Losing our way

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You could never have convinced me that I would enjoy driving long distances on my own, but with another birthday looming, perhaps it is a function of age (or should we say maturity) that I am finding my own company dangerously enjoyable.

The best benefit of solitude of course, is that you have a lot of time to ponder the bigger questions of life which seldom find adequate space in the hustle and bustle of client meetings, school runs, doctors’ appointments and deadlines.

So there I was one day, driving along and minding my own business and I got a call from a friend who was in deep distress because she had just discovered that her daughter, who is in what is popularly known as an “A” school, was not learning “real” Shona, but a version of Shona intended for second-language speakers, in other words white children.

She had approached the school’s Shona teachers about this and was told that Shona was really not a priority subject, but all the school wanted was good marks on record, and that when the children write the Shona exam, it would not be a big deal.

Fast forward a few months and I am hosting a foreign associate for lunch and as he looks about the room at the bohemian décor and the (largely white) patrons of the establishment says, “Wow, you Zimbabweans really embraced colonialism. You’ve made the British way of life your own — lock, stock, and barrel!”

I am a little affronted at his cheek — after all he is a guest in my country! But being a reasonable adult, I have to interrogate his accusation and admit that, yes, he does have a point.

It reminds me of how, some years ago, I had occasion to listen to several Nigerian pastors speak, and they never failed to point out that the problem with Zimbabweans was that they “have too much English!”

In other words, in their view, we embrace Western culture to a ridiculous extent.

So the sum total of this appears to be that we, as Zimbabweans, have lost our way, and this should be a source of shame. Certainly, I am ashamed.

I am ashamed because my own children do not speak their mother tongue and even the expression “mother tongue” does not sit easily in this sentence because it carries a heavy indictment. I am just as ashamed to admit that they struggle even with their father tongue. I am not sure how this happened!

Mothers are supposed to be keepers of the culture and while we may hide behind claims that our families are inter-cultural, and giggle nervously over our cups of imported cranberry-flavoured tanninfree tea, the truth we all know is that we have failed our children. And their children. Now what?

When I started writing this piece I thought it would be a call to arms for the preservation of local language and culture. I thought hard about the meaning and purpose of culture and what its place is in the fast-shrinking global space we now occupy.

Issues of language and culture are intertwined with issues of identity. The school of globalisation would have us believe that we are one ubiquitous mass and that in the global village there is a universal language and a universal way of being. But what they are not telling us is whose language that is, and whose way of being.

My colleague Tapiwa Gomo in his column Develop Me wrote recently suggesting that perhaps differences in language and tribe are abused to become sources of conflict and civil wars and to contribute to poverty.

Sure, we need to ask ourselves whether there is anything wrong with being swallowed up in a cultural tidal wave, participating willingly in the elimination of difference and diversity, and taking up another people’s way of life, another people’s language, and another people’s values in the name of progress, education or sophistication. And I am hoping that when we have asked ourselves these questions we will end up with an answer we can all live with.

Some of my favourite fiction of the recent past is Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true, Iyanla Vanzant’s Yesterday I cried, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple hibiscus. The common thread running through all these stories is the theme of redemption.

I am a sucker for stories of redemption because redemption means it’s not over till it’s over. It means that in spite of the worst damage, there is still a chance, if not for repair, then certainly recovery. Redemption means even if you’ve messed up royally, you have a chance to make good. I would like the story of my life and my children’s life and our culture to be a story of redemption. So where do we begin?

Like any good thing, redemption comes at a price. We cannot redeem our cultural failures without a concerted and consistent effort. We cannot right our wrongs without first acknowledging that there is a problem, and then working hard to fix it.

This translates to a daily consciousness of how we communicate and conduct ourselves around those we want to influence. It means carefully filtering the influences we subject our children to.

Now, anyone who has ever tried banning an eight-year-old from watching Hanna Montana knows that this is no easy task! But we don’t only do what is easy. We do what we believe to be right, to be useful and to add value.

This means “Yebo s’thandwa” instead of “hello baby”; and “Inga wagona” instead of “Well done”; it means “Ngiyakuthanda mntanami”, (I love you, my child) and “Lilale” at bedtime instead of “Sweet dreams poppet”.

Small and simple steps will no doubt grow to bigger and more important changes if practised constistently. This is where the story of my redemption begins. How about yours?

About the Author
Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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