Every year, when Christmas time comes, the Harare City Council puts up multicoloured lights in First Street, the city’s main road. The lights glow brilliantly like rainbow colours in the dark.
When the lights went up in late November, I was busy running around the city in search of my baby son Tadana’s three-month immunisation jab. As I criss-crossed the city and passed through First Street, I couldn’t help but think that the Christmas lights were a big, tasteless joke given the circumstances in Zimbabwe.
Every day, early in the morning till late into the night, hordes of men and women huddled beneath the lights, waiting and hoping like little Godots to get at their hard-earned cash locked up in banks. Money was in short supply, and once you managed to withdraw some cash it flew away with the wind because of unquantifiable inflation. Perhaps as a sign of their dejection, the people would leave loads of trash below the Christmas lights, turning Harare’s main street into a mess.
I don’t think many of the people waiting in bank queues that stretched like garden worms around the city gave much thought to the Christmas lights. I am sure, for many long-suffering Zimbabweans, the idea of Christmas faded into nothingness under the daily pressure to satisfy temporal necessities.
Anyway, as the Christmas lights blinked away, my wife Michelle and I took baby Tadana to a local clinic, about 3km from where we live. We were shocked to find that were no nurses except for an old lady at the front desk. She informed us that the clinic had no stock of vaccines, and that we had to make our own plan to get baby Tadana vaccinated.
I knew that this meant Michelle and I had to run like dogs until the vaccines were found. Thoroughly dumbfounded, we went home splitting our heads on what to do next. We thought of travelling to South Africa, Botswana or Zambia to find the vaccines but we had no cash.
But as they say in Zimbabwe, you have to make a plan, and then shift it to the left and the right and squeeze it until it is bone dry to make the impossible work. Michelle summoned the mother inside herself and spent one morning at work calling her friends with babies.
Luckily, she was given the names of paediatricians who are filling in the gap left by a public health system that has failed to deliver services to its own people. We contacted one of the paediatricians and for US$2 we managed to get baby Tadana his jab.
I couldn’t help but think about what is happening to millions of children in Zimbabwe born in our season of despair, particularly in the rural areas. Unlike baby Tadana, many children in my country are not receiving essential vaccinations because of the collapse of the public health system.
It’s like a whirlwind that will undoubtedly explode in the coming years: we will surely witness a rise in children’s diseases in my country, and my spirit stings with pain at the thought.
Soon after baby Tadana received his jab, which made him bawl madly, we took him on his longest journey in the human world — to Mutare, approximately 265km from Harare. It’s Zimbabwe’s third largest city, located in the eastern highlands and notorious for the nouveau riche flaunting loads of cash made from blood diamonds.
In recent years, thousands and thousands of Zimbabweans have flocked to Chiadzwa, a rural compound a few kilometres outside Mutare, to try their luck at searching for diamonds. The blood diamonds have made many people in the country get rich quickly while many others have lost their lives.
We arrived in Mutare at night after driving non-stop for nearly three hours. From the top of Christmas Pass, which provides a panoramic view of the city, Mutare’s multicoloured lights look like a splatter of Christmas crackers in the dark.
Michelle, Tadana and I were in Mutare for a clean-up campaign to sweep trash off the city’s streets with a group of young people who live in the city, as part of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence. The young people were members of Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe, a youth organisation committed to a free, democratic and just Zimbabwe.
Michelle asked me to join so that I would look after baby Tadana while she coordinated the clean-up activities. As I carried him around Mutare city centre, I was amazed at the many stares that came our way from both men and women.
There is a general stereotype that African men should not be seen in public carrying tiny babies. It is regarded as a European thing for an African man to carry a baby. I guess the stereotype is that men are just supposed to provide the baby’s material needs while the emotional, soft, lovey-dovey stuff should be solely the domain of women.
Whatever the case, carrying Tadana around gave me the closest sensation to being pregnant that I think I could ever muster. To my satisfaction, Tadana never cried. The way I see it, men need to claim the space of fatherhood and show warmth, love and affection to their children.
When Tadana was born three months ago, I could never have predicted the script that has played out so far. The journey from the pregnancy through to the birth and first earthly months of baby Tadana has been mercurial, jagged, rolling and full of new things that I daresay my creative imagination could never conjecture.
In sum, it’s been a journey with all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns, much like my home country’s political and socioeconomic landscape.
As we drove up towards Christmas Pass, on our way back to Harare after being in Mutare for 24 hours, baby Tadana began babbling many sounds more than he has done in the past. On our parenthood journey, Michelle and I eagerly look forward to the day when baby Tadana will speak his first actual words.
But we make it a point to thoroughly cherish and embrace each moment with our little bundle of joy. All said, when next Christmas comes, baby Tadana will surely have much to talk about.