Who’s afraid of the big bad wovit

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I’m lying face down on the bed at the surgery in Nyanga.  Earlier this morning I was bucked off my horse and have torn my elbow open and cracked a rib.  Dr Chirumba is cleaning my wound without any anaesthetic.  He uses firm wipes with cotton wool soaked in stingy Betatine solution to prepare it for stitches.  I don’t want to cry so I distract myself with conversation.

‘Do you know there are mad war vets in Troutbeck?’ I ask, with my face turned away so he can’t see my scrunched eyes.

‘No I don’t,’ he replies in gentle disbelief.

I don’t care and continue ‘Well there are – you can tell who they are when you pass them on the road.’

Dr Chirumba reaffirms his lack of such knowledge.

My interest in war vets has been stirred by last week’s phone call from Patrick* one evening.  He was the caretaker of a cottage I do holiday bookings for.  His boss, Mr Baldwin*, who is in his early eighties together with his wife and labour lawyer, had driven up that morning from Harare to dismiss him for repeated misconduct and he had turned fierce.

‘How are you madam?’ Patrick asks me loudly with nervous excitement.

‘Fine,’ I say, suspecting some unpleasant words to follow.

Fine? Well you better watch your back because I’m sending war vets with guns to shoot you!’ Patrick shouts viciously.

‘That’s fine,’ I say and cut the call.

I’ve been told three times this year by my haematologist that I’m going to die soon and have learnt to become quite numb when threatened with such a possibility.

‘Patrick is sending war vets to shoot me,’ I tell my family and sit back on the couch.

Susie, my cousin who is visiting from Cape Town has just been reading the book, End of the Spear to our daughters, my mum and me.  After hearing my announcement, she closes the book just as the Inca tribe are about to spear the missionary father on the beach.  This is the last time we hear the story.

Later that night I hear Susie in her bedroom urgently teaching Psalm 91 to her daughter.  I already know it off by heart.

Patrick has also threatened to send Zanu-PF members (the ruling party) to burn Mr Baldwin’s cottage down.  We will go to the police station the next morning to report him.

We arrive mid morning at the police station on the outskirts of Nyanga town.  The empty parking area is covered in white sand but Mr Baldwin chooses to park on the grass under a fir tree.  We walk up the steps into a small dark room with cement floors and beige walls.  There is an old wooden counter dividing the room with a slatted bench for visitors on the one side and a desk for the charge officer on the other.  The walls are covered in reminders of the services and duties of the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police).

The charge officer standing behind the desk looks the age of a school boy and barely greets us.   Mr Baldwin hands him Patrick’s termination agreement, explaining yesterday’s saga.  The charge officer is not responding, then without saying a word, sits down at the desk and starts drawing columns in an exercise book.  We are left standing at the counter watching him.  I am trying to deduce whether this has anything to do with our case.  Then my hope fades and I realise this may be a waste of time – why would they care about war vets killing me? I’m just a tiny speck in Zimbabwe, part of 1% of the population, practically extinct – hence the joke ‘Save the whito’.

Three new charge officers enter the room, one lady and two men.  Perhaps they have all come in from having their teatime.   Mr Baldwin approaches them with the termination agreement and again explains the details of yesterday.    They gather together and study the document, the one in the middle reads it slowly and out loud.  Mr Baldwin is getting restless as we have been waiting for half an hour to find an officer to accompany us to Patrick’s village and bring him in for questioning.

The officer goes off and comes back with the Sergeant on duty.  For the third time the document is being read as Mr Baldwin is explaining yesterday’s events once again in great detail, when I desperately interrupt.

‘ Patrick is sending war vets to shoot me!’

After all, this isn’t about how much Patrick got paid out or that Mr Baldwin’s cottage might be set alight – this is about my life being threatened.  The paper on the wall says a Grade A call is when there is danger to life, violence is being used or threatened, or a crime is likely to be committed.

They all look up, look at each other; some leave the office – some stay.  Something is happening but I’m not sure what.  Mr Baldwin and I are told to sit on the bench.  I can tell Mr Baldwin’s patience is running out so I temporarily distract him.

‘How did you meet your wife?’ I ask quickly.

Mr Baldwin sits back and begins his story with ease, ‘My Annie came out from Cornwall to visit her cousin in Salisbury. I had a young girlfriend at the time whose father wouldn’t allow out to a dance which was going to be held at the clubhouse, so a friend of mine said he knew just the girl for me to take.’

I’m looking at Mr Baldwin, trying to imagine him back in those days.  He is a tall, lanky man with pale blue eyes, tackie wet lips, grey hair and sun spots on his face.

He has become approachable and tells me about the farm he grew up on in Karoi which was passed onto him by his father.  Then after Independence, in the early eighties when farms were cheap as people were leaving the new Zimbabwe, he bought the farm next door.  His four sons and their families farmed with him until both farms were taken by the government during the farm invasions which started in 2000. War vets (actually youth who have never been in war) were used to intimidate the white farmers to leave their farms without being compensated for their land, homes, furniture or farming equipment.  They left the whole lot.

Mr Baldwin returns to reality and realises we are still waiting for the constable to arrive.  He stands up and hangs over the counter to address the charge officer.

He takes off his glasses, ‘You see this eye – I have just had an operation,’ he says, pointing to it.  He puts his glasses back on. ‘I can’t drive at night; I need to get back to Harare before dark.’

‘I understand but we are waiting for him to arrive, he has gone to another job and will be here soon,’ replies the officer.

After two hours of waiting, the constable arrives by foot. Transport amongst the police force is scarce.   He is a slim man dressed in casual clothes, with a quiet authority and seems unmoved by Mr Baldwin’s frantic hurry to get on the road.  A uniformed police officer accompanies us together with the constable and we briefly discuss the highlights of the case as we walk to the car.

They sit in the back seat reading the termination agreement while Mr Baldwin tears up the mountain in his Pajero, calculating the time he will eventually leave for Harare.  Just to make sure the officers have influence if I ever need them, I ask ‘Are war vets above the law?’

‘If you commit a crime, it doesn’t matter who you are – you will be arrested,’ the constable assures me.

For a moment my confidence is briefly restored in the police force as that wasn’t true during the farm invasions.  In most cases the police weren’t prepared to protect the farmers as they said it was political.

I am dropped off at home, as it is suggested that I don’t accompany them to the village.  One of the workers from the property we stay on is standing at the kitchen door talking to my mother.  He has come to inform her that Patrick has been spreading rumours about me at the market place where the locals sell their goods and the drunkards hang out. Patrick has told the people that I have told him to take his Zanu-PF T-shirt off because I am MDC (the opposition party).  He was trying to stir a crowd to come and toyi-toyi (a dance used with chanting to intimidate) outside my home but apparently the war vets regret their past atrocities during the farm invasions and 2008 elections and some have turned mad because of it.

Mr Baldwin phones me the next morning.  They stayed over at the cottage as it was too late to drive back to Harare. Patrick was not at home yesterday so the constable left a message for him to report to the police station.  Mr Baldwin asks if I knew where the termination agreement was.  I told him I put it between the seats in his car once the constable had read it.

‘Well it isn’t there.  I’ve turned the car upside down,’ he insists.

His wife grabs the phone ‘Are you sure it wasn’t left at the police station? John is so forgetful, I told him not to lose it, we don’t have a copy and the lawyer said we must guard it with our lives.  Perhaps the police took it?’

My heart sinks, ‘Why would the police take it?’‘You just can’t trust any of them,’ Mrs Baldwin tells me.

*Names changed

KOAM

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Written by Taymen Graye – my son,  when he was 15.

From Zim to Maf there is a woman travelling on a mission
With no clear destination, just driven by love and endless ambition

She’s here for a purpose, even if at the moment it is still a mystery
One thing’s for sure, she will always be my missionary

She connects my soul to the depth of my heart and brings my soul into my life
Through all the struggle, she makes the joy eclipse the strife

When my life lost direction she gave it some alignment
She’s so precious, hard working with many sacrifices, like an African blood diamond

Talking to her is like aromatherapy in its finest finesse
Clearing my pores of all the tyrant stress

Always there for me, making me happy, for a better mother I could not pray
Always willing to be my goalie on a hot Rooigrond day

Tranquil, calming moments with her
Just like the old Friday afternoon at Spur

Sitting on the patio at Leopard Park, reflecting back
Giving me the inspiration to keep my life on track

Even on the worst days, when I talk to her my day flips
I’m like a zipper and she is that helpful hand to put back the rail when it slips

Like the soothing cream on a painful rash
She is my airbag whenever I crash

She straightened my life out whenever it bent
Even making an adventure out of staying in the tent

Even without money, she made sure that Christmas presents were bought
Always sending me angels for support

She brought a little girl into my life and made me a brother
A little girl with so much life, a pure reflection of her mother

I’m sure she must have two hearts because one heart could not possibly
be big enough to contain the love she has for her family

She has a heart warmer than the sun’s ray
If I had to describe as a colour it would be StormGraye*

She has a heart with no barrier
She’s made for big things like a cargo carrier

Bound to no limit, potential to the highest supreme
Great expectations I have for this African Queen

The road to her crusade has just begun
Yes, I’m certainly proud to be this woman’s son

Get out the Tent

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The summer thunder showers have made it unbearable for my five year old daughter, Dakota and me to live in this tent near a dam on the outskirts of Mafikeng.  There is no one else here.  My relationship has ended and I am a single mum who can’t afford rent.  I need to get work and find a proper home for us to stay in.  I am getting ready to meet a potential client who will hopefully agree to do business with me.

I want to be organised but it is hard when it is muddy outside and the tent floor is wet from our feet.  We would have been dressed on time if it were dry outside.  Dakota knows how important this meeting is and I have her co-operation during our mad rush.    I step carefully through the mud wearing slops and carrying Dakota plus my shoes to the car.  Slowing down at the robot in town, the driver alongside me indicates that my muddy slop is stuck in the car door, which annoys me as I don’t want to look like my life is falling apart.

We arrive at the Wimpy to meet with Lincoln for the first time to discuss me designing his website.  He is a black man with a beaming face, softly spoken and slightly shy.  I immediately like him and relax.  Dakota understands that she can only have a small milkshake.  I must buy Lincoln and myself a coffee too.  I am broke and desperate for Lincoln to choose my quote.  I know he has at least two other companies that want the job.  After our meeting, Lincoln tells me about his church.  I had seen the lead pastor of Christ Embassy in Nigeria, Chris Oyakhilome on television before but was not aware they had a satellite church in Mafikeng.  Lincoln invites me, I don’t want to go but I need his business.

‘I’d love to come,’ I say.

It is Sunday and I am parked outside the church.  I want to stay in my car but I have to go inside.  I stand at the door of the small prefab building and stare at the packed room.  Lively black people dancing and singing – I immediately feel spare for coming and that I won’t be welcome.  Where is Lincoln?  He sees me.  Dakota is enticed to the room next door where children go.  She is as apprehensive as me.  I miss her.

The pastor walks into the church; his presence stirs the room as if a king had entered and we are all in awe.   He is wearing a smart suit, his one hand holds onto the front of his jacket and the other arm swings by his side.  His walk is slow and slightly awkward – it might be his shoes that are too long and pointy.  I think they are made of crocodile skin.  He doesn’t look at any of us – only straight down the aisle towards the pulpit.  Two serious tall men, perhaps bodyguards walk behind him.  The music stops and he starts to preach in his Nigerian accent.  His message starts off slow, and then builds up to enthusiastic.  He marches up and down the aisle.  I am on an aisle seat.  I quickly learn to say ‘Amen’ when he says ‘Hallelujah’.  He notices me.  In town, black and white people go to the same churches but white people don’t go to churches in the black communities. I am aware of this.  I remain humble to show I appreciate this fact.  Besides, this is temporary.

At my second meeting with Lincoln I mention to him where I am staying and he immediately arranges for me to meet with the pastor.

I’m sitting alone with the pastor in his lounge and he has barely spoken to me.  He is quiet and seems perplexed.  He keeps leaving the room.  I think he doesn’t know what to do about my situation.  This is awkward.  I’m confident he is going to save us though – his message on Sunday made me believe he has supernatural powers since the Holy Spirit dwells within in him or anyone who believes in Jesus and equips a person to face all circumstances. Wealthy people go to this church – doctors and business owners.  He has arranged for us to temporarily stay at a guest lodge owned by a member of his congregation.  Dakota and I are in heaven.

I volunteer as an usher.  My wardrobe is jeans and t-shirts – always has been.  I have to wear smart black trousers with a blouse and high heels.  I have made a friend, Portia.  She likes smart clothes; she is large and cheeky with dreadlocks, I like her.  She arranges clothes for me from some of the ladies in the congregation.  Ushers stand throughout the service which can go on for hours – in high heels.  I am being trained as a soldier.  Disciplined.  Committed.  I can never miss a meeting or service – being sick is no excuse.  Each Friday at the end of the month is all night prayer, from 6pm until 6am.  I have to stand – in high heels – for 12 hours.  Dakota has a bed made under the table at the back of the church where I stand.  One Saturday morning we had to go to a funeral in an African village, straight after the prayer night.  I wasn’t told that it was unacceptable for a woman to wear trousers in a village and was mocked by the residents.  I learnt to sing songs in Tswana and Zulu even though I had no idea what they meant. I had to catch men and woman on my own – in high heels – that were slain in the spirit (falling down under the anointing of the Holy Spirit) as the pastor prayed for them.

One Sunday, Pastor Ken was coming to visit and flowers were ordered for the church.  The florist whom I knew, arrived during the lively African worship – you can’t help but dance!  She looked stunned.

This was my secret.

 

Bio

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I was a mum without a husband, who had a daughter with a nanny.  I was friends with a game ranger who rode a motorbike.  My neighbour’s house joined onto mine so that we could pop in and out.  I smoked all the time; I had short sticks stacked in each room, available whenever I needed to puff.  I had a bar in my bathroom.  My house was designed around Machona’s hut which was my walk-in wardrobe.  I drove a Landrover.

We played this as often as we could at the compound where my granny’s cook and his wife lived.  We drew each room in the white sand which had been routinely swept by Violet, using her broom made from gathered twigs.

Even though I was aware of terrorists peering at me through the tall grass when I waited outside the army base for the school bus or checked for them under my bed before I went to sleep at night or that my father was mostly away fighting, I mostly didn’t care about the bush war in Rhodesia.  My life was absorbed with my cousins and the visits to my grandparent’s farm.

We had to move to South Africa when I was a teenager and my life was never to be the same.  I yearned for the farm.  We visited home once a year.

In real life I did get married – I got told you had to if you were having children.

After becoming a single mum, I returned to Zimbabwe with my daughter.

To those closest to me, the grown up part of my life story appears full of blunders, and there is little hope for me of a life once dreamed.  Yet I have feathers in my cap too.  I’ve set off the alarm in the Louvre; dated a prince in Holland; stayed with Margaret Thatcher’s former foreign secretary; accommodated Nelson Mandela’s fellow prison comrade; received Nelson’s autograph; lived for two months with my daughter in a tent; flown in the president of Bophuthatswana’s jet; been an usher for a year in an all black church; worked in an orphanage in Mozambique for three months and this year, been my haematologist’s first patient to turn down chemo.  My feathers are perhaps just from a rare bird that no-one recognizes.

The life I really desire is one of freedom.  I long for my days to be soaked in creativity and adventure, full of bubbling hope, waiting in expectation.  Yet I remain trapped in my thoughts that my desire for life to the limit, is not for this life at all.  I think I’ve been tricked.

I admire people who weren’t willing to give up on their desires.  With courage they were able to step out, and with determination, change things.  They conquered their fears of tomorrow.  How does this happen?  How did Erin Brokovich do it?  How does anyone do it?  This has been my search for years.  I think that the switch is inside all of us, it just needs to be released, but for that to happen – you have to trust it first and then let go.

I still yearn for those feelings I had as a child.  I get them sometimes when I drive passed African villages.  I imagine they are content the way I was playing around Machona’s hut.  But then they aren’t part of a game either, they too live in the real world.