When all is stripped away&


rttags” />HARARE – It is so hot that I can feel the skin exposed by the parting on the top of my head starting to prickle and burn. The African sun, using all its energy, is calling up the water heavy clouds and within an hour or so I suspect we will have another February downpour.

My 16-year-old daughter and I are walking around a flea market in Harare. Simply enjoying an outing and perhaps looking for something to buy. We stop in a moment of shade and I try on a floppy brimmed white cotton crochet hat, all worked around with daisies. Music vibrates, repetitive, African and beaty through the many stalls seemingly competing with the loud laughter and cheerful chatter of the mainly Shona-speaking stall keepers.

We meander on, passing table after table – some covered with beaded wire giraffes and wooden bowls, others with second hand clothes, supposed antiques, shoes and many miscellaneous nick-knacks brought up from South Africa in huge red and white checkered bags. A backbreaking job.

A new sight is the sprinkling of Chinese vendors, their tables glittering with cheap “zhing-zhong” wares. As we stroll along we are greeted, as if known, by the ever-hopeful ladies anxious to make a sale today. For most of them this is their sole source of income. “Mama Mama, these are the shoes you wanted last week. Come and try.” “I’m sorry Amai, it wasn’t me.”

I have heard people say that they do not like the flea market. They complain that it is too noisy, hot and dirty. Perhaps this is true, but to me it is a treasure house of a hundred Zimbabwean stories. Tales of human survival whispered to you behind the wash-worn hanging clothes that have arrived here from Europe. Each story more extraordinary and awe inspiring than the next.

If you dare to take the time to ask, you will learn about mind-jamming African politics, a war won and lost, land invasions, financial fallout, mass exodus and the destruction left by “Operation Clean-up”. Deeply overshadowing it all you will hear about a ferocious illness that takes the shine off your skin and stealthily destroys your extended family, crushing the very strength of the African culture.

Here at the throbbing flea market, you will find survival at it’s naked best and the spirit of mankind that miraculously provides the strength to carry on. “God knows what I have been through”, you will be told time and time again.

I wait patiently as my daughter tries on a pair of faded blue denim jeans behind a rough floral curtain. The flea market in all it’s cheerful glory, mixed in with the pain and sweat, paints a picture of survival and camaraderie. The New Year is already passing, time is not stopping.

Zimbabweans have learnt that when all is stripped away, all you have left is what matters. Today, just for a moment, come with me. Empty your mind of the past and let’s enjoy an afternoon together. Let’s stroll through the stalls at the colourful market. Always, in front of us lies hope. Come, let us try on a floppy brimmed white cotton crochet hat all worked around with daisies. Let us savour the moment. Let us be proud to be Zimbabwean.

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