It’s the 1st of May 2012 in the heart of Lower Phillippi location in Cape Town. The time has just struck 13:00 p.m. Seated, he’s listening to the music of late legendary Zimbabwean artist Paul Matavire a.k.a Dr Love. Gently he jerks his small head from side to side, enjoying the soul pulling sounds from his old double-deck cassette player. The song is being sung in Shona his first language, the contents of the explicit lyrics are saying: one must enjoy himself to the fullest whilst he’s still alive, for no one is sure of where we go after death and who knows if the unfortunate takes its course one might end up in a hell of fire.
On his two plate stove is his frothing pot of sadza (very thick porridge). The provoking warm, rich smell of it has already left his mouth salivating in great anticipation. He’s going to serve it with mazai (eggs) and four braaied chicken feet. He likes the feet because they’re cheap, they only cost him two rand to buy. He’s going to nourish himself with them, they’re great friends with his nostrils and their eat-one-now makes his tummy rumble.
A ridiculous smile can be noted at the corner on his face as he remembers that the Mexicans, Chinese and Koreans have also discovered the priceless friend of the poor. He knows most people ignore the inner bone structure of the chicken feet, but his taste buds know no boundary .Today he’s going to use his bare hands to eat them, he knows well enough that after eating his chicken feet, his fingers will be gelatinous, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even need a dish of water to clean his fingers, today his dish will be his mouth and his tongue and saliva will be the water, for he is going to lick them clean and dry.
Unlike in the previous days, today he’s sporting baggy clothes which he had abandoned earlier. A thick silver chain is dangling around his neck, in his left arm is a big, thick, glittering watch. He’s dressed like an American rap star, he has lost interest in the tight-fitting-jeans mostly worn by the township youth. Today, it’s his freedom day, he has freed himself from walking the locals’ walk, from talking their talk, and finally he has decided to bring all the mimicry to a halt. He’s going to be himself and relive his old life.
A scornful smile tumbles on his lips as he remembers vividly how he had tried to incorporate himself into the Xhosa ethnic group and the ethnic tensions and strife he had suffered. One day, on a train going to Bellville, a certain man, a Shona one, tried starting a conversation with him but he was not interested. He didn’t want to be uncovered as a kwirikwiri (a foreigner) who was no different from a leper in the eyes of most South Africans who lived in townships. He wanted to avoid being humiliated for he believed he could foresee that the days were nearing when the foreigners would be hunted, chased and killed by South Africans in broad day light while women and children ululated.
His stomach knotted as he imagined losing his life in a foreign country, without saying good-bye to his pregnant wife, his unborn child, his mother and his dear little sisters in Zimbabwe. With all these thoughts running riot through his mind, he saw it wise not to promote his mother tongue amidst the Xhosa people. Maybe in a different time and place and under different circumstances he could have happily enjoyed conversing with this man.
Instead, he responded to the man with a clear unwelcoming tone and with one-side of his mouth, the man detected his reluctance and thought better of starting a conversation with him. Later that evening, as he lay on his single bed, he viewed and reviewed the aftermath of the scene in the train and regretted his manners towards the stranger.
He had dated Xhosa girls and had ignored those from his country, he had befriended himself only with Xhosa men as well. In taxis he would pretend to busying himself with a newspaper, yet in actual fact he was trying to avoid being drawn into a conversation by those from his country. If a Xhosa or a Zulu person would greet him, his face would light up and he would try to adjust his accent when speaking Xhosa. He always carried a pen and small notebook with him wherever he went so he could add new words to his vocabulary.
He had applied and paid for a South African identity document. And as if that wasn’t enough he had also been circumcised at a local hospital close to where he resided, which satisfied him greatly. Now, he had mastered how to act, think, feel, judge and eat like them, and not just eat, but he had mastered how they ate as well. He had stopped eating sadza, playing music from his country out of respect for Xhosa or South African music. He ate Xhosa food which was mainly umphokoqo (salted thick porridge), which is served with Amasi.
Sometimes he would substitute this with samp, which he would serve with meat, be it chicken, pork, mutton, beef or even fish. And just like the South Africans he would use a spoon to enjoy the delicacies. In the mornings at breakfast, he would first dip a tablespoon into the mug of tea and sip the contents of the mug from the spoon just as he had seen the Xhosa people doing.
What irritated him most, were incidents when a Xhosa person would realize that he wasn’t South African and address him in English. Nevertheless, he would maintain his Xhosa accent in a bid to show his that he was on-track with the person. If the person persisted speaking English, he would quickly excuse himself.
He didn’t like being close to or around Zimbabweans because according to him, they were big-mouthed. But today, the very first day of May 2012, he has discovered his old self, he has decided to discard the mimicry and recycle himself to the old. For a new Jerry to live a new life.
In his mind, it’s now clear that he was being unfair, not only to other Zimbabweans, but also to himself. Yes, he was punishing himself and has seen it wise to bin the adopted culture. He has reached a point where he is realizing that all that he thought was the right way to acculturate is actually the wrong way.
Jerry admits to himself more than he care to that he was actually a door mat, he was like water trying to merge into oil. All his so-called-friends and so-called-girls were nothing but money grubbers. He thought of his friends who had been married to Xhosa women. He had noted with mounting anger that instead of the men marrying the women, the women had married them because the Zimbabweans would abandon their homes and families and sheepishly follow the commands and orders of the Xhosa women who vowed publicly that their feet wouldn’t touch the soil of Zimbabwe.
To his surprise the Zimbabweans were content with this reversal of roles, the thought made him nauseous. The Zimbabweans would build houses for their Xhosa wives and give them children, but the very day they would lose their jobs, those Xhosa wives would kick them out of their own houses. Those people’s own children would then call them makwirikwiris. Before you know it, those Zimbabwean men would be deported back to their home country leaving their children and all that they had worked for behind.
He turns the volume up and begins to dance his old Zimbabwean dance manoeuvring his legs and feeling the manoeuvrability of his torso, jerking his forearms rapidly. He can feel his pulse pulsating as the beat absorbs him. One might think that he is about to fall on his stomach or on his back or on his side, but his athletic body is very flexible and knows the art of dancing very well. The floor is receiving his cunning feet amicably. As he’s getting more into his dancing he hears a commotion outside his door. He then switched the volume lower on his old double-deck cassette player.
Alarmed, he instinctively dashes out of his room to investigate the fracas. He sees a crowd outside chanting “Mabahambe, mabahambe (they must go back to their countries). He looks sideways at the mob that had already enclosed the man accused of stealing a digital video disc and breaking into a house. Jerry then exits his door and joins the thick ring that has been formed by the mob. To his shock and horror he realizes that the victim is a Zimbabwean. For some seconds he wants to believe that it’s an illusion, he pinches himself and feels the pain, now he knows it is real.
The man is wobbling and his face is already stained by blood. The area just below his right eye has blackened, his arms are bruised, his left ear has forked and the other has parted from his head and his T-shirt has been dyed red from with blood. It’s hot despite the winter in Cape Town, but his whole body is quaking, his clothes are trembling, the people around him are shaking with anger, their voices are rattling around him and the earth itself is quivering too.
Shouting has become the norm of communication in South Africa when someone has been accused of doing wrong. A police woman lunges forward to the victim and begin to interrogate him, as he opens his mouth to answer, the contours of his lips reveal deep ridges and valleys where his teeth should have been, blood oozes out profusely and the thief licks his lips with the tip of his bloodied tongue. The police then attempt to chase away the ever growing crowd, which eventually dispersed after being dosed with tear gas.
Jerry shakes his head and this time outright ignores the Xhosa people who are still digesting the free entertainment which they have just witnessed. He heads for the other Zimbabweans who are still trying to figure out the head and tail of the story. As he ploughs his way towards the Zimbabweans, the issue of the man who had tried to build a conversation with him revisits him and he wonders if he would ever bump into him again, all he wants this time is to apologise and maybe re-build that conversation.
At that moment, he remembers his frothing pot of sadza and mazai and the four braaied chicken feet and the music of the legendary Paul Matavire all in his shack. But he has lost all appetite and his ears have been fouled to listen to any music.
Tell us what you think: Do you think that foreigners change their way of living in order to fit in? Why do you think this is?