Zimbabwe – Home is Where the Heart Is – Reflections of a scholarly traveler – by Malvern Madondo. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to see the ways that you yourself have changed.” – Nelson Mandela
It was early December, two weeks before final exams and a week before my long flight back to Zimbabwe. I was going home for the first time since coming to the US to commence my first year studies. I was leaving a week before finals. International flights close to major holidays like Christmas are very expensive; I had booked my flight late enough so that I could take my exams, but early enough so that the prices wouldn’t be exorbitant. Anxiety and stress became me, yet there was the promise of going home. Home.
I remember feeling quite relieved when I submitted my last project and bade farewell to friends gliding in the hallways and tunnels leading to the library, chasing after grades and trying their best to prevent their GPA from nose-diving to a bare minimum. Only a few understood why I would be leaving so soon or why I would be traveling so far. My journey was 3 days long, including multiple stops in 3 different countries. Multiple stops, the ultimate price for a cheap flight.
I can think of several reasons why I needed to go home. To get away from everything. To find myself. To be with company and not feel alone or lonely as I often did at school. To be with family. To find motivation. To … I had been away for 16 months and that might seem too long for those who families live close enough to visit often. It may also seem too short for those who have had to be away for decades. Each person is different and has a different narrative. After 16 months of trying to acclimatize to the US culture, trying to stay afloat and at my best in my academics and other aspects of life, I welcomed the opportunity to go home as the biblical prodigal son was welcomed by his father.
I remember feeling quite overwhelmed when I approached the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The plane was humongous and I was glad I only had one person to my left and a window and the rest of the world to my right. In due time we departed and the airport, at first, became blurry lines of light as the jet sped by, and then became an eclipse of the night and the endless lights surrounding. I will not talk about the rest of my journey, for it might require more space than I have here. However, three days and 2 nights later, I arrived home.
I arrived home weary and smelly-sort-of. Bathing is a luxury on a long flight to a distant corner of the world. I was also missing my entire luggage save my carryon and backpack. Lost in transit, my bags arrived a couple days later, thankfully, and looking like they had survived a massive fight. Never buy a beautiful luggage piece when traveling trans-oceanic, always go for the strongest. There was no welcoming party at the airport when I arrived at noon, on the third day after leaving the US. My brother-in-law was there to pick me up, and I had no strength to explain why I only had a carryon and a backpack. In Zimbabwe, often a lot is expected from one who has been away, especially coming from THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I felt like a tourist, coming from the airport and passing through the city center, towards home, on the edge of the town. First, I was impressed by the infrastructure and the surroundings that gave one high hopes for better. But my family’s home is far enough to reward one with a sight that will remind you ‘never to judge a book by its cover’ or to trust in first impressions.The wide tarred roads leading from the airport became thinner and by the time we reached home, they had almost disappeared. Street lights dwindled and massive buildings were replaced by shacks that hung on the edge of the road like a leech. But I was home. No assignments, exams, late night studying, club meetings, and whatever was norm in college. I was free!
Home sweet home!
The first few days at home were a brutal reminder that life is too short. The house itself looked the same. The people were the same, only a bit older. The neighborhood kids still came out to play on the streets and anywhere else that provided enough space for whatever game the young ones set their young and green minds on. The old friend with stellar grades, who could not go beyond high school because there were no funds to further his education in college, was still there, sitting at the same verandah watching the world fleet by, one day at a time – a slow burning candle life was. The girl next door had gotten married and was living in another country.
The friend across the street was still running his barber shop, and had moved to a different location in the same street after a dispute on rental payments. My father had grown older and less mobile. Sadness. Why had I left? My younger brothers were still mischievous but had acquired some bit of responsibility and ‘wokeness’. My sister still ran the show and was the oil that made this old engine, our house, operational. My older brother was still short of a job and was contracting elsewhere within his trade as an electrician. My older sister was doing quite well, only she had grown a little unhappy with her job in the heart of the town at the Meteorology Department.
There were still water shortages and once or twice a week, my brothers and I had to wander off in search of a borehole to replenish our water supply at home. My brothers knew all the places close by and would often make a couple trips and save me the trouble to meet old friends who often had one too many questions on where I had been for the past year and a half. In a broken society, no one really announces what they have under their sleeve, best for one to mind one’s own business. The week leading to New Year saw me meeting with some friends from high school and some family members. They observed I had gotten lighter and heavier for a kid from the ghetto. What more with my beard and scruffy hair, I looked older! My skin tone had lost the symptoms of one growing up in the high density suburbs of Harare where each day was a struggle and the next meal was a blessing for some and a luxury for others. At Christmas, my family, as per our tradition, all convened at my father’s house and we had a hearty lunch and luckily my luggage had finally made it home on its own and I was able to share the little I had brought along with me from discounts at Kohl’s and Target. Heavenly bliss.
A Christmas meal in the Madondo household.
My family and I stayed up late on the last day of 2016, to welcome the New Year and whatever opportunities and blessings it brought. It did not rain that night, it poured. Despite this, the dark night was constantly made bright by excessive fireworks and the pit-pattering of rain on the asbestos roof was silenced by the celebratory screams and whistles that emanated from various homes and buildings in the area. The following day, at church, smiles were wider than usual and the people, more friendlier than normal. Some were eager to start working on their New Year’s resolutions and those of us who do not take such a tradition seriously due to several failed attempts, looked on in amusement. I only had a couple more weeks at home before I had to return to school. Within a few days, I made the trip to my town of birth to visit my aunt and her family and then onwards to visit my grandfather who lived alone and away from the bright lights and loud noises and general business of town life. Those few days I spent with this part of my family evoked a strong feeling in me that reminded me that nothing compares to home. Seeing my aunt and all that she was doing for her children and family, I was reminded that women are indeed the backbone of the family and I was inspired to do better in all my endeavors. My grandfather, now older and smaller in stature, was a delight to meet and spend the day with. Sadly, because he lived so far out of town and I was commuting to his residence with my brothers, it took longer to get there than the time we spent together. Nonetheless, after he recognized us and had a brief moment of disbelief and to thank his ancestors and God and all those gone before us who had led us to him and granted us to meet once more. It was a sad joyful moment that I think deserves a separate account of its own to justify its worth.
The days following went by pretty fast and I was gearing to say goodbye once more to my family and everything that I had known for a good part of my life. Also, I was getting back to school a few days after class started (remember I left a week before the semester ended). I had enjoyed a full month away from school and the fast-paced Western life. I felt quite empty and remorse for going back. I knew I had to, only part of me wanted to stay. For better or for worse, I was getting back on the Presidential Inauguration day and as expected, I was quite shifty and nervous as I trailed the line (queue) at the airport, waiting for my turn to go through TSA. As the Border Control officer went through my documents, I felt as if I was a criminal waiting conviction and a bit like my life was outside my control. I even feared for the wrinkle at the corner of my I-20!
Finally, I boarded the shuttle headed from the airport to Duluth, the end of the road. This time, my luggage was in place and I had this air of one who has survived a storm. I assured my family I had arrive back safe and that I had the weekend to catch up with a week’s worth of schoolwork. I arrived on a Friday and I had an early morning shift at the Help Desk where I worked. I had also managed to submit an application for a scholarship moments after I landed at the airport and was connected to endless wifi and in sync with the time zone. Home sweet home.
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