By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba
Late 1970. Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, was burning. I was nearly five years old, already accustomed to fear and terror. Conditioned, so to speak.
A war was raging throughout Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Bullets, helicopter patrols, night vigils with guerilla fighters bent on mobilizing the masses, and soldiers from the minority white colonial regime beating the hell out of everybody was the menu of our days.
The war was getting hot, and there was no end in sight. I was living with my grandparents — my pillars of support during that senseless war.
My grandmother tells the story of how she used her body once to shield me from the enemy’s bullet. Back then, the colonial soldiers fired bullets at the peasants with reckless abandon. One day, the soldiers visited my grandparents’ homestead looking for freedom fighters. My grandmother was alone, and she had to hide me behind her back to save me — just in case a bullet was fired. She said she was willing to die for me if the soldiers had decided to shoot. Hearing that story always brings tears to my eyes. Just how much love can a grandparent have for a grandchild?
There was a time in my boyhood when I stole into my grandmother’s cooking hut and began feasting on a potful of black-eyed beans meant for lunch. The temptation just gripped me — I guess I loved the way my grandmother cooked. My grandmother caught me in the middle of the act and admonished me for stealing.
I was very embarrassed because I had no intention to anger my grandmother. In fact, that’s the only time I ever saw my grandmother angry. I must have been nine years old then. Of course, my grandmother had a right to be angry because the meal she was preparing was supposed to serve more than 20 members of the extended family.
I have no idea of when I started living with my grandparents. I must have been too young to recall. My mother divorced when she was pregnant with me, and had to go through an agonizing delivery with only my grandmother by her side. My grandmother named me.
My mother married again. And, for whatever reason, I couldn’t stay with her. So, I lived with my grandparents. My days with my grandparents were free and full of life, in spite of the war that raged in the background.
I remember walks into the woods that I took with my grandfather — a great farmer indeed. During those walks, my grandfather shared with me great medicinal secrets of the wild plants. I could have never learned this from anyone else. But to be honest twelve years of hard schooling Western style have erased all the indigenous knowledge. My grandfather taught me the value of hard work. He experimented with new agricultural methods that set him a cut above his peers. I drew all that in.
My grandfather planted within me a great love for nature. He taught me to listen to the silent and free lessons of wisdom that nature always imparts. Today, whenever I find the opportunity, I lose myself in nature wherein I find the center of my being.
My grandmother teased me once, saying that I talked to trees, birds and flowers. Well, I do. My grandfather taught me how to do it.
In retrospect, I think my grandparents had such a weak spot for me that they showered me with a love that could only reveal the best within me. After all, it was love that I had been denied — and love they were prepared to give me. In one way, I was like their last born child.
My grandmother taught me to love without judgment. She also taught me the importance of freedom, and how to set boundaries around that freedom. She taught me to see that unbounded freedom is only a cause of disaster.
She did it in her own special way, like waking me up every early morning to go to the fields. Like teaching me how to milk the cows. Above all, she taught me to be proud of myself. Living with her, I never missed the father or mother I never knew — frankly, I didn’t care.
Besides this, my grandmother was a real spoiler, and I loved her for it.
I was as free as a butterfly, and my grandparents gave me space to explore the magic of what it meant to be alive. I know I carry their spirit within — their love for each other, and their love for the earth.
I do not feel any lesser of a human being because my biological father abandoned me, or that my mother chose a new husband over me.
Anyway, I did join my mother at some stage in my life, but it was my grandparents that defined who I am in the world today — free spirited, loving, and courageous.
Sometimes, life has a way of throwing things at us that have the potential to make us stronger.
I am a stronger person for having lived with my grandparents. The unconditional love that they showed me remains a great light in my life.
My grandfather passed on a decade ago. During that period my grandmother has lost four of her sons. In spite of this my grandmother’s wisdom still shines like the morning sun. I sincerely hope that it’s a quality that inspires me too.
I still ask her questions as I did when I still had wet milk on my nose. And her responses still amaze me as they did then. In February last year, my grandmother passed away.