It’s been three weeks since I received my acceptance letter from the University Of Cape Town. Along with the letter came an offer for a scholarship that will not only pay for my tuition but also my residence and all other necessities. Mr. Gwatts, my science tutor made me aware of the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship. He urged me to apply. I was reluctant at first. I didn’t consider my academic achievements deserving of such an accolade. I might have been an over-achiever at Highlands Secondary School, but I was now up against students from all across Africa.
My initial plan was to study at the University of Zimbabwe. That is the plan of every young Zimbabwean if fact were told. But, with the deterioration of Zimbabwe’s economy, my plan had no chance of unfolding.
I often think of the words Pastor Paul said during his Sunday sermon, “The only reason we cling onto the hope that Zimbabwe will one day be freed from its power-hungry leaders, is the remembrance of how God freed the Israelites from bondage.”
Pastor Paul believes that the key to Zimbabwe’s economic prosperity lies with the youth. If only they were to unite. If only they refuse to succumb to drugs and alcohol. Most importantly, if only they prioritized education.
Sleep erodes whenever I think that I, Rufaro Nhamo, am one step ahead to escape the clutches of poverty. My initial circumstances threatened to ensure that I would amount to very little in life. That I would, like my peers, fall pregnant and that would be the end.
Gogo was perplexed when I announced my decision to study engineering. She couldn’t comprehend where her fragile, timid-looking granddaughter would gather the strength to carry an engine box. It took lengthy conversations to reduce the complex engineering theories into a simple language that ensued Gogo’s understanding.
Gogo’s advice remains unchanged, “I am not concerned about your career decisions, most people think I should be because it’s not common that a girl studies engineering,” she takes a sip from her cup of coffee. I am sitting cross-legged on the floor while Gogo unplaits my hair, “All I ask is that you not let the spirit of South Africa enter into you.”
The spirit of South Africa. In Zimbabwe, particularly Harare, not only is South Africa considered a heaven of economic prosperity, it is commonly regarded as an architect of drug addicts and promiscuous people. Families who take the initiative to gather their few cents to send their children to South Africa are often left with regret.
One would expect, considering the rise in poverty levels, that a child would return home with massive bags filled with groceries. Groceries that ought to at least feed the family for five months. But no. These ungrateful children return home with a satchel containing a few pairs of jeans. As if that is enough to clothe siblings, cousins, and great aunties in the village. Heaven forbid if I ever subject my Gogo to such humiliation.
I plan to graduate, secure employment, and take my Gogo far from this destitute place. Yes, freshened air and chirping of the birds every morning is serene but what good would doing all this on a hungry stomach do? The long walk to the grocery stores, meeting friends on the way, and losing ourselves in church gossip.
“Did you hear that Chipo’s mother is pregnant again?” Paidamoyo would go first, enticing Bianca and I to join in.
“You want to start with your gossip again?” I pretend to not have an interest in the gossip, although I had been waiting for someone to bring up the story.
“Look who is judging. The queen of gossip herself,” Bianca jumps in, her arms are akimbo and her belly grows bigger and bigger every day.
She now spends most of her time cooped up at home after her expulsion. Her parents have threatened to chase her and her baby out if she continues to lie about the paternity of that baby. Not Mr. Gwatts, who she claims to have raped her. The audacity of that girl, to make such baseless accusations.
Mr. Gwatts is a well-respected member of society. Why would he, with his Master’s degrees rape Bianca, a girl who can barely construct a sentence in English? She may be my friend, but surely Mr. Gwatts can do so much better than that.
I tried hard to make sense of Bianca’s story, to truly believe that she had indeed been raped. But men like Mr. Gwatts don’t rape girls like Bianca.
“I don’t want you to befriend any bad girls when you get to South Africa. Be friends with people who uplift you and please, Rufaro, don’t get involved with any boy. Your studies come before anything,” Gogo says.
“That won’t happen, Gogo. I am taking my mind to South Africa, but I am leaving my heart here with Tino.”
Tino and I have been a couple for two years, six months, three weeks, and three days.
We started as friends, immersed ourselves in mind-blowing conversations. One day as we sat under the afternoon sun, Tino laid his heart bare before me.
“I don’t know how best to say this. We have been friends for a few months. And I know you much more than I know myself,” he took my hand and placed it in his, “I want you, Rufaro. No, I need you.”
He needed me. I didn’t know whether his need for me was as intense as my need for him. That didn’t matter, the most important thing was that we would finally become something more. Something more permanent.
Tell us: Do you think South Africa will change Rufaro?