Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I am skipping ahead. Another story is how Precious and I met. People asked me that many times, "How did you meet her?"  Sometime soon I will tell that story. For now I will say that our meeting was arranged, quite informally, by a man named Joseph. Things happened quickly after that --- but I will tell you later.

This was our cottage on Airport Road, in the back of the big house. It was one room, with one electric light on the ceiling and a hot plate for cooking and ironing. The cold water tap was outside. The flush toilet was in the back. It was very simple.

I mentioned the hot plate for cooking and ironing. For cooking you understand how it is used, but in Zimbabwe people place a heavy non-electric iron on the surface of the hot plate until it is warm enough to use to remove the wrinkles.

Zimbabweans do a lot of ironing. It is a national past-time. They like to look sharp.

We talked about the Ernest the Garden Boy -- you can imagine him nearby moving slowly. You can imagine the mistress and her young daughter in the big house in front of the property. And now you see this photo of our little romantic hideaway, where we stayed in the first two weeks of our relationship in February, 1997.

There was only a double bed for furnishings, plus the table and two chairs as you see them placed outside the door during the good weather.

Precious showed me the typical domestic arrangements. She cooked and ironed and washed from a kneeling position because there was no table, except the one outside. I think she was used to that, although her grandfather's house, where we visited later on, had a more complete kitchen with tables and shelves and a refrigerator. Her grandfather's living room had a set of furniture with a couch and love seat.

But this cottage had none of that and Precious seemed accustomed to it -- kneeling. I had been traveling for a month and I was not clean. She fixed me a bath with hot water heated on the hot plate, and then poured the hot water over me in the back of the house where the cold water tap was. I scrubbed all over so I no longer smelled or looked so dirty.

Then she washed my clothes in a bucket. This was using cold water and just scrubbing and rinsing, and then hanging the clean clothes to dry on the barbed-wire fence next to the cottage.

There are no washing machines in Zimbabwe. Women -- sometimes men -- wash all the clothes by hand. People with money do not buy a washing machine, they simply hire a poor woman to wash the clothes for them.

Precious was neither rich nor poor by Zimbabwe standards. She did for herself and her family.

The clothes dried and she ironed them to a stage of wrinkle-free perfection. This took hours, with heating the iron over the hot plate and then ironing on a towel folded on the floor.

African people -- at least in Zimbabwe, as I met them -- are very clean. Precious even told me once, in confidence, that white people were a little smelly to her.

But I never saw such ironing and cleaning in my life, and my clothes, as they came off the barbed wire, all sun-dried, felt like royal garments. I felt like a new man. Re-born. I asked her to marry me. Or it was more like we agreed that we should get married. And not right away, but we were closing the deal and things like this happen quickly in Zimbabwe.

I would never have done it -- become engaged -- if I had stopped to think about it.  But I felt so good. Nobody had ever looked after me so well  -- and there was what I could do for her too, being a good man who would not beat her or cheat on her but would treat her kindly and I had money.

Love can flourish in poverty. Add money and it can still flourish.

And she cooked too. On that hot plate, in the morning, she made fried eggs with fried potatoes and a big slab of white bread from the bakery smeared with margarine, served with hot tea with sugar.

At night, dinner was sadza and meat. Sadza is a stiff cornmeal porridge  -- it is the staple of Zimbabwean cuisine, but there is no cuisine in Zimbabwe, no cunning, no subtlety. The old tribal people -- the Shona, Ndebele, Kalanga, Tonga and others -- they ate plainly. and any culinary sophistication was stamped out of them by a hundred years of British occupation.

The British built a beautiful infra-structure in Zimbabwe -- bridges, railroads, sewer systems, electric power plants, and the like -- but they ruined the cooking.

Go to the old French and Portuguese colonies for good food in Africa.

She cooked, I sat in the chair by the front door, as you can see in the photo. Six months later we were married. A year later we moved to America. Things went badly after that in America, but the first year in Africa was very good. And we were good to each other. It was easy to be good to reach other in that little cottage.

Even when we rented the nice house later on, she kept doing the laundry by hand. I said we can hire somebody. She said no, she said, "I won't have some other woman in my house."

There is so much more to tell. Like how we met. And I will tell you about the Aunties. Precious had very many aunties, but it was Aunt Winnie and Aunt Janet who smiled on us and wished us well -- another time for that story. I have a photo of them.

The truth? I wish I had never gone to Africa. It was a disaster. To marry an African woman so different from me was stupid to a high degree. I just got tired of regretting this incredible mistake, so I have decided to tell this story, which includes and amplifies all the good parts, and this way I do not feel like such a foolish person.

And besides, what if I had stayed home? At least I have a story.

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