Are you who you think you are?

A young man, a stranger, asked me about identity – about my identity as a Zimbabwean.

Am I a Zimbabwean?

I think so but I’m a person first, linked to the world through the experience of childhood and the need to belong.   I’ve survived adolescence and gradually gained a sense of self.  It is rooted in family but propelled by some force of nature to always push to new horizons.

It’s now, when out in the world, that a need for labels begins to encroach.  I have to be from somewhere.

It’s amongst strangers that being Zimbabwean really matters.  It explains the way I speak, the difference between me and others.  It’s still the label that says the most about me to a world that does not know my family.

I am a Zimbabwean … aren’t I?  Well no … not officially.  It’s complicated in Zimbabwe.

I now belong to a remembered place – a country that schooled me in discipline and obedience.  I believed its leaders – censorship ensured that it never entered my head to do otherwise.  Today I remain bound to it – brainwashed by one of its regimes and dispossessed by the next.

Zimbabwe is a country in turmoil.  Its communities have been uprooted and a corruption I never had to deal with now feeds off the confusion of diamond wealth and neglect.    Yet still its sounds, its views, its weather patterns, its wildlife, its people are deep in my memory.

I know much has changed but there is also so much that will never change.  Politics might be in turmoil but the seasons and the landscapes remain the same.  Both are there for all Zimbabweans whether pushed to the outside or not. They are our birthright and they are more than just a memory.

So in answer to the stranger I’d like to say that loss and change both diminish and reinforce true identity.  When you stand outside belonging takes on new meaning.  You see yourself more clearly as you inhabit the strange spaces of in between.

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