A Zimbabwean Childhood
By Ropafadzo Mugaza | BA English, Stage 1
I brushed my fingers over the soft white materials. Despite the scruffy stitching visible through the plastic quill of each synthetic barb covered rachis, I imagined this was probably what real angel wings would have felt like. I stood in the corner of the classroom for a long time simply stroking the handmade feathery tuff. I was so dazed and fascinated that I only faintly acknowledged the sounds of excited chatter and clattering from rest of the class. It was the first ever class play and, as it was close to Christmas, we were performing the Nativity – I was playing the role of the angel. As we stood at the side of the stage peering through the curtains at the audience piling into the assembly hall, most of my classmates began to point out their parents in the crowd. Despite knowing no one was showing up to watch me, my eyes still scanned every face in the crowd trailing over every feature, hoping I’d see something familiar. It was completely illogical and I was aware of this, but my eyes still continued to trail over endless features in the crowd. It had been a euphoric feeling when everyone clapped as we all took a bow. Afterwards, my classmate’s parents had congratulated them, praising them on how well they’d done – I felt a dull ache in my chest the whole lonely journey back home that day. Both my parents were now in England. The Zimbabwean economy was on edge, so they had decided to go and work abroad, deciding it was better safer than sorry. I had never been an overly emotional child, I never had that option; however that afternoon when I had seen all my class mates basking in the attention of their parents, I was suddenly painfully aware that something was missing.
During primary school, every lunchtime without fail, I found myself at the tuckshop waiting in line to buy a candy apple. It cost me the same amount of money every time, yet I started noticing that the notes were rapidly morphing into vast spectrums of colour with more and more zero’s littered on the paper. The changes were so rapid that I’d barely been able to catch sight of them, but I was unsettled. I could feel the panic prickling in the air, I’d heard frightened murmurs of it, tense mentions of its nearing approach, and I could feel it spreading like a heat rash – hyper inflation. At this time no one could deny that the Zimbabwean economy had begun to collapse. People didn’t know it at the time but it would soon get much worse.
Queues became a way of life in Zimbabwe. I was older at this point, but not old enough that I should have been so aware of the political situation. In Zimbabwe, we grew up fast – we had no choice. I could say a lot of my memories of that time involved waiting in lines for basic necessities such as bread. It gets easier the more you do it – the restlessness that once simmers through your body, as your foot anxiously twitches, gradually numbs into a dull patience. Very soon the sharp ache of abused feet becomes a blunt throb. The bread line was intense. At 5 a.m. every morning we were waking up and getting ready to get in line by 6 a.m. so we’d be in a good place. After that, all we had to do was wait until the shipment arrived. Food was getting scarce at this point. The ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) Party were now promising that they would import food as a solution to our lack of resources (because it was election time again) though it was more about keeping up morale as it was common knowledge that ZANU-PF had always rigged elections. People were almost losing hope of any other party taking over and giving the country some much needed reform.
We’d always moved around a lot when I grew up (currently we were on our twelfth move) and I had long given up on making new friends. I often found that they could never really relate to me. Admittedly, having the shell of a parent censoring them from the world seemed to preserve their naivety. I spent most of my time alone; there was a big age gap between me and my siblings, which meant I could never really connect with them. During this time, I acquired a love for reading. I’d often sit on the balcony and engulf myself in foreign ideologies, while in the background I could hear the muffled sound of the TV. I’d lost interest in it since Jonathan Moyo had decided to remove all other channels except ZTV, which was just packed full of pro ZANO-PF propaganda. The government had gotten more intense when the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party had started to lead somewhat of a revolution. ZANO-PF were responding violently; a lot of the leaders of MDC were being brutally killed and detailed news of it was circulating. Back then I thought it was forbidden information. Now I figure they had wanted us to know, for their purpose was to extinguish fear upon the hope that was lighting up amongst the people. Protestors and campaigners were now being attacked by the army. In school, the hot topic had been brutal horror stories of people being slaughtered by the government. I felt so far from it as I stared out of my balcony at the calm avenues I couldn’t begin to place myself in those horrors. I didn’t see past the view I had outside my balcony. I didn’t want to. I told myself none of it mattered anyway, because I was getting out of there soon. It was two weeks away but my bags were already packed. I was finally going to join my parents in the UK and leave this life for a new one.