Adventures in the field: at the beaches of Binga!

Taruvinga Magwiroto

That year in Hurungwe still stands out as the most significant in my career. If anything, it confirmed that at least I was no slouch in terms of professional skills and knowledge. That was the basis of my authority anyway: strip that away, I was nothing really. So I was happy with my level, and had seen and done enough to be self-satisfied in that regard.

But I can’t leave that chapter without detailing some of the capers we had with our colleagues in the NGO sector. If you remember my area of work was in Musambakaruma, Nyaminyami District. It was (and still is) a marginal area by every measure, and was heavily targeted by NGOs seeking to improve the livelihoods of the people. Being extension workers on the ground, the NGOs worked closely with us, and we got to know some of their field workers very closely. One such NGO was Save the Children UK, represented on the ground by one Godfrey, formerly an AGRITEX extension worker in the Ministry of Agriculture.

At one time, we were invited for a one week training workshop in Binga, in Matabeleland North. I will never forget the journey from Siyakobvu to Binga. We ensconced ourselves in the standard NGO four by four, and settled down to enjoy the lengthy ride. Part of the journey was tarmac, but the bulk was dust. Nyaminyami and Binga areas are basically the same: both are located in the northwest low-lying areas of Zambezi Valley that have been settled by the ethnic Tonga-speaking people of Zimbabwe. They are home to some of the major game reserves, and boast of large swathes of natural vegetation. The road snakes its way among the mopani and tree bush savannah. You are surrounded by forces of nature on either side of the road: from giant baobab trees dominating the plains to the occasional rampaging herds of elephants that you respectfully stayed well away from as they unhurriedly crossed the road.

Soon, we came across dwellings by the roadside: ramshackle things on stilts, where small children excitedly ran close to the road and vigorously waved until we were out of sight…

We stopped at one or two road-side shops along the way for the drinkers amongst us to re-fuel. “Shops” were basic thatched affairs; with solar panels connected to radios blaring away some crisp “museve” music. One of our colourful colleagues from AGRITEX, Jonah by name, disembarked and did an energetic jig that drew much laughter and applause. They bought whatever alcohol was available, deep here in the Tonga heartland. It never amazes me how beer often finds its way even in the remotest of places…

We arrived in Binga late at night. Binga Centre itself was like any other small town in Zimbabwe: bright lights; music blaring from loud-speakers; and the night life! What struck me was the long fleet of different NGO vehicles lined up among the night spots! Anyway for the moment we were tired, so we were shown our living quarters at Tusimbe Pastoral Centre and retired for the night.

The purpose of the workshop was to train in some aspect of community participation methodologies. The workshop was being facilitated by two guys: a young, extremely nervous intern-type, and an older consultant-type gentleman. The actual content of the training is blurry now, mostly because I didn’t really understand what the heck they were talking about then. NGO-speak has not been my strong suit: I feel that NGOs are always getting out of their way to make simple, homely things look extremely complicated!

Anyway, most of us could not wait for the training to finish. Most of the guys loved the night life, and apparently they fell in love with a little place going by the moniker “Kudya”. “Kudya” is Tonga/Shona for “eat” or in this context, for something more much more delectable than sadza and vegetables! From the wild stories that the guys came back regaling us late at night, Kudya was more. Much, much more…

Personally, I had found my own niche. My first forays in the surroundings had taken me to a hairdresser/barber manned by a beautiful girl dreamily playing Destiny’s Child’s “Brown Eyes” on repeat. More than that, I somehow ended up befriending a young local Tonga girl who agreed to show me places. So on the one day that we were given an early break, the rest of the guys hit town. I held back, since I had an appointment with Smelinkosi (that was her name). She took me to the Zambezi River where there was some stretch of natural beach. Some enterprising guy was planning to build something along the shore, so there was a huge pile of tyres beside the beach. We sat on the tyres in the shade, admiring the wide swathe of the Zambezi. I had never seen so much water in my life, it looked surreal. I stripped to my shorts and we both took a cool dip. We stayed in the shallows, and quickly got out. I can’t swear it now, but I think I saw a dark silhouette of something in the waters moving towards us. I always break out in sweat thinking about what kind of tragedy could have happened in the dark waters of the Zambezi that fateful day…

The week passed away fast enough. Soon it was time to return home. I don’t really know why but the Binga experience somehow has stayed with me after all these years. Maybe it was the memory of a young girl who knew far too much for her age. Maybe it was Beyonce’s evocative, velvety, reflective refrain “remember the first day…”. I don’t know… maybe it was the “first day” that I felt really in love with my career!

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