I have been in Zimbabwe for two years. I naively thought that I would have been able to blend in by now.
I know I still cannot get a proper English twang; my Shona is unfortunately limited to greetings and my Ndebele quite inexistent. But even mute I feel like a stranger. Am I really that different?
I have to admit that I do not have a totem or a metal ID and nor can I proudly do the chicken dance. But what else? I drink Chibuku, have participated in loloba negotiations before and enjoy mbira.
Besides, I know Bob Marley’s song by heart and attend Independence celebrations every April 18. Finally, I am aware of enough cultural differences to hide them. Why then do I still feel like a foreigner?
I think one of the reasons is the way people interact with me. Of course I am pleased to see that people are willing to have a chat. Yet I am always asked questions meant for outsiders. I am never asked “How are you?” but rather “How do you like Africa?” Africa!!!
Not Harare or Zimbabwe or my neighbourhood but Africa, a continent of 53 countries. Besides, all you and I know about Africa is our home, our office and our favourite joint…so much for our pride!
I am never asked “Where is your kumusha/Ekhaya?” but rather “Which resorts have you been to?” Obviously, foreigners are expected to visit Victoria Falls and Mana Pools (too bad for city girls like me who could not care less about hippos and elephants).
White Zimbabweans would rather talk to me about “the bush” while rich Zimbabweans go on holiday to Dubai or South Africa.
It is even more wearisome to have to reply again and again to a Have-you-ever-tasted-sadza question. As if sadza was a secret and magic ritual difficult to access and not the staple food you can find in every restaurant, market and house!
And when I mention that I do cook and eat sadza, my interlocutors tend to burst into laughter.
Now that I am leaving soon, the most frequent question I get is “Why don’t you settle here?”
I am then suggested to marry a Zimbabwean and find a job in a local business (i.e. an NGO). But I wonder:
If I decide to settle here, will I always be viewed as a foreigner? When will I be allowed to give my opinion on Zimbabwe without Zimbabweans feeling under attack? For how long will I be considered as the West’s advocate?
I have once been confronted to an unpleasant encounter. I guess you can call it road rage . . . I was forced to stop on the side of the road and to listen to a mad man shouting at me: “Are you mad? Don’t you know how to drive? Don’t you know Zimbabwe is not your country?”
Really now, even when I am trying hard, how could I ever forget?