A Village Romance Comes to Town [opinion]

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Byline: Sekai Nzenza

Jun 06, 2012 (The Herald/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — It’s a late afternoon in Mbare, and I am visiting my cousins Piri and Esina.

We are sitting on the small veranda of this two roomed house on a busy street.

Not too far away from here is the Rufaro Stadium where Bob Marley played the “Peace has come to Zimbabwe” song when he came to celebrate independence with us in 1980. Misheki, Piri’s husband has also just arrived to visit his wife. We gave him the only chair in the house because he is the man around here.

The chair has a broken back and it is missing half the stuffing from the seat. He has perched half his bottom on the cushioned part of the seat.

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Since leaving the village three months ago, Misheki and Piri have not lived together due to lack of accommodation in Harare.

Piri is sharing this one bedroom house with Esina and another tenant, a young man who is hardly here because he imports dry fish, matemba, from Mozambique into Zimbabwe.

He pays US$50 rent for the room that is really meant to be a kitchen. Esina’s mother used to own this house but she has since relocated to the village because she said the city was no place for an old woman like her.

It’s a brick house, built sometime in the 1920’s when African men were coming to work in Salisbury. The house was built for a bachelor because the Rhodesian government said African women had no reason to come to town.

All the old houses along this street from the main bar to Rufaro stadium are one bedroomed bachelor flats with a kitchen.

Further down the street are communal bathrooms and toilets.

They are clean, because the City Council is very particular about the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid.

Last time there was an outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting here, many donors came in big trucks and gave the people clean water.

Since then, the City Council has employed more people to clean the toilets and communal showers daily. Because the population continues to increase, the City Council is building another communal washroom and toilets about twenty metres from Esina’s house. This means she will stop using the bucket as a toilet, kurasa mvura, at night because the new toilet will be a lot closer and also quite a distance away from the all night shebeen drinkers.

There is noisy everywhere; people talking, shouting, arguing, children crying or laughing and music blurring from several radios or music systems.

The music and radio noise will die out when the electricity goes but it will come back again soon as the power comes back. People walk past us all the time and some of them say “masikati” to us because they know Esina.

An argument has erupted between Piri and her husband Misheki.

After three months of unemployment and without a fixed place to stay Misheki has come to take Piri home. He plans to board the village bus and return to the village where he hopes their romance will be rekindled as husband and wife again.

The city has not worked for them.

What was the point of being married when Piri was living here without him, sharing a bed with Esina, a single woman?

Besides, it was not proper for two women to lie there together, on the double bed shielded away from the young male tenant’s room by just a wardrobe.

The temptation to do what was not proper could easily come from both sides.

Piri is all dressed up to go to her new job selling alcohol illegally. She is wearing a lacy white African outfit with another lacy wraparound cloth, accentuating her bottom very nicely. Her wig is just short enough and it sits so perfectly on her head.

It looks like real hair. Her face is light from the new skin lightening creams coming out of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There is no need to be dark skinned anymore, chekumirira hapana,” Piri had told me earlier when I commended on how light skinned she had become.

Piri sits impatiently on a bucket that is turned upside down. In front of her is a big basket covered with an African cloth.

Inside are twenty four bottles of punch, the illegal spirit smuggled from Mozambique. Each bottle has two hundred and seventy five millilitres of clear liquid which looks like gin.

On the label is a picture of a white blonde woman wearing a singlet and gloves posing like she is doing kick boxing.

The punch. Her picture is juxtaposed on top of the map of Africa. The bottle is labelled 47 percent alcohol and everything on it is written in Portuguese. In her handbag, Piri is also carrying twelve bottles of Zed, another illegal collection of alcohol, also imported from Mozambique.

Misheki says he no longer drinks Punch or Zed because just one bottle for a dollar can work on your brain so quickly.

The Mozambican stuff has different effects on people and that is why the Zimbabwean police have banned it here.

Within minutes, it changes your mood to dancing, talking nonsense, or you can become verbally or physically violent.

Some people have died from it because they drink more than two bottles without diluting and also without eating anything.

You are killing people and destroying families by selling this ‘get me drunk quick“, type of cheap illegal alcohol.

Stop it and let us go home,” Misheki begs Piri.

She calmly reminds him that it was village poverty and a very bad harvest that caused them to return to town and look for work in the first place.

Why would I go back to village misery and hunger when I can make ten dollars per day from selling these bottles?” she asks him.

They go on arguing for a while and Esina and I do not interfere.

We both know that when couples fight, outsiders should not be involved because the next day, the same couple will reconcile and you will be seen as the enemy.

Pleading his case, Misheki tells us that back in the village his uncle Josiya, the one who owned the fertile garden by the river was dead and since he did not have a son, the property now belonged to Misheki.

He would take Piri back to the village to work in the garden, grow vegetables, beans, tomatoes, onions and sweet potatoes for consumption or for sale.

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They would never be hungry again and will no longer wait for the rains or stand in line for donor food handouts because all-year-round, the rich black soil was going to give them something back.

But Piri would not hear of it. “Look at me now. Nyatsonditarisa.

“Can you see these hands, this outfit, and this head, going back to the smoke of the village hut, going back to the mud in the garden and ferrying buckets to water the vegetables.

You are joking. Unotamba iwe! Not me. I have done that and that time is over.”

Since I am Piri’s older cousin, Misheki says it is just fortuitous that I happen to have come to Mbare to be his mediator.

Please Maiguru, tell your sister that her house in the village is still standing. Tell her that the city is no place for a good woman these days, especially a woman who sells illegal alcohol to men.”

The half sneer on Piri’s face tells me that I would be wasting my time to convince her to change her mind.

My cousin Piri fell in love with Misheki on the day they met on the village bus from Harare a few years ago.

They were both running away from the Operation Murambatsvina, the clean-up Harare campaign. It was love at first sight. Within a few weeks, they were living together as husband and wife.

Misheki was so happy to have found a good village wife. His mother did not accept a daughter-in-law who had been married before with children and worse still, who was older than her son.

Misheki ignored his mother’s disapproval and insisted that he loved Piri. His mother was furious, “What is love? You want to spend the whole day eating love? Look at our poverty. Leave this woman alone and go back to town to look for work.”

The village romance between Misheki and Piri continued to blossom.

Throughout the rainy season, they were seen in the field plowing, sowing, weeding and laughing together. They lived on very little and were nourished by love. Until they harvested very little in three consecutive seasons. Then they left the village and moved to the city three months ago.

Tell her that my love for her has not changed since the day we met on the village bus and I bought her Fanta and buns,” Misheki appealed to Esina for help.

Rather than sympathise with him, Esina and Piri laughed with sarcasm.

That is when I realised that Esina was happy to have a companion with an income in her house. Then Esina said, “Babamunini Misheki, keep on looking for a job. It is not a good thing for a man not to have money while his wife has money.

Without money, no compromise can be made in any marriage. Hapana dhiri.” Piri stands up, yawns and adjusts her wig and says to Esina, “Now you are talking.

Tell your Babamunini that he should make more money than I am making. When that happens, I will take him back. This is Harare.”

Piri shakes Misheki’s hand first then mine. She turns to me and says, “Sis, I have seen you.Ndakuonai. Let me go to work. Kundima kwangu.”

Piri grabs her basket, touches Misheki slightly on the shoulder and walks away. We watch her wiggle her backside and disappear through the Mbare crowd, the men playing pool at the shebeen turn their heads to look at her.

We used to live on love. But the city does not like love without money. Money first, then love,” Misheki says, shaking his head sadly.

Esina and I look at each other and say nothing. There is nothing to say.

Hopefully Piri will come back or perhaps, Misheki will find another village romance. One should never give up hope on love.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic. She holds a PhD in International Relations and is a consultant and director of The Simukai Development Project.

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