Back to the future: memories of my Uncle

Taruvinga Magwiroto

Time: 10.45am   Place: Reading, UK

I have been sitting still at my desk for hours, looking outside my window at the little green square blurred by the light driving rain. I have been thinking about Babamukuru, my uncle who recently died back in Vurile Village, the place that- for a long time-I called home.

He is dead, our dear Babamukuru. But in our traditional culture, African elders don’t really die: they are promoted to a next, better realm. They lay down the physical mantle to take up the spiritual crown of lineal leadership, in the hallowed world of Nyikadzimu.

He was a rather fearsome man, was our Babamukuru. He had to be. He practically took over the upkeep of the whole sub-clan of our family: the children of 2 dead brothers, plus his own, and those of a recalcitrant young brother. And he had to make that large family work. When drunk, he was known to boast: “I’m a father of eleven boys!”

Rearing eleven boys of different ages and persuasions is no joking matter. No wonder he did not do smiles. In fact, he was more famous for snarling and swearing, and throwing stones and being an all-round bad-ass hell-raiser. We lived in awe of him!

I have been thinking of that particular childhood. On a typical day, Babamukuru would expect you to wake up at 4 am, and yoke the oxen for a solid one and half hours of ploughing. Then you quickly milked the cows, before dashing 2 km to Mutirikwe River for a cool dip in preparation for going to school. If it was one of those January days, you knew you were getting out into the drizzle, with a makeshift raincoat fashioned out of an empty mealie-meal bag. Either way you got thoroughly wet as you trudged 10 km to school. Being late was a matter of course, but worse was the uncomfortable 3 hours that you spent waiting for your clothes to dry on your body.

For me, books were always an escape, one way or another. I was an avid reader, and a rural life sometimes affords one the chance to do that. I read while in school. I read on weekends tending to the cattle. I read at night, and experienced great people and great emotions; I got touched by great minds and saw an unlimited potential for greatness in a world of words. I dreamt dreams, and devoured the print, only sometimes to be dashed by the candle burning itself out or the lamp running out of kerosene.

My being here in the UK was something Babamukuru could not really predict. Of me he would always say: “You, you would be doing B.A. at University if your father had some sense!” Of course B.A was to him the highest degree that an African could achieve! It was a metaphor for academic success.

Well, I got the B.A and more. Yet I see his point now. I was a fluke. The odds against me were huge. The more likely thing was to flounder in the stifling, unforgiving heat of Vurile, guzzling the potent mukumbi brew and coaxing some precarious livelihood out of the hard unyielding earth.

There is nothing inherently bad about that life. If anything, it is a life that teaches people to appreciate life and beauty of the physical environment. An existence that fosters an appreciation of the unbreakable link between life and the physical environment.  A life that teaches you that the “soil” can get angry; and that life comes from the soil. It is fraught with risk of course: a drought is a catastrophe. But where on earth is life completely risk free? There are just different types of risk, but risk all the same.

Yet it could be better. The schools could be better. The facilities could be better. The water sources could be nearer to where people live.

I will be back to Vurile Village someday to see where Babamukuru has been laid to rest. I will “throw” a little stone at his grave as per custom, and breathe the air that brought me up. I will lay the foundations that will allow little boys like me to realise their dreams without having to drag up their roots. To enable them to dream and actualise rural lives with meaningful futures. To make the mandatory trek to urban cities a luxury that many can choose to forgo.

I am a fluke. My mission is to increase the life chances of all the young rural boys and girls growing up in Vurile Village, dreaming dreams and seeing visions of a better life.

My path is set, the die is cast. There is really only one way for me: back to the future.

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