/ 27 February 2009

Subsistence to cyberspace

A rural Zimbabwean grandmother, Lizzy Mazorodze-Munetsi, first encountered a computer a few months ago and emailed the story of her life to Voices of Africa

I am a mother of five children and have two grandchildren. I live in Somabhula area, about 13km from our nearest town, Gweru, in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province. I live with my husband, my two sons Carlington (who is in form six) and Panashe, his wife MaSibanda and his child Nicole. My two daughters are married and live with their families whereas my eldest son lives in Hwange where he works.

Life in the rural areas is not as easy as in the city; it is the survival of the fittest. It involves waking up very early to take care of the homestead, garden, fields and cattle. Normally you will be busy from morning until sunset.

We have a piece of land where we grow different crops for sustenance. Now that the situation in Zimbabwe has many challenges we have managed to start a garden project. We grow the chomolier — a leafy green vegetable that’s one of the most common in Zimbabwe — cabbages, butternuts and tomatoes, which we sell in town. Sometimes I give them to the children to take to school and sell to their teachers.

This brings an income I use for basic commodities such as sugar, soap and flour. In this part of the world our staple food is cornmeal called sadza, eaten with a relish of vegetables or meat. This year because of heavy rains, we managed to get only enough for the family.

The chigayo — the Shona word for the mills where we grind our maize into mealie meal for our sadza — have now become a problem, because the diesel or electricity the machines use for grinding are difficult to find in the country.

As a mother, everyone looks to you for a plate of sadza, so it means I always have to find a way out. I always make sure the children take the maize to the nearby grinding mill in a wheelbarrow and ask the owners to grind it any time the electricity is back.

To have a 20-litre bucket of maize crushed now costs Z$20-billion. One also has to walk almost 4km carrying about 20kg of maize on your head, to find a nearby grinding mill that works.

When my husband, Baba vaRabeka, gets his pension at the end of the month, we say that ”it is Christmas today”, because he brings goodies from Gweru, our nearest town. He comes with groceries — bread, margarine, rice and spaghetti. For the grandchild, Muzukuru Nicole, it’s a day for yoghurt and bananas. These are some of the foodstuffs we manage to eat only once in a while.

This day also means we will be able to hear the news about what is going on around the country and the world because he also brings a newspaper. We used to have a radio, an old one, and my children used to call it a ”gramophone”. My husband bought a solar panel and we could listen to the radio but the one day it just kept quiet and we failed to repair it. So we just get to hear about what’s happening from other people or the papers when Baba brings them.

My husband and I are praying and working hard to buy a car to avoid walking long distances and we also want to buy a water pump to enlarge our garden project. I teach my family that problems are there but it pays to be resilient and hardworking because by that one can achieve what they want in life. For us we know that even if bathing soaps such as Protex and Geisha are not there, we just use the ”green bar” for both washing and laundry.

I have been a farmer for so many years now and I do not regret it. I have raised children who lead their own lives, by trusting in the Lord and resilience. Now I am getting into old age, the children have grown into mothers and fathers but when my husband and I look at our life, we smile and say all is well with our souls.

I guess that is what it means to be an African. For me it is life as usual; it goes on from one stage to the other. This has been my family’s motto: self-motivation and shooting beyond the stars, so that not even the sky can limit you in what you want in life.

For us here in the sticks, such is life and it goes on in this part of Africa as we prepare for another day, week, month and year to come.

‘Welcome Lizzy’
The letter she wrote and sent with her story —

As a 47-year-old rural woman, I write this knowing that I am among the fortunate few who are able to read and write and to share my voice. Most people — especially women — of my age and in my situation don’t know how to use a pen and paper, let alone this computer technology that I hear so much about from my children.

My last-born son, Carlington, who is now 20, always asks for money to go to the internet café. So this time we went to town together and he asked me to read his letters at one of these computer shops. I was just sitting beside him and I became interested in what he was doing.

That is when he said: ”Let me open an email account for you, Mama.” After struggling with suggestions for the email address and password, he finally opened one for me. He later showed me how to send letters and reply, and it was interesting. I remember, when I opened my email and saw it saying ”Welcome Lizzy”, I smiled and went home and told my family. That was about three months ago. So when my third-born son Panashe — who is doing a diploma in journalism — told me: ”Mama, you can write a story for a newspaper in South Africa about anything or even your life in the rural areas and send it through the email,” I wrote the story on a piece of paper.

One day, when Carlington and I went to town for my checkup at the doctor (I used to have a problem with my leg), I told him to take me to the internet café again. He helped me write my story on the computer and send it.

It is really interesting how one has to move with today’s times because if you don’t you will be left behind. Recently, we bought cellphones — my husband and I — despite the network problems in the rural areas and we are also moving on with this internet and computer thing to upgrade ourselves.

Since the day my son introduced me to this email, it has been interesting because of how fast and easy it is to just talk to someone anytime. But the sad thing is I get to use it only when I’m in town because there are no internet cafés where we stay.

The internet café has also become expensive — paying Z$300-billion for a minimum of 30 minutes is too much when you want to buy food for the family. The other thing is it seems it’s only me and my sons who are able to send each other the letters through the internet because most of our relatives and friends do not have access and knowledge of it.

Fascinating, though, is that when our cellphones have network problems, we just climb into a nearby tree to get better reception. From there we can talk to our relatives and friends anywhere and anytime we want. These things have taught us that even in the rural areas we have to move with the times.