We had a house in Africa

We had a house in Africa

The joy of writing a blog is the freedom to say who, when, how much. There are no rules, no constraints, and no deadlines. A thought arises, an influx of emotions surge, palms sweat, toes twitch, nails get bitten as excitement takes my clothes off and fear puts them immediately back on. If I’m feeling brave enough, I teeter on the edge of those thoughts, allowing them the space to travel alongside every judgement, underneath any critical tone, up against my great big towering wall of doubt and see where it takes me. Often the struggle between thought and doubt involves a lot of blood and bad language. Patterns of the past get dug up and flung around, hitting the fan on its way. But occasionally my inner NutriBullet blends the stalks with the seeds, the skin with the flesh, an idea is poured and a story begins.

The biggest challenge I am faced with at the moment, however, is not writing about the feelings I have towards the current state of our global affairs. Unless you’re living in a shoe without wifi, I’m sure you’re finding it as difficult as I to not be affected by what we are inundated with from every platform in every form of the media. Whichever way you sway, different strokes for different folks, whatever floats your boat. Potato potarto, tomato tomarto, there’s a lot happening out there. A lot of anger with a lot of fear. But if I were to throw in those thoughts and turn on my NutriBullet there’d be nothing smoothie about the end result. Plus, I’m afraid you might think I said I peed my pants when really I just thought the show was better than Pirates of Penzance.
So while Kim Yong-un is playing a round of bridge, bidding his trump or no-trump cards, dishing out some truth or dare games as the world rinses out the inside of their homes…I’d rather play spin the bottle and snog the face off a good memory.

I was at school in my vegetable patch when my grade 5 gardening teacher, Mr Terry came to tell me that I could put my spade down and go to the office because my mum’s friend Bobo was waiting to drive us to the hospital to meet our baby brother who had just been born. I remember my mum being wheeled out of the delivery ward with what I thought was a third boob resting on her tummy. Madame Ovary had decided that our team was not big enough and we needed to expand. She had been in a relationship with one of Harare’s eligible bachelors and one night, apparently, dropped the disprin from between the knees and along came a brother. He was welcomed and adored by all of us, especially my grandpa, whose legs would shake as he’d cry whenever he held his grandson. Totally understandable given that he had 2 daughters and 5 granddaughters. On the day he first met my brother, he snuck Zim$10 into our palms with his giant, soft, arthritic, rugby-damaged hands like we were doing a dodgy deal. We could treat ourselves that day because he was so happy. I was like, bring on the boys, Mum! Keep dropping that disprin.

We’d sold the blue mitsubishi lancer and upgraded to a VW Kombi for the long stretch of the Enterprise Road, carrying more precious cargo. It always felt like hours from Chisipite, though likely to be only 20 minutes before we reached the Manyonga Road turn off. We weren’t sure how we would all fit in this little house but we’d make a plan. It had been a home that we’d lived in for longer than the others, one that we loved and one that we actually owned. After winding our way up the hills, turning left into the grand stone entrance at the top of our driveway, the Kombi weaved its way around the curves of the low brick walls guiding each bend past the cactus trees, down to the house. A fat frangipani tree held up our treehouse at the bottom of the driveway, casting shade over our bikes. An undulating slope lead us through the front door into a living space separated by giant glass sliding doors opening out onto the verandah that overlooked rolling hills falling down into the Umwinsidale Valley. A valley of Msasa trees. A view like no other, people would say.

Before baby blue eyes was born, we 3 girls – Dollar, Emma and I – were as equally independent as we were inseparable. Emma would always have to sit in the middle on the back seat of the lancer as we’d drive that long 2 hour drive to school just so that Debra and I could sniff her bed hair. She’d whack us like pestering mosquitoes but we always persisted. There was something so intoxicating about sniffing the back of our baby sister’s scalp that nurtured our nostrils with the scent of familial safety and warmth. We’d parade around the swimming pool doing fashion shows for each other, swaggering with shawls of cloth draped over our shoulders, stopping, spinning around, sauntering back. I don’t know how it came about but it somehow turned into a naked show and we’d strip off our cozzies, strutting around singing, “The naked style oooh oooh oooh oooh”, and then dive into the water. Our best friend Doodie would visit us but she didn’t like the naked style, so we’d play swing tennis with a pole and a rope belting out we are the champions, my friends, no bubbaloobers, ‘cause we are the champions of the world. Just like Freddie Mercury in his cozzie. As sisters we were always fiercely competitive, so poor Doodie often found her little limbs on the receiving end of one of Dollar’s do or die forehands. So many school holidays spent with portions of Doodie’s body bandaged and backed up with ice packs because of Dollar’s stick and balls force or my bad driving in golf carts. Even Emma managed to cripple Doodie once, having flung bullets of firewood at us after a long and terrifying chase around the garden just because we pissed her off. I still don’t know what we did exactly, but I’ve never been so petrified of wood. Even the wood was petrified.

When James came home to Manyonga Road, everything changed. We fought over who would carry him around the house, pick him up out of his cot when he woke up and who would sit next to his car seat, sniffing his baby scalp. I committed to the 3am feed some nights, mostly because I loved eating his powdered baby milk. I’d prepare the bottle, adding a couple of scoops with warm water, and then a couple of scoops into my mouth. Couple more in there, couple more in here. It wasn’t long before I was kicked out of the swimming pool fashion shows.
Mummy’s friends would come and visit us, even more than before, and tell us how good we were with a baby. We were naturals. The front lawn leant its kikuyu blades to long and lingering picnic lunches, beneath the Msasa trees, overlooking the view like no other. Bottles of Graça seemed to make the view better and better. Just so beautiful. We’d lie in bed at night listening to the cry of a bushbaby or a nightjar, or crickets or Bobo’s laugh. A cackle that enraptured the silence with affection. Manyonga Road had become the greatest home in the world. Thanks to Mummy dropping the disprin.

Unfortunately, as our family had expanded, so had our shopping bills. Apparently formula milk is very expenny in Zim, and James was going through a lot of it. So it was time to pack up sticks, sell and move on.
It didn’t take us long to set up camp in another beautiful spot with another breathtakingly beautiful view, with our crippled best friend still spending holidays with us. In fact I think it was on the new property that Doodie incurred the worst ever injury to her coccyx, whilst playing some ball game with Dollar. Nevertheless she was still hanging out with us. As were Mummy’s friends. As were the picnic lunches. As was the Graça.
But Manyonga Road would always be the greatest home in the world. Not just because of its long driveway, its trees, its soil. And not because it was the only house we ever owned. It was the home that one day sheltered 4 of us, and the next day 5. It housed the beginning of the expansion of our team. It brought us a brother who made my grandpa cry with happiness who then gave us money. It gave us a VW Kombi and lots of lunch parties. And it really did have spectacular views.

When we moved to Dublin I’d tell my Irish friends that I had a house in Africa. At the foot of the Umwinsidale Hills. And they’d say that’s great craic, Nooola. Is your ma Karen Blixen?




6 thoughts on “We had a house in Africa”

  • Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  • I absolutely loved reading this beautiful piece you wrote of a small part of your life. Your Mum and I were inseparable growing up
    and your Grandpa was always amazing to me. What a beautiful house this must have been. I wish your mum & I could have shared times in our adult lives
    with our children ! xxxxx

  • So good. Wonderfully funny, achingly evocative. Poor Doodie though… 🙂

    P.s. Anyone who says they haven’t tried eating formula powder is lying

    • So painful – but we just laughed our way through it all! Most injuries sustained by me and colleen were inflicted by Debra – she doesn’t know her own strength! Xxx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *