spend more time with the animals and nature, far away from these uncertified teachers. I found animals and nature to be among the greatest teachers on planet earth!! Could they have been certified by God to teach?
Nature taught me great lessons which made me to no longer look at people as the cause of my situation, but I put everything on my own choices and my God!!! In my heart, I forgave my father in all and understood his position and his choices. I also knew that there was a lot to learn from him, both from negatives and positives. He had made his own choices, and I also stood to make my own choices, independent of his choices. The first choice that I made was to choose to forgive him and to choose to start focusing on what I could do today that would change my tomorrow and his tomorrow as my surviving parent. I chose to love him with all my heart despitehis own shortcomings as a father.I started to check what I could still do to learn further, beyond observing village activities and relationships. That’s when I started reading books again!! I timed the reading time to the time others go to school up to a time they come back. At 1230hrs, the Catholic Mission Church Bell would ring, and I would stop to pray. I would tell God what I see myself eating, wearing, driving, owning, in the day called tomorrow. Even if I was out of school, I saw myself writing school exams and passing them!!! I saw myself graduating at University!! I saw myself coming back to the village after graduation and transforming our community, reuniting families, bringing a new hope to the village widows and orphans. I saw myself being the first man in our village to treat women and girls with maximum respect and honour that I believed they fully deserved. I knew from my observations that with little effort, girls and women could easily achieve anything compared to boys and men. I saw much power in women and estimated it in my wild imagination to be at least 10 times greater than any of the strongest men in our village. I regarded women as true examples of humility; they were humble enough to even respect men though in my eyes, men were far weaker than them in every respect!
I had to hang the following points on my wall, and on the roof above my sleeping place to give me a reason to see tomorrow in a different way
If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you are going!!! Getting lost does not mean you can’t walk, it means you are walking but going nowhere!!! If you don’t know where you are going, you can be trapped by anything and by anyone!!! If you don’t know who you are, you are easily intimidated by your past!!!
Character is not a gift, it is a choice. You have the responsibility to cultivate it. Ability alone will not take you where character can!!! To character, add knowledge, to knowledge add discipline, to discipline patience.
Vital aspect of character is attitude – Life is a gift, a privilege. It is about contribution, it is about sacrifice. Your attitude about life will determine what it offers. Your attitude towards work is critical. Work is a blessing from God! It is work that determines your worth.
There is no substitute for work. The harder you work, the brighter you think. I shall work, I shall pray, I shall read, and I shall fast!
Stop competing!!! Life is not about speed, it is about timing!!! I shall congratulate victors, not as a competitor but as a fellow soldier!
Never condemn yourself!! When you err, get the lessons and move forward!! If you fall down, don’t remain down. Keep the faith!! Keep the positive confession!!!
Focus on solving problems, never on money!! As long as you solve real problems, the world will pay you!
Identify role-models and follow their paths to be them
Commitment sensitizes you for excellence
Jesus Christ is not for religious people. He is for the world, receive Him. Pray in His Name for your parents, for your leaders and for your country always!! Never sow a seed of attacking parents or leaders for their choices, you will be a parent or a leader tomorrow. Sow a seed that would give a harvest which you would cherish if it was all to be given to you, for you!
I would also make the following slogans to renew my hope for a better tomorrow
I will make it in life! I am not here to accompany other people!!!
I am here to be the solution to my family problems!!!
I am here to be the solution to my community problems!!!
I am here to multiply all good things into my surroundings!!!
I will learn and get empowered to act!!!
I will learn and get empowered to live in harmony!!!
I will learn and get empowered to be a success!!! I am not a failure!!! I am a success!!
I am not what people in this village say I am!!!
I am what God says I am!!! As He is, so am I!!
When my brother called me to ensure I write my Ordinary Level examinations, I knew I would make it to the next levels. Indeed, by God’s grace, I broke the record of passing English Language with a straight A class for the first time at the school, and indeed the entire community. This was not a small thing as failing English language was almost equivalent to have failed even if you can pass all the other subjects with A class. I did not understand why this was so, but did not care, I just had to break anything that presented itself likea barrier ahead of me!While the village was trying to give me a hero’s treat, I withdrew from the community and hid myself. My lessons were it is good to celebrate, but celebrating a bus stop as if it’s a destination was an act of ignorance! Unlike what they had set as standard, that is, equating passing education exams with greatest life success, I was focused on ensuring whatever is happening should have its success measured in the transformation it brings to me, to my siblings, and my surrounding community. I did not want them to kill a five hundred dollar worth ofbull to eat one day but then fail to raise money for school fees. However, for this unexplained choice, I remained a mystery to many in the village. Most at my age would have wanted to be in the lime light and celebrated. I frustrated their norms and expectations, so out of frustration rumor circulated in the whole village of how the “black magic” I used to pass exams would not let me celebrate “great success” with the rest of the community. I did not take offense, but rather I understood and felt pity for most.
I was in my second year at University when I received the message of the death of my mother on the 21st September 2001. This was a moment of darkness. Her survival had been my pillar of strength and hope. The greatest dilemma was on how I was to move forward with my three younger brothers who were still in secondary school, and two sisters that were still in primary school. In the midst of confusion, by God’s grace, my heart told me something that strengthened me and prepared me for action. It was this realization and acceptance that I no longer had control over what had just happened, yet I still had an opportunity to change what was coming with the next day. I saw the experience that I gathered during the time in the village with my mother, as a huge opportunity for survival. While I doubled efforts in my studies, I started washing clothes for my college mates and to also ensure all those that required my assignment scripts would buy me lunch or dinner. I believe I was the first student at University to smuggle a two plate stove which I would use to prepare my food, and make some savings. Not because I enjoyed breaking any college laws, but I saw a decline in the buying power of the Zimbabwean dollar at a time others were still enjoying. To me, some of the college laws were no longer protecting my interest as a student, and no one seemed to be checking the validity of the assumptions that were made when they were put in place, even if the economic environment was rapidly changing. So, in my small ways, I had to ensure I survive and at same time complete the course! It was cheaper for me to cook for myself than to buy food daily. Additionally, from skills I learnt during vending, I communicated easily with college lecturers, trying to convince them I can be of use to them in any project. I spread my search across all faculties, and finally became a research assistant for a Faculty of Arts Professor. My earnings increased to cover our basic needs, including my siblings’ school fees and even clothing. I wanted them to be fully cushioned from all the shocks of life. I wanted them not to be in as much oven temperatures as I was in. Today, even as I look at them, I smile a lot for this dream was fully achieved. My brother graduated at University, one joined Police, another graduated at Polytechnic, one of my sisters became a teacher and the other sister is currently in University. Our history is set to be rewritten. There are no more traces of disasters that we went through and as a family, we no longer only believe religiously thatJesus Christ is alive andthat He cares, but we now knowin truth that He is alive, He reigns, He cares and we know He loves us in all and loves all. We give Him all glory and honour for we are living testimonies of His abundance of mercy and grace!!! We give Him thanks and praise in allforever.