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Conversation With My Past: The Road To Grandpa's Hut

The road to Sekuru's (grandfather) home is still the way it was when I first visited three decades back – still dusty, rugged and flood...

The road to Sekuru's (grandfather) home is still the way it was when I first visited three decades back – still dusty, rugged and floods when it rains, if it ever rains. 

A solo, battered ferry bus, the only fuelled transporter, now seldom comes except when its election time - when four-wheel, tinted cars bearing party slogans will appear. Now the route mainly serves as a passage for cattle-drawn carts destined for yearly food relief points.

That first time, in 1985, we arrived at their home just before darkness blurred our vision. The immense heat of Zimbabwe’s Dande Valley scorched each living organism without reprieve. Dotted poles and dagga homes emitting plumes of smoke indicated our destination. 

Sekuru and Ambuya (Grandfather and Grandmother) were in the fields tending their cotton plantation. As the bus drove past lifting a ball of dry earth into the thin air, the two joined the reunion. 

A cockerel was slaughtered to enlighten our welcome. 
The Road To My Grandfather's Home Remains The Same 
Home is best 

What a taste, so different from the city’s deep-fried fast food. At least the cock had fathered a generation.

After offloading our luggage we joined local boys for a village tour. Our attention was drawn to a male pig try to mount a sow that was on heat. Before he could perform – a pack of dogs disrupted him. The pair trotted outside the village. We followed the pair until the act reached a climax.

Dinner was served later. We visitors had drumsticks and chikanganwahama, gizzards. After supper, we circled around the fire for our Sekuru’s folktales. “Once upon a time, there lived a rabbit, a baboon and their families.” He began. “One year there was a drought in the land...” 

It would end with the rabbit tricking the baboon and his naive wife and the two families always lived in confrontation ever after. Then there was the intelligent tortoise that finally scammed rabbit into submission. 

Afterwards Sekuru would explain the lesson of the story.

When we got up the next morning Sekuru had left already. Breakfast was tea, pumpkin, homemade bread prepared in Ambuya’s three-legged black pot. “This is our bread, enjoy it my grandchildren.” She said with her inviting smile. 

Why do hate sleeping?

Your Sekuru left for the fields. He is worried about the crops. It has not rained for a while.” She suddenly went hush and we finished our breakfast in silence.

Laughter only resumed when he returned. “I have brought you grasshoppers for dinner.” He said as he offloaded the six-legged creatures into a clay pot. “I can predict it, it will finally rain soon. The rains are here.” 

Then he dragged his heavy feet to bed. Before the next day’s cock crowed Sekuru was gone – again. He was allergic to sleep.

That morning we left for the pastures to herd livestock the next day. There fights, feasts of wild fruit and other secrets escapades ensured. Later that afternoon as we drove the herd home it was pouring – just like Sekuru’s prediction. 
Tilling The Fields 
The goats and sheep ran in the front. Beasts trotted lazily, their bulging bellies swishing. Africa – the Brahman bull anchored the herd. Everyone was scared for our own safety including Sekuru. “How did you get through the river in this pouring rain?

Bitter medicine 
Ambuya asked – her face concerned. No one was supposed to tell. It was a boys’ secret pledge but I had to.

That night my stomach gave with a bug, probably too much fruits and honey. I wriggled the whole night in pain. “He will be alright, he is a fighter.” Sekuru made me stronger. Before the dew dried the next morning, Ambuya went into the bush clutching a small hoe. 

Minutes passed and she returned with roots wrapped in her zambia, a woman’s wrapping cloth. She methodically crushed them and mixed with warm water.

She made me drink it. It was bitter. She forced it down. I gurgled. I vomited. She persisted. I gave in. By midday my stomach was running normally. For the first time the next day – I saw Sekuru rising up because the running tummy still kept me awake.

“Sekuru – why do you hate sleeping?” I asked him.

He stroked my hair and said, “I don’t want to be like Murambiwa, the forsaken one.”
Boys With Herds Of Cattle 
“Who is this Murambiwa, Sekuru?”

“You will know when you grow up my friend.”

A week later our stay was over. School would be opening. We packed to leave the village. That moment I remembered Sekuru’s earlier promise – so I reminded him. “You promised me a cow to take home. Which one can I take?” Everyone laughed.

“There are no paddocks in the city. Where will you keep it? I will keep it for you and then you can come and see her when you return.” He told me. It made sense. We left, our bags bursting with wild fruits with the promise to revisit.

In the city 
One day much later, Sekuru came to the city with Ambuya. I found him sitting under the mango tree with my Father. I rushed towards them. Sekuru sipped whisky. Baba preferred larger. “Sekuru – tell me how is Africa, the Bahaman bull? Does he have ...” 

Baba cut me short before I posed another question to him.

“First you greet and ask later. That shows some respect,” he cautioned.
Grandpa Comes To Town 
I greeted him hastily. Then he told me “Africa strayed from the herd and was killed in the landmine field. I have brought you biltong to eat and remember him. I know you liked him very much. He was a docile bull and adored by everyone.”

“No, I will not eat Africa. He was my friend.” I protested and ran away in anger.

Sekuru swiveled his glass and emptied the contents. Father poured another generous portion of Jack Daniels whisky – “Old No. 7” – then a half-moon of lemon, ice, just a splash of water not to spoil the taste and colour and he handed Sekuru the glass. He sniffed it. 

“This is the stuff for gentlemen, not for Murambiwa.” Then he took a gulp.

Early on the seventh day, I walked with him to the bus station. “I only retired to the village but I am not a villager like Murambiwa.” He told me.

As he walked away from me towards the bus he looked youthful in his dark suit and matching oval hat.

Then this year I heard the news that Sekuru has passed on in his village. I was far away in another country – but not too far to grief. Then all the memories came flooding.

Farewell sekuru 

It’s been three decades now since I first travelled this same dirty road – this time it is not to visit but to bury you.
"Sekuru, Do You Still Remember The Day Grandma Passed On?" 

In your wake is the rich legacy and tales of wisdom. Sekuru – they say the road will finally be tarred. It’s not the right time to laugh but I cannot suppress it. Sekuru, do you still remember the day Ambuya died - the day she left you alone after all those decades together? 

Afterwards you never visited like before. 

Things were never the same but I always thought about you, about your wise stories. I am sure you finally reunited with Ambuya.

Sekuru, I am striving to be the rabbit not the baboon as you said: “The baboon represents people who sit on their talents not wanting to do anything in life - they always want to use other people but always end in trouble.” I am striving Sekuru– I promise you. The hard and careful thinkers are tortoises who never make hasty decisions. I will be one of them.

And Sekuru – I am now mature. I now know about Murambiwa – the outcast villager called in by women to scare toddlers to eat their own food. He digs pit latrines for a pot of beer while his family starves. It’s him who dragged Africa out of the landmine field, it’s always him who eats miscarried animal foetus and skins goats at funerals. 

Once upon a time, he burnt the pasture in search of mice. I have seen many like him, and I admire nothing about Murambiwa, grandfather, never.
Farewell Grandpa 
Did you know why I refused to eat Africa, the bull Sekuru? It was because I crossed the flooded, roaring river holding on to his tail. It was the bull that pulled me across, otherwise I would have died before you. I am sorry, I never told but now I have to so that you can rest in peace. 

And when I said I fell from a tree, I also lied. I lost in a fist fight. I was trying to be a man - like you. I don’t want to be a coward. I know you knew these things already. After all, you were that age once.

Sekuru, I promise to visit you. When you meet Ambuya, tell her I miss her dearly. Tell her I now know how to gather herbs and mix them just like she used to.

My children, her great grandchildren will never suffer from stomach pains as long as I remember her secret formula. Grasshoppers have become my favourite dish. I gather them whenever I can and prepare the dish just like Ambuya did.

I still have more in my heart. Till we meet again. - Kalahari Review

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