A freestyle on leaving Zimbabwe
IT’S THURSDAY MORNING and I’m sitting in a music class in Kathmandu, Nepal. Last night I was on a plane watching dusk settle on the Himalayas, a lone cloud pulsing lightning within itself like an electric heart. 2 days ago I was in Harare, Zimbabwe, my country of birth, bidding farewell to friends and family. I think back to the last 10 days as I inhale this new city, its fumes and fragrances equally potent.
In Harare I was working for the Magamba Cultural Activist Network as one of the organisers of Shoko Festival, a brimming toast to urban culture and art. Its walls drip-dried the street rainbow of graffiti, MCs and poets wrote the script and musicians crafted a track for the city to move to. You know you’re organising a festival when you feel like an insomniac and every high note in a song or clinking glass sounds like the intro to your Nokia theme tune.
My mind skims back over the Indian Ocean to Sunday, the last day of the festival. It had been a week of constant movement and one too many late nights. The final event was to be held in Glen Norah township on the outskirts of Harare’s city centre. My brother (one of the founders of the festival) and I drove out in the midday heat; summer had announced its clammy-handed welcome a few weeks prior. With my arm outstretched to the wind I thought about what the next few months would be like in a country I knew next to nothing about.
It’s a familiar feeling for me, coming from Zimbabwe and being uprooted as a young teenager and replanted in the not so welcoming soils of English state school. Of growing to embrace change. Of learning to immerse yourself in something alien until it becomes a part of your soul and story. I knew Nepal only through my partner’s pixelated descriptions of it on broken Skype lines. I liked it that way. It meant my eyes had so much more to be opened to when my feet hit the ground.
We arrived in Glen Norah township and parked under an oasis of a tree in the barren car park lined with sun-cracked shopfronts for beer halls and market stalls. The stage was set up under a drooping off-white marquee, speakers blaring out basslines from Dubstep to Dancehall. I know for certain there are few times in my life that I will witness music being felt and its therapy so unashamedly expressed as purely as I did that day. From children turning the dusty dance floor into a playground to the lonely old soul fumbling his way purposefully through soundwaves like the Drunken Master.
I made a note of the old shoe repairmen smiling broad and crooked. I made a note of the black and white community of young Zimbabweans that support art, freedom, and movement towards a better place, a community that exists. I made a note of my love for these memories. It will never fade. Nor my love for all the good things that rarely pass lips when Zimbabwe is mentioned. When you hear Zimbabwe you hear Dictator, Mugabe, farm invasions. There is so much more to this book than its overused review of despairing headlines.
The car park slowly filled up with festival-goers from the city and passersby drawn to the new installations in their neighbourhood, their afternoon plans scribbled out with each footprint, doodled over with each gyration. Artists from Africa, Europe, and the Americas wore humble smiles. You could almost see them unlocking that special place where treasured memories are kept. The sun slid its way, leaving snail trails of orange and pink, towards nightfall drawing curtains on the festival and my time in Zimbabwe…for now.
The madness of the festival hadn’t spared me a moment to think much about leaving. After a day of bag packing and last-minute shopping sprees, I started to think more towards the city in the valley, Kathmandu. My dreams built temples, unearthed mountains, and spilt rivers on a half-formed landscape. Still I didn’t know what to expect and that made me smile as I prepared to chip away another little piece of me to leave in the ‘House of Stone,’ Zimbabwe.