I have a friend named Fumiso (Fum-EE-so) Dhliwayo. You pronounce the surname, Dlah-WHY-oh and if you move a little spit around in the sides of your mouth, the pronunciation will be as close to authentic as the English tongue can get. People most often go by their surnames, but my friend makes it easy on me and lets me call her Fumi. Fumi is a petite woman who I have never seen without a stocking cap. Her incisor teeth seem pronounced with her front teeth missing. She is wearing basketball shoes, high tops rolled down, and no laces. (I gave her a pair of laces fresh from the States.)
Fumi invited me to her house today. She came to pick me up at my office, and after I donned my sneakers, iPod, cell phone, camera, a few dollars, flashlight (they say ‘torch’), notepad and water bottle, we began walking or “footing” as the locals say. Fumi was carrying nothing and had on flip flops. After 6 km we turned off the dusty main road onto the shortcut to her house. The shortcut was a steep downhill foot path that is impassible in the rainy season. I love walking in Zimbabwe. First of all, the scenery is gorgeous. There are gum trees, hanging vines and the sound of monkeys swinging in the forest over your head. We passed people who always have a warm greeting and a handshake. Several times we stopped to chat with people passing by. The fragrant smell of a lovely flowering tree called Three Sisters is in the air. The added bonus of walking is getting acquainted with a new friend.
Fumi is thirty-eight years old. She is the mother of twin 14 year old girls, Selina and Celia. Selina goes to Form 1 which is like being a freshman in high school. She is a day schooler which means she walks 8 kilometers to school every day. Celia was held back in Grade 7 and attends school locally. She also has twin toddler girls named Jessica and Janette who have African names that I won’t remember until I write them down and memorize them. Fumi’s 57 year old mother also lives in the home, a house of women. Fumi has a husband who she says has mental health issues and can’t hold down a job. With the unemployment rate reported between 80 and 95%, that seems a very common ailment. Her husband is living with his parents in the capitol city, Harare, an 8 hour drive away. He doesn’t send money or see the children.
We arrived at her home and were greeted by her mother who looked more like seventy. The mother was taking care of Janette and Jessica. Janette had her thumb firmly implanted in her mouth, where it stayed the entire visit. I was impressed by her homestead. The three room home was made of plaster covered brick. It boasted a flat, corrugated asbestos roof, which is the material of choice in Zimbabwe. Asbestos is far preferable to the lower priced tin roofs or the nearly free but insubstantial thatched roofs. The house had a miniscule covered veranda, adding a touch of hominess. In the yard was an animal pen made of woven sticks that held rocky rabbits, or guinea pigs, at eye level. The rest of the pen was for goats, but it was empty. The compound yard was neatly swept red dirt. The yard had chickens pecking in the dirt, three hens and four chicks. Beyond the animal pen was a round thatched roofed outdoor kitchen where the family cooked with wood. The older twins, Celia and Selinda alternated days to cook the African food staple, sadza.
Fumi showed me around her small, woman-run farm. She was particularly proud of her avocado pear trees which she planted herself seven years ago. They are bearing fruit for the first time this year. Avocado pears are a variety of avocados that can grow as big as a child-size football. A single fruit will be a full meal. I like them with salt and lemon juice. She also planted a small banana orchard, which bear fruit 18 months after planting. She has a grove of gum trees for fire wood. She had a small fenced garden with tomatoes, giant spinach and the traditional green, kova.
Inside, the house consisted of a center living area. The red, polished cement floor sparkled. The home was fresh and tidy, even with the animal cage in the corner containing twin day-old guinea pigs. This is a house of twins! Doors from the living area led to sleeping rooms for the family.
Fumi told me about her struggle to survive and provide for her children. She saved money to buy some goats to raise meat. Her seventeen year old neighbor, who is a relative and “very mischievous,” stole her goats in the middle of the night. She was in her living room just a few meters away but was helpless to stop him. He sold them to buy beer, she believes. He stole her chickens, too. I asked if she has spoken to the boy or to his parents. She said, she spoke to her mother-in-law (a person of great honor in Zimbabwean culture) but her mother-in-law instructed her to keep quiet to avoid trouble in the family. I asked if she ever thought of trying to talk to his parents. She said, no, she couldn’t, which baffles me, given my cultural framework.
Fumi showed me a photo of her husband’s parents smiling on a garden bench. They looked, if appearances are anything, like any urban, middle class family, smartly dressed. There was a canvas tote bag sitting between them with a United Church of Christ Zimbabwe logo on it. She told me they were members of UCCZ, as is she.
All Fumi wants in this world is enough food to feed her children and enough money to pay their school fees. She says she worries about their future day and night. She is worried she will die and her children and mother will be left with nothing. Her fears are warranted because Fumi, along with her husband and one daughter, is HIV positive.
Don and Maryjane Westra
Mt. Selinda, Zimbabwe
Donald and Maryjane Westra are missionaries with the United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe. Donald serves as staff to the Micro-Enterprise and Strategic Planning/Management Program at Mt. Selinda. Maryjane serves as a health and child care consultant at Mt. Selinda.