‘I lived in three places’

Elizabeth Musodzi Ayema used to correct her children by saying, ‘It may be acceptable there, but not here. I know all this because I lived in three places: the village, Chishawasha and town’.  

Other names for these three places would be African culture, Christianity and city life. Musodzi died in 1952, greatly mourned. A victim of the first Chimurenga (the rising of the Shona people against the early colonialists), she was educated at Chishawasha after which she married Frank Ayema and lived in Chizhanje (Mabvuku, Harare). In 1937 the family moved to Salisbury (Harare) and settled in the suburb of Harare (Mbare) where she used her leadership gifts to the fullest in struggling for improvements in the lives of urban women.

The late Japanese scholar, Tsuneo Yoshikuni, studied the lives of African urban dwellers in the early twentieth century and took a particular interest in Musodzi. He shows us a woman who inhabited these three worlds and was able to draw on all three in an extraordinarily fruitful way.  Deeply rooted in her own culture from growing up among Chief Hwata’s people NE of present day Harare, she did not give way to barren bitterness when her parents were killed and her aunt (Mbuya Nehanda, the spirit medium) was executed. In fact she turned her pain into compassion from others. ‘She was more Christian and more dedicated to the welfare of others than anybody’, her grandson, Leonard Chakuka told Yoshikuni in 2002. And she also quickly grasped the realities of urban life for Africans in Salisbury. She pushed hard and continuously at the restrictive and confining measures of the ‘Director of Native Administration’, sometimes getting arrested though on the whole she earned the respect of the authorities.

I suspect few people in the early part of the last century were as sensitive as Mai Musodzi to the ‘places’ they inhabited and even fewer were able to exploit this awareness to direct all their energies to the service of others. She stands as a role model for us and calls us to transcend our narrow perceptions of our ‘place’ which is our cultural setting as we perceive it, and employ the forces that lie ready at our disposal for creating a better world.

How the nations of the world today long to get back to ‘where we were before COVID-19’! Secretly and unreflectively, we hope we can return to our old ways and life will go on as before. But we know it can’t be so. We are called to new thinking, a new imagination and courage to grasp the new opportunities before us; to turn this pain that we are living into energy for a new world of caring for one another and caring for our planet.

When the threat of the virus has gone will we live the lesson we have learnt that our health depends on all of us and not just each of us for him or herself? When the noise of traffic restarts and the sky is filled with planes again will we remember the joy of clean air in our cities and the temporary halt we have made to climate warming? And will we be able to commit ourselves to live a in a new way which implants these realities in our daily life?

10 May 2020               Easter Sunday 5A

Acts 6:1-7                   1 Peter 2:4-9                John 14:1-12

Post published in: Faith

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