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Abeja Dispatch

School's Out!
A Day In the Life of a Zimbabwean High School Student

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A Family
Portrait
Caption
At four in the afternoon, the streets of Zengezi, a small suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, fill with students. Primary school students pass by wearing blue uniforms - shorts and ties for the boys and bibbed dresses for the girls. High school students from the two local high schools also flood the streets, walking home in groups, laughing and shouting hello to one another.

Memory Bandera is nineteen and in her last year at Zengezi High School. High school here is one year longer than in the US, and this year is designed to prepare the students for the university. You've met Memory before because Kevin and I have written about the Girl-Child Network and she is the president. Today, as on all school days, she arrives at school by seven in the morning, and she doesn't leave until four in the afternoon. Today is different, however, because I have been invited to dinner and to spend the night at Memory's house after the Girl-Child Network meeting.

Map

We leave the school in a group of girls, all excited to talk to me about my country and find out if I can help them get scholarships to attend college in the United States. Memory is very interested in attending Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. We are followed by a shy group of giggling primary school students who are not used to seeing white people in their town. I try to talk with them, but have little success, probably because they are shy, I have a funny accent, and they haven't learned much English yet. (Do you remember what language they speak?)

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Whisking up a tasty concoction!
Caption
Memory's house is similar to the other houses in Zengezi. It is a one story concrete house with a fence around it and a large garden. In the garden, I recognize sugar cane, kale, peppers and tomatoes, and, of course, corn plants. It seems like every Zimbabwean with even the tiniest patch of earth grows some corn, which is known here as maize or, more commonly, mealies. Even though the plant was originally brought by the Europeans from South America, maize has become a staple of the Zimbabwean diet in the form of sadza, a cornmeal mush. After the revolution, when Zimbabwe was formed, the first president planted "mealies" around the presidential palace -- to the horror of the class conscious whites still in the country!

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Ashton and I feast on this wonderful meal
Caption
We are greeted at the gate by Memory's brothers, Archford, who is 16, and Ashton, age 11. Archford is no longer in school, so he spends much of his time tending the garden and helping his mother fix up the house, which is still being constructed. Ashton also just got home from school. He is in the sixth year at a primary school that is much further away. His parents send him there because they want him to learn English well, and most of the lessons at the local school are taught in Shona. In order to get to school on time, he has to leave the house at 5:30 in the morning!

Memory's mother, Dorcas, is in the kitchen preparing dinner with Rosemary, a young 15-year old relative from the rural areas who has come to town to live with their family. Dorcas greets me warmly with a hug and a cup of tea. Rosemary smiles shyly and doesn't say much, even when I try to talk to her. She and many other girls I encounter here in Zimbabwe contrast sharply with the girls from the Girl-Child Network, who are confident and speak their minds.

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I'm
overcome by this beautiful gift!
Caption
Memory goes to her room to change out of her school uniform, Ashford plops down in front of the television with his game-boy, and I go into the kitchen to help with dinner. Dorcas knows I'm a vegetarian, so we're making a vegetable dish cooked with peanut butter. Unlike maize, peanut butter is a food that is indigenous to Southern Africa. I think it was brought to North America during slave trading,to eventually become a huge part of my diet! In Latin America, peanut butter was really rare, so I'm excited to be here.

Memory comes in to help, and we chop vegetables, cook them, and then add a peanut-butter and water mixture for them to simmer in a bit longer. Next we make sadza. This corn-meal mush is actually easy to make but it requires a lot of strength! Rosemary and Memory have mastered the technique,and can stir the pot of boiling cornmeal and water with quick, strong strokes. When it was my turn, I was embarrassed by how slow the wooden spoon moved through the sadza, even when I pulled with all my might!

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Yummmmy. .. Oops. . I think you missed a little
Caption
Memory's father arrives home from his job as a book-binder just in time for dinner. All of our work paid off because dinner is great! Sadza is traditionally eaten with your hands, and is mixed up with meat stew, vegetables or any other tasty thing on your plate in order to give it some flavor. Like tortillas in Mexico and Guatemala, sadza is eaten at almost every meal with practically every food. The kids can't even imagine how I can ever live without it in the United States.

After dinner the family sits and talks, and Ashton gives me my first Shona language lesson. Then Dorcas emerges from her room with the most beautiful outfit I have ever seen. She is a seamstress who makes beautiful, hand-dyed African dresses. She presents me with this gorgeous dress as a gift to remember her by, and helps me try it on and tie the matching scarf around my head! I am almost in tears! It is the most beautiful outfit I have ever owned!

A day of school, cooking, and language lessons leaves me feeling completely exhausted. I thank everyone and go to Memory's room to sleep. I don't know how late Memory stayed up doing homework, but I hope it wasn't that long, because we got up the next morning at six a.m. for school.

We bathe and Memory dresses in her well-pressed uniform and shines her black, patent-leather shoes. I feel like a slob as I put back on my old clothes and hiking boots, but it's all I have with me! We eat a breakfast of fried eggs, baked beans, toast with margarine and jam, and a sweet cornmeal porridge. Memory packs herself a lunch, and then we have to run out the door to school, so that we won't be late! Sound familiar?

Abeja
 

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