September 14-15 – South Africa
I depart from the same single runway that I emigrated from, when I faced what many child migrants still face: the simultaneous loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins as well as homeland. Everyone on our flight is screened on arrival in Johannesburg because cholera has broken out in Harare.
I visit my Dutch- and British-born grandparents’ graves near Cape Town for the first time and smile for the camera, only to recall that our Ndebele taxi driver in Zimbabwe was pleased that we understood that his people don’t take photos of cemeteries. I think of the widow we visited, who invited us into her circular thatched home on a tiny plot surrounded entirely by graves. Most of her family should have been alive.
September 19 – Heathrow
The transfer-bus between terminals empties as I help a young woman.
‘Where’ve you flown in from?’ she asks, mentioning Nairobi. When I say Zimbabwe, she exclaims, apologising as a black woman for African liberation governments that espouse democracy yet cannot concede power.
I exclaim in return that the white-minority government in Rhodesia regarded itself as
democratic but wouldn’t concede power either. ‘That’s why my parents emigrated with four children.’
She nods. I lift her bag so that she can carry her baby.
January 16, 2019
Going home is an experience that I cannot imagine being without. For that, I am extremely grateful to the Julia Darling Travel Fellowship and the many Zimbabweans who welcomed me as a home-comer. Sadly, one of the reasons my return was celebrated may be that Zimbabwe has a new diaspora. People often spoke of family doing stints overseas to send money back.
Before my Fellowship application, I was ‘writing home’ only to reach a seemingly staple- pinched centre, then silent pages. Now I am writing again, although conscious more than ever of the debate about white viewpoints merely recycling colonial perspectives for Western consumption within the empire of English-language publishing.
A friend remarked before my trip that travelling is one thing but the added politics another. I can barely remember a time without politics. As I write, Westminster MPs have voted down Teresa May’s Brexit deal and tabled a vote of no confidence. Lost in the news frenzy is the Zimbabwean government shutdown of social media and the deaths of 12 civilians in demonstrations against the sudden doubling of fuel prices. What will happen?