Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Diaspora Generation

The Diaspora Generation

By Ruvimbo Gwatirisa 

Whenever I’ve mentioned the state of my nation, Zimbabwe, in the past, I have had an overwhelming feeling of joyful nostalgia, mingled with bitterness and sadness. There is a range of reasons why:  it is a country whose leaders are negatively viewed by the world; a country whose lack of currency has thrown a myriad of people in pits of poverty; a nation that’s tapered down my belief in politics or democracies…I could surely go on
. However, I have spent six years out of the country, still on African soil, but experiencing a strangely liberating process of coming to know and appreciate the joys of diversity, shared stories, politics, histories with other people who have been forced out of their countries or willingly moved temporarily or permanently from their homelands to study, work, or live in foreign nations. There is a certain beauty about the new and dynamic, shape shifting identities.

Zimbabwe, located in the southern part of Africa, neighboured by Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, was known once as the “bread basket of Africa”. It flourished economically, had admirable leadership, and was well on its way to being one of the most developed African nations. It has undergone a major turn around since then, having been hit by a major economic crisis and on-going political disharmony. Several factors have influenced the movement of people from the country, forming a new generation of Zimbabweans that are growing up and building lives beyond their national borders. My life out of Zimbabwe, and the displacement of my family, is really nothing new. Many a Zimbabwean will talk of how they have families all over the world, how they have not seen a sibling in five years, sometimes more, how their family split up in order to make a new life in more economically and politically stable environments than the place they grew up calling home. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe started to become real to me in 1998, at the end of my primary school years. Simple treats that we used to take for granted from our parents, became expensive luxuries, we had to shop in bulk three months ahead to curb the spending and prepare for the inflation. It got progressively worse, with the lack of running water in the suburbs, the incessant power cuts, at some point we went back to a type of barter system because the our currency meant nothing anymore. It’s simple, the moving out of the country wasn’t because people were being complacent – it just got too hard and people needed to move forward in life; so they moved. And eventually, so did we.
I have family now based in Australia, the UK, Tanzania, Botswana and the USA, and friends from a varied range of countries too. The greatest discovery I have made is the varied understandings of family and what family means – how my background as a person born into in a Christian nuclear family has become the “control” to which society is and how I believed people’s families ought to be structured. Beliefs are challenged all the time, in a place where I see the roles of the heads of the household changes constantly with the numerous stories of mothers who leave and send remittances to their children “back home” while the father takes on the role of rearing the child a role once solely attributed to the women. Coming also from quite a homophobic society, it’s interesting to see how views of patriarchy, sexuality, and even religion are constantly being negotiated in each space I enter. Also, the boundaries between who my brothers and sisters are, are constantly blurred as I continuously make friends with other foreign nationals, and the housemates and roommates I have come to know have become the family I come home to on a daily basis.  It could be lonely. Culture shock is real. But it’s built a political self that is thinking and constantly negotiating identities and boundaries all around.

This Zimbabwean Diaspora generation is a marvel, and I look forward to seeing what a melange our children will be, and how their thinking plays out when it comes to their negotiation of culture, economics, society and politics. It could lead to extreme essentialism – a fight for that purity of race, culture, religion and the like, or a total celebration of diversity that I’ve been happy enough to start embracing. I guess it doesn’t matter what exactly it is that pushed me out of my nation, but I am grateful for the chance to explore what is beyond the boundaries of states through my meandering within other nations. More than that, I share the view that society is kind of structured like the traditional nuclear family, and with this diaspora generation, I look forward to seeing how this will structure the political world as we know it. I have grown to love my country even more, though I gaze at it from the outside looking in – for now. I see the resilience of my people, those who have stayed and those who have left. It is not easy being foreign, from cultural conflicts, xenophobia, difficulty in securing employment – everything is a damn struggle. And it’s not easy being at home either. The hardest for me has been dealing with the separation of families, my family. Whenever I look at where I am now, there’s only ever one wish – that my children will grow up knowing their family, their cousins, aunts, and uncles in the same way that I was able to before shit hit the proverbial fan back home. Things are getting better – but families will never be the same; not in the way I remember them to be anyway.

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