FROG HOSPITAL -- July 24, 2020
Amina Was the Younger Sister of Mataka
By Fred Owens
Amina was the younger sister of Mataka. She had lived her entire life in Chembe Village. She was the happiest person I have ever known and she had such pretty feet. I doubt she ever wore shoes. I would encounter her as she walked the 200 feet from her cook shack to the small mountain stream that provided water for the village. She pittered and pattered in light steps carrying a clay jug for the water. She would stop to set down the jug and talk to me. Her smile dazzled me and she told me many stories and gave me much courage in my endeavors and said she hoped we had come to Chembe to make it our home. She spoke to me in her language called Chewa, which I did not understand, not a word she said, except for the smile and the wonderful life-affirming energy.
But she put her smile away for the camera when I took this photo. It was at a village wedding and hence I had permission to take photos and it was expected. We see Mataka on the left with his Muslim hat. We see Precious in her pretty dress which I had bought for her in Pretoria. We see Amina looking down, wearing her festive wrap skirt. And finally we see Lysson Rashid, a young man of the village, looking quite at ease.
Chembe was a quiet place. It was a Muslim village and hence had no dogs, no barking or growling at night. In the first light of dawn, the imam would sing the first call to prayer. To hear this prayer as it was intended, without electric amplifying, in a village without electricity was a haunting experience. The melody is so peaceful. The mosque was a simple adobe-brick structure, and the imam carried his tattered scriptures under his arm. The women did not cover their heads as they would in more religious environs. Here it was simple Islam, as it should be, taken lightly.
Mataka and the two aunties bedded down in Amina's cook shack, warmed by the last coals of the cooking fire. Precious and I were given the more honored position, to sleep on a hard, dirt floor in one room across from the mosque and the chief's house.
Chembe was the chief. It was his village, He was most at ease, treating me as an honored guest and quite his equal. Although I was more than a guest, being married to Precious, I had pledged my life to the village and Chembe, the chief, might show me a plot of land where I might build my home, if I chose to do that. But an equal to Chembe in the sense that he admired me but did not envy me. I had my college education and world travels, he had two wives. He quietly brought out and served a bottle of rum. Of course there is no open consumption of alcohol in a Moslem village, but a quiet drink now and then never hurt anybody. So Chembe and I talked into the evening, seated on chairs, what I suspected were the only two chairs in the village. Hard-wooden chairs. I got tired of that and we went to bed early, to sleep on the hard earthen floor of the hut. I could begin to see that I was not built for long-term occupation of such environs, to live without modern facilities entirely, to grow your own food entirely or not eat. And do this by hand for there were no tractors or other machines. No, not for me.
We stayed one week. Any longer and they would have put us to work. As it was, we had brought many pounds of groceries with us to spread around as guests. And they killed a goat for us. Goat meat has never done much for me, but I appreciated the gesture.
Fathers and Sons. My father published a fishing magazine and he was moved to get one of his two sons involved in the business and to eventually take it over. I can understand that desire. I feel a special thrill knowing that my son Eugene is helping me out. My Dad was quite disappointed that neither my brother nor I want to get involved in his business. We simply had other interests. The funny thing is that my Dad never thought to ask one of my three sisters if they wanted to take over. His bad.
Back in Zimbabwe. One reader's request to input stuff about the culture and politics of Zimbabwe is reasonable. But that is not what I can do.. I stick with what I actually saw and heard plus my immediate reaction to that. But I can make a short exploration of that topic. I noticed the utter lack of political talk when I was there in 1997. Robert Mugabe was the unchallenged president for life at that point, and people kept their mouths shut about his rule. You were free to come and go and go about your business. But to wear a political slogan on a t-shirt was ill-advised. Better to talk about the football game or the weather. Mugabe's rule was authoritarian and that was understood. And still is today, even though Mugabe himself is gone.
Back ground. Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia. From Wikipedia. Cecil Rhodes invaded the Shona kingdom with his private army, took over all the territory, and founded a colony named after himself. Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe. When I lived in Bulawayo I often visited Rhodes's unmarked grave, high on a granite outcropping in Matopos Park. They tore down all his statues, but it was too much trouble to dig up his grave.
Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining magnate, and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate.
One of Rhodes's primary motivations in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote a letter of 1877, "the first race in the world". Under the reasoning that "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race", he advocated vigorous settler colonialism and ultimately a reformation of the British Empire so that each component would be self-governing and represented in a single parliament in London.
There you have it, baldly stated. The English folks who settled in what is now Zimbabwe, believed they were doing the local people a big favor by demonstrating the superiority of their own way of life, what was called Commerce and Christianity.
Back in the USA. As I said on Facebook this morning, the pandemic and quarantine is getting to be a solid drag, like it will never end. We are in the endurance phase, being tempted to cut corners and ignore basic commands. But we must not slack off. It will end, some day.
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Back to Chembe Village. This week's issue is long enough. We will be back next week with more photos from Chembe Village, and more stories from Amina, the wise woman.