ZIMBABWEANS ABROAD are fair game. They won’t be easy to piss off as they’re generally obstinately tolerant (though there are always short-fused exceptions). At first they may dimple up, humoured by your savage ignorance, audacity, and arrogance. So it’s up to you to push buttons straight-faced until their smile fades and a deep-set frown decorates their forehead, crying out “Is this #*%* for real?!?!”
There are millions of Zimbabweans outside the country, living on the East Coast of the US, in the UK, South Africa, and Australia mainly. You may come across a travelling ‘Zimmy’ (a very effective scowl-inducing term to greet any Zimbabwean with. It sounds like a cartoon character from another planet or a really crap scooter). You may even meet one who has lived through a feather-ruffling role-play not unlike the scenarios that follow. All the same, this is a water-tight way of drawing out a reaction if you’ve got nothing better to do when you encounter someone from the teapot-shaped nation.
Ask really naive questions.
It’s always important when getting to know people to ask about where they’re from, right? In this case, there are certain questions that will lead you closer to your goal. These are directly from my own or other Zimbabweans’ real-life experiences:
- “Did you go to a school made of mud?” – one of the first questions I was asked at school in the UK.
- “Did you have to hunt for your dinner?” – a classic, the Big Mac of blinkered questions.
- “Did you go to school on an elephant?” (to which my friend replied, “No, but sometimes there were lions in my garden so I couldn’t go to school.”) – a good example of how the situation may be flipped by a wily Zimbabwean, so tread carefully.
- “Did your dad shave with glass?” – this one utterly confused me as I didn’t know why glass would be so readily available in this boy’s fantastical imaginings of Africa. He followed up with this vintage question on identity…
- “Why aren’t you black?”
There are many more questions you can think up about how wild a Zimbabwean’s life must be. Just have faith and be creative / outrageously naive. Think Lion King.
Say you’re going to see Victoria Falls…from the Zambian side.
Tell them you’re going to visit Victoria Falls because you’ve heard it’s magnificent. Tell them you’ve heard its raw power is incomparable to any other waterfall and it’s something you have to do in your lifetime. Tell them you’re going from the Zambian side.
They will then ask enthusiastically why you don’t walk 10 minutes across the border and see it from the Zimbabwean side too. You now have them in the palm of your devious hand. Explain matter-of-factly that the view is so much better from the Zambian side that there’s no point. This will get a reaction from almost all Zimbabweans, as it’s common knowledge that the Falls and most of its viewpoints drop mainly on the Zimbabwean side. It’s a point of national pride.
As they try to convince you, start to give in a little and say you’d be interested in checking it out but you don’t want to get shot.
Nothing pisses a Zimbabwean off more than exaggerations of violence, so comparing a tranquil riverside resort to a gun-frenzied war zone should get their fuses sparked.
Piss off a white Zimbabwean.
If you meet a white Zimbabwean, the first thing you must do is screw your face up extremely tight when they tell you where they’re from. Really question the fact that white Zimbabweans exist. Remind them that they’re not black. Then screw your face up again. As the conversation moves on and your face relaxes, you must be sure to wear a soft smile that suggests you still don’t believe them.
Another option is to tell them you know all about Zimbabwe. Sympathise that it must’ve been tough losing their farm. When they tell you they lived in a city, give them a knowing look that sees through their attempts to deny the bitter truth of loss. As they tell you more about this ‘city’ they lived in, give a tight, reassuring, wordless squeeze on the shoulder. Just to let them know you understand. As your prey tries to wriggle free and convince you they did actually live in a city with skyscrapers and cinemas, be the bigger, more patronising, person and change the subject.
Piss off a black Zimbabwean.
If you meet a black Zimbabwean, be sure to tell them you have lots of black friends and they’re a good bunch. This will immediately raise tensions and should lead you closer to pissing someone off.
As you talk more, pick up on the fact that they don’t have an ‘African accent.’ Really emphasise that there is a universal ‘African accent’ and you’ve heard it many times. Describe the accent and even do a caricature impression with inflated facial expressions and hand gestures. Explain that the ‘African accent’ is much more bouncy and sing-songy than their own and that they must have spent a lot of time overseas. Skepticism is the key.
Throwing in “Really!?!?” and “Are you sure?!?!” reinforces the disbelief as it undermines their entire backstory and should piss them off.
Call them South African.
There’s a disease affecting many small countries that live in the bulky shadows of their neighbours. New Zealand has it with Australia, Canada with the US, Portugal with Spain, and Zimbabwe with South Africa.
Here’s a great tip. Make your Zimbabwean friend comfortable, get to know where they’re from and what it’s really like there. Once you’ve created this cosy bubble of understanding, start referring to them as South African at every opportunity. They’ll try to reiterate that Zimbabwe is not in South Africa, that they’re two different countries and both are in Southern Africa. Say “Oh, okay.” And ignore them.
When you next introduce them to friends, call them your friend from South Africa. Later on when talking merrily with all your buddies and a topic comes up, ask your friend if it’s like that in South Africa. Follow this formula for the rest of the evening and everything should fall into place, leaving you with a really pissed off Zimbabwean.
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Dikson is a slam poet and writer from Zimbabwe. He spent his adolescence and early twenties in the UK and returned to Zimbabwe in 2009 and has since performed around Europe and Africa. He is now based in Kathmandu, Nepal until the next chapter begins. Find him at diksonslam.com.
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