Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sharing Sadza and Warm Conversation with the Zimbabwean People

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sharing Sadza and Warm Conversation with the Zimbabwean People

Article excerpt

As I listen to the news from Zimbabwe, I don't think of Robert Mugabe and his desperate attempt to hold on to power. I remember Justice.

And Rueben, Matthew, Petros, Maxwell, and Memory, my "siblings" in the large Shona farming family with whom I lived for three months in west-central Zimbabwe.

When I started in the Peace Corps in October of 1998, as a youth and community resource volunteer, I was adopted immediately as sisi (Shona for sister) and given a Shona name (Chipo, meaning gift). Poor by international standards yet rich in generosity and tolerance, my family displayed warmth in every aspect of life.

They taught me to cook sadza, a thick porridge made from corn meal. Under my mother's supervision, I killed and removed feathers from a chicken, then boiled it for dinner. I lived without running water and electricity, bathing with water from a bucket and reading and writing by candlelight. I plowed fields and ate bugs. I sat beneath the African sky, with the moon and stars for light, listening to Shona spoken around me.

One experience stands out. As I was walking into the center of Harare, the capital, a man approached on a bicycle. As he passed, he greeted me with a pleasant smile and a "Good afternoon, Madam."

"Masikati," I quickly replied, meaning "good afternoon." I turned my head, expecting his reply, as there is a standard exchange of greetings in Shona.

Instead, upon hearing a salutation in his language, he stopped abruptly, nearly spiraling over the handlebars. A moment later, he was standing next to me. "Masikati," he finally echoed. "Maswera sei?" ("How are you?")

"Taswera maswerawo," I answered. ("I am fine if you are fine.")

"Taswera." ("I am fine.")

Our little verbal dance complete, he grinned and told me I am "able": "Unogona."

We continued in Shona, conversing about where I was from, where I was staying, and what I was doing in Zimbabwe. Excited, as well as puzzled by this white female from America who was speaking his language, he bade me farewell.

"Mufambe zvakanaka," we said, wishing each other a good journey.

In subsequent travels around Zimbabwe, a country the size of Montana, I discovered the same warmth. …

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