Exploring our grey

Grace Chirenje

I LOVE camping. It is the sound of birds, a current of water nearby, watching the sunrise or set, the stars, clear and crisp air, amongst other amazing experiences like hiking that come from camping. During a recent camping experience, I met a young Swiss sister who has been travelling across southern Africa. She had such a vibe. We got talking as she shared with me her passion for mushrooms. We then got talking about how Zimbabwe is such a binary country where everything seems to be black or white with a glaring absence of an in-between. I immediately could identify because indeed we seem to have an attitude of if you do not agree with me then you are my enemy. I thought, let me think more about it and explore what this means to our most beloved nation!

Our history

I remember when my mother told me about her narrow escape to Harare from our rural home in Chihota during the liberation war era. The details remain hazy but what I do know for sure is that she was sold out by some snitch who thought she fell on the wrong side of the struggle for liberation. It was not even true what they shared but she found herself seeking refuge from a bread delivery truck and she found safety.

Social media is also awash with story after story of what member of political party X beating up members of political party Z. Just today as I was getting ready to pen this article, there was a very hot debate about why a leader of a certain political party is wearing a certain designer logo and the debate has become homophobic as people debate issues of how gay designers have changed the face of fashion.

It is now about whether one is gay or not. Oh my, as if that will fix our ailing economy! The point is that there is just so much binary that surrounds us in Zimbabwe and I think we rob ourselves the privilege of learning by boxing ourselves in a black or white frames. I remember my Swiss sister also mentioning that maybe it is very safe to be binary because you know that if one is not for me then they are the opposite side. I am not sure how that would be good because I think that by being binary, we fail to explore the in-between that could bring us to the ability of agreeing to disagree peacefully and still remain platonic. 

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article he wrote in response to someone who had penned out an article about Zimbabwe. We debated democracy in Zimbabwe and I loved how he would seek clarity, agree and in some instances, we would disagree with no need to pull the other to the side we each thought was the better.

We shared ideas, sharpened each other’s thought processes and left the conversation much smarter than we both were before we started the conversation. It felt safe, intelligent and above all, we managed to explore what democracy actually could mean for Zimbabwe. Binary thinking kills our ability to be objective. We, as a people should be able to deliberate on issues and walk away more enlightened and not violate each other. I have been part of spaces where the conversation becomes so toxic it moves from the topic of discussion to personal attacks on the person; the signs of a weak debate mindset that’s robbed our people of fostering a healthy debate culture that results in sharpening each other’s mindsets! 

Towards neutrality

As we hiked with my sister, she kept pointing at mushrooms and even picked some red ones with the wisdom of the guide. I was raised to stay away from mushrooms at all costs. I witnessed her passion with each mushroom encounter and I could literally hear my mother and grandmothers’ voices screaming to stay away from the mushroom. I however decided to become curious and walk the journey with her. I did not touch any mushrooms. I just let her drown in her world of mushrooms so she had her fun. It felt liberating to witness such glee. I thought we could do exactly the same as Zimbabweans.

Elections are periodic in our country; they come and go. Your neighbour remains your neighbour even with elections. My brother remains my brother and my sister my sister. Let us foster a healthy culture of tolerance and curiosity so that we can collectively create a grey in Zimbabwe. Things do not have to be so black and white; we can actually create a grey. It is okay to be open-minded and exploratory. Things do not always have to be looked at from a binary lens —  a story can have so many facets and still be amazing. Yes, we could have experienced binary as we grew up but we do have a chance to relook life, unlearn and relearn newness so we create an in-between.

It does not matter what it is about, we can come together, hold hands and decide to recreate a grey which will be okay with us agreeing to disagree agreeably and creating peace in our communities. Let us be accountable and responsible.

One of my very favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche talks about the dangers of a single-sided story. Let us learn to foster co-existence and peace. It begins with us being at peace with ourselves so we can become curious with the mushrooms even though everything within us may be screaming for us to stay away.

Yes. We can indeed create a grey and Zimbabwe becomes a better place to reside by recalling that there are very many shades of the grey too.

Until then, we live, laugh and love louder in a bid to show the world that we were here, becoming better, making our mark, and leaving our footprint as we make the world a better place!

Chirenje writes in her personal capacity as a citizen of Zimbabwe. Twitter: @graceruvimbo; Facebook: Grace Chirenje; Instagram: @graceruvimbo

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