I grew up in the city of Bulawayo. My love for books was nurtured by the Nketa 7 Public Library where I read the Secret Seven, the Famous five and Nancy Drew collections. Secretly, I desired to read the best sellers my mom pored over. I couldn’t wait to graduate to reading adult books. When I eventually became old enough to read them, I read all the “Mills and Boon” available until I began to loathe all those sappy stories.
A young child in high density Bulawayo definitely has fun. Books were my fun. They allowed me to pretend I was Jane, wearing my yellow jersey on my head for blonde hair. There was other fun too. Coming from a Shona speaking family meant I learnt the proper Ndebele words in class, and soaked up the profane and dirty words during break and home time. Although I might not have known what they meant, I knew they bordered on irreverence. I basked in repeating them at home with an innocent look on my face to the horror of my mother.
Playing ngqobe, mam’ 25, country game, nyama yembongolo and pada were a daily experience. Even then, my friends and I were conscious of ‘female respectability’ at a young age. We would, while playing mam’ 25; pull our skirts up to our hips and tuck them under our pants or hold them in between our legs as the ball passed in between them.
My friends would warn me when our house-help summoned me for a bath and we would loudly protest and run away together. If the house help was playful, she would run after us, pretending not to enjoy it. We always pleaded for one more game and she always refused.
After grade 7, we re-grouped ourselves into: those who had better passes and those who had performed dismally. Those who went to boarding school and those who did not. Those who had trendy clothes and those who did not. Those who were blossoming into adolescents, and those who still had boyish looks.
Bulawayo witnessed our blossoming and blooming. We began to shower before going emagrosa. We curled and pulled at our hair so we would not look like boys – we wanted boys to notice us, although we did not want to date any of them. We discussed kisses and decided it was a disgusting affair. When we did eventually decide to date, we hid it from each other. We could not stand confessions of how we had fallen from the ‘righteous’ path. We had a serious, austere stance on relationships; it was a path to self-destruction we were not supposed to take.
We went to different boarding schools which opened new worlds to us. Among other things, we picked up different languages, we signed off letters to each other in Kalanga, Venda, Suthu and Tswana. We began calling a spoon nebhura. When we began to read the newspaper seriously, our goal was to become the Sunday News Queens. We would have told the interviewer that our role model was Jesus or our mothers. We would have looked up a magazine recipe and told them it was our favourite food and that our dream destination was Zanzibar after reading The Zanzibar affair.
We watched many of our friends go to the United Kingdom and South Africa. They left us and came back lighter-skinned saying, mara ne in every sentence. We saw the sprinters pass by our gates loaded with goodies from across the border. We longed to have a brother and a sister there too.
We grew up.
Now, though not old, we love this city that has nurtured us this far. We love the serenity and quiet tranquil city. Except on weekends when we throng the Bulawayo Centre movie house and watch teenagers swarm into Café Baku to drown in alcohol. The Elite movie house is now rented out as a church (sigh).
We go to places that we feel define us. The Indaba Book Café makes us feel schooled and sophisticated, although we always buy the least pricey food on the menu. We listen to poetry there and drink whatever is on offer. We have defined partying to mean going to 747, Ascot Race Course, Emagumeni, Esibayeni or Redwood.
We attend the Intwasa Arts Festival and book launches. We go to the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe and the National Art Gallery to feed our artsy desires, staring at pieces of art we cannot make head or tail of. We have joined clubs that exist for a cause like the Rotaract Club of Matopos.
In Bulawayo, we revel in hosting the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, International Cricket matches at the Queens Sports Club and wish there would more happening at the Bulawayo Athletic Club. There is something about the mention of Barbourfields stadium that brings excitement to our faces.
We now have a new meeting place -the statue- along Joshua Mqabuko road. The skys’ appearance has not changed from when I was young. It remains a crystal clear blue that sprouts creativity in the minds of those enveloped by it.
Time has passed. We have grown a little, but we remain true to the city of Kings and Queens.
Main image from www.hotels.co.zw