I’m loving the summer in southern Italy, so similar to that of my home city, Harare. I have been in Italy for a couple of months now. Very limited interaction with people: I do not speak Italian, and not many in this remote small town can speak English. I use a lot of my time on the Internet, keenly searching for any family news, about my country in general, and about former colleagues.
Musharukwa1, a brilliant giant in TV production and my friend and former colleague has just been found,“his body badly decomposed after he went missing twenty days ago”. There are so many such cases of torture and abductions. I feel lucky to be safe, but also sadly so because many innocent lives continue to perish in that so-called independent country. I decide not to read more about this inhuman behavior; it triggers sad memories and makes me crazy.
Instead, I listen to music or search for people I know have left, like I did, and try to connect with them. Today I want to send a music CD to one that I found to be based in Canada. I now have a good selection of Italian music, and it’s very soothing.
As I arrive at the post office, the queue is long, as usual, it’s very slow-moving too.
I have enough time to kill anyway, and eventually, it’s my turn.
‘Sorry we are out of small envelopes’
‘Where else do they sell them?’
‘Try any kiosk, back closer to the city’
Up the hill, a kilometer and half away, I find one.
Just one foot inside, very harsh words greet me.
‘No, no, no, no! Vai via per favore, via!”
Niente soldi qui, non sono mica la croce rossa, vai vai!’
(‘No-no-no-no, go away please, please go away!
No money here, I am not a charity, just go away’)
As he screams at me, he waves both hands as if shooing away an irritating stray chicken.
That harsh and croaky voice pierces right through my heart.
In my confusion, I freeze, right there, staring at this alcohol-rugged face.
Slowly I make two steps towards my unwelcoming host. Oh! the stench that hits my nose! What a nasty foul mixture! Garlic from yesterday’s dinner plus a concoction of types of alcohol fresh from this morning? It drifts in my direction bombarding my “pure” nose!
I look behind me, expecting to see someone.
‘So, it’s me he is shouting at!’ I approach his shop-counter, suppressing my burning rage but stubbornly determined. I feel my sharp eyes drill through his dull, tobacco tainted and tired eyes. This ‘giant,’ filthy kiosk owner looks somewhat confused. Perhaps a bit insecure too.
A long silence, thick atmosphere, as we stare at each other questioningly. His eyes betray a sense of blurred conscience. Shame or guilty, perhaps. I am also lost, humiliated, embarrassed as if caught naked and totally striped of my dignity.
Finally, I manage to ask, ‘Do you sell envelopes then, the CD size?’. My Italian is almost zero at this point. I have to minimize any verbal dialogue and use hands to describe the envelope size.
Like a dog caught stealing, tail between its legs, the ‘giant’ picks a small envelope, places it on the counter. The envelope in my hand, am deciding… as if in slow motion.
After seconds that feel like hours, I push it back and it lands on the edge of the counter
lightly touching his beer-belly.
‘No thanks, I will try elsewhere’ I say stepping out. With my back eye, I see this alcohol-stinking giant, aghast, as if a ghost has just left his awful, tiny kiosk.
Back at my apartment reflecting:
It could be that “giant” has had his tough times in life too. Something he and I probably share. Only that we choose to direct our anger and frustrations at the wrong persons, often the weaker ones. Being an exile, refugee, homeless, dependent, poor, you can name it, cuts very deep. That stigma is like a label stuck on your forehead and back. It’s like a nagging fly you can’t tackle even with a fly swatter.
Dignity and identity are the only possessions we have. Possessions we will always fight to carry and keep. This is a somewhat comforting thought! I cannot afford too much time thinking about the pain of life, afraid it becomes too real and overbearing. I don’t want to feel because feeling can hurt. A psychologist would tell me years later, ‘Don’t push it away; one day it will fall heavily on you. Learn to open space and time in your life to think about the bad things that happened. Confide in someone and seek professional help.’ It did land hard on me later! This was only a small incident, but I have been in a survival mode for far too long. It builds up with time, the smallest thing escalates to the boiling point. On the other hand, there are many positive things and experiences out of it all that will forever influence the way I see and feel the pulse of the world. Moving on, making new friends and colleagues has introduced new ways of looking, seeing, and hearing. The world has so much more to offer than just sorrow and pain. It’s also a world where we have a purpose to live, to keep and make our own imprint – our identity and dignity.
‘Life has long legs sister,’ my Danish friend once wrote on the little card perched on the flower bouquet she sent me on my first birthday life in exile.
1 Musharukwa is a fictitious name, the word means respected elder
Francisca Prudence Uriri is a Zimbabwean filmmaker whose work cover a variety of social and political topics with a bias towards gender, health and reconciliation. She previously won “Zimbabwe Journalistic Awards 1991 “Film Editor of the year award”- for the film “The Child Soldier”. Her films Soul in Tormentand The Whisper have been selected to several festivals. From 2008 to 2010 she was an ICORN guest writer in Lillehammer and currently, she is a film tutor/supervisor at the University of Tromsø in Norway.