Counting our blessings in Zimbabwe – Cathy Buckle

As neuroscience has developed, we have learnt that our neural pathways literally change when we habitually live from a place of gratitude. Our brains become ‘wired’ to notice the good in life more and more. And lessons in Positive Psychology show that gratitude is key to living a fulfilled life. Surely this must contribute to the enjoyment of life in Zimbabwe, where the infrastructure continues to deteriorate, with the electricity supply in major cities sporadic – and now the supply of water too. But humour, and the kindliness of strangers, and the abundance of wildlife persists, and dwelling on those features is what makes life still bearable for those who choose to count their blessings rather than dwell on the vicissitudes of life. – Sandra Laurence

Jewels in the dust

By Cathy Buckle*

Cathy Buckle

While the youngsters were cleaning spanners and putting tools away, the plumber and I stood chatting. We talked about the crisis situation with water in the town. An electricity power surge had apparently blown up the water pump that fills the reservoir which feeds the entire town. We were on day eight without a drop of water, storage tanks were empty and I was down to the last dregs in a single bucket. The well at the bottom of my garden ran dry two years ago after illegal houses were constructed and wells sunk on the wetland just above the stream, and early every morning people in urban residential areas walk with buckets and 20-litre drums to find water. It is painful to see it, 42 years after independence, old and young, men and women pushing wheelbarrows, dragging trolleys, carrying heavy containers of water from wells and boreholes in urban residential areas. But this letter isn’t about the absurd, unnecessary facts of daily life in Zimbabwe, it’s about the jewels in the dust. 

The plumber told me one of the youngsters helping him was just learning ‘a few manly things’ before he started at university in a few weeks’ time. With top marks in maths, physics and chemistry, the youngster is enrolled at UZ, starting his degree in three weeks time, confident and keen, ready to do great things.  When the lads had packed away the tools one asked if they could have some firewood and while they squashed more wood in the boot of their small car than seemed possible I learned that they never had municipal water in their suburb anymore and had been carrying buckets every day for years. The lucky ones had dug wells and found water. A couple had boreholes but the electricity to pump it is expensive and so they cook on firewood to stretch every dollar because we’ve all learned to cope without electricity, but not without water. 

After lots of joking and laughing and with their rear suspension almost touching the ground, the plumbers left but I couldn’t stop thinking about a future scientist sitting learning ‘manly things’ in the dust. That old saying ‘Chop wood and carry water’ is so apt but also sad that a young man about to start university has never known anything better than this toil in his life. Born after land seizures, after the decades of food security and only a little boy during the 2005-2008 hyperinflation and economic collapse, this young man has never known his country as the breadbasket of Africa, the land of plenty.

Two ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) officials were on a door to door campaign urging people to go and check that their names were on the voters roll. They explained the procedure to me and told me where the nearest inspection centres were. I thanked them and said it would be a pointless exercise for me; I had been struck off the voters roll after the 2005 election and had tried to vote every election since then but had been turned away. They were shocked and asked why and when I told them that I had been born in Zimbabwe and lived here all my life, but could not prove that my father had been a citizen of Zimbabwe at the time of my birth. My disenfranchisement is because my father was born in the UK despite the fact that he lived and worked in Zimbabwe for 30 years. My disenfranchisement disregards my constitutional entitlement to citizenship by birth and the fact that I have lived in Zimbabwe all in my life. At every election since 2005 I have gone with my proof of birth and proof of residence and registered an objection in their huge ledgers but every time have been barred from voting. I have been to the top administrative offices locally and even tried in the capital city – to no avail.

The two ZEC officials were wide-eyed and clearly in shock as I told my story. “Oh that legislation was changed, wasn’t it,” the ZEC official said, adding in question to himself  “or I think it was?”  I shook my head. It wasn’t changed. If my father had been born in the SADC (Southern African) region I would be allowed to vote, but he wasn’t and I’m not. The constitution says I am a citizen by birth but the legislation has not been enacted to enforce it. “I am very sorry, Ma’am” the ZEC official said. “So am I,” I replied, “but please come back and tell me if I’m wrong and it has been changed.” We made a joke about something and laughed and they waved as they trudged up the dusty dirt road.   

And the final jewel in the dust this week was a beautiful Long-crested Eagle sitting in a bare thorn tree in a dusty field a few metres off the highway. Regal and imposing, its long crest standing up and mouth open. I knew the mouth open pose well, the eagle was screaming and for a second I closed my eyes and was back on my farm in an instant, the Long-crested Eagle sitting high on a post screaming in the wind overlooking the swaying golden grass.

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