guest column:Miriam Tose Majome
My first job when I graduated from Hillside Teachers’ College decades ago was at Chimurenga Secondary School in Mutoko.
It was like any typical Zimbabwean rural school, remote with no electricity or piped water.
The school is sign posted 10km away from the Nyamapanda Highway at a small, but popular roadside business centre called Cornerstore.
There was no bus service inland so everyone had to walk the long distance after getting off the blue and white Mazarura and Mbizi buses that plied the route to Nyamapanda Border Post.
It was a completely different way of life from what I was used to and the experience gave me profound respect for rural school teachers and insights into rural life.
Daily in the afternoon farmers or their children led empty ox carts back home after off-loading vegetables at Cornerstore for transport destined for Mbare Musika.
These persistent gruelling efforts by these simple, hardworking peasant farmers have for decades ensured that tomatoes and green vegetables are always on the country’s tables.
I joined a team of other very young teachers in their early to late 20s.
I was young and shy at first and completely oblivious of rural lore and custom.
I was also still in strong denial of the job and career circumstances in which I had found myself.
I pined for home and the conveniences of urban life in Harare, so my youthful pride forced me to decline the insistent kindly offers by the earnest well-meaning villagers to jump on board their carts to help ease the arduous 10km walk to the school.
Other teachers who had long dispensed with their urban pretentions would scamper and jostle competitively with villagers to board the precariously rickety carts.
Like the madam from Harare I still was I would wave them off dismissively and follow behind stoically on foot.
At first the oxen would appear to be moving slowly and in keeping with my step, but after an hour or two hot, sweaty, tired and bothered and barely having covered a quarter of the distance, the cart would appear like a small dot in the far distance as it made its treacherous way up hills that I would trudge up another hour or two later.
Ten kilometres is not an easy walking distance in the bristling high altitude heat of Mutoko while carrying a month’s supply of provisions or a small gas tank or new Primus stove.
Eventually, I began loosening up and would reluctantly agree to put some of my luggage on passing carts to be dropped off at the school while I followed behind unencumbered. It was just one day when a cart stopped that I said “Argh! What the heck! and scampered and elbowed villagers and other teachers out of the way to jump on board much to their kindly disguised amusement.
Just like that the madam from Harare was gone and was now one with the people.
Teaching in rural Zimbabwe is a humbling experience and is not for people of a nervous or snobbish disposition.
Thereafter, I would wait openly and impatiently complaining loudly if a cart was offloading its wares too slowly and would pre-board the best corner of the cart space and quarrel with other teachers for it.
Emirates has nothing on us because we invented pre-boarding using ox carts at the Cornerstore in Mutoko.
The best way to understand an ox-cart ride on a dusty road is to imagine a drive on the rockiest road in those chambers of hell that even the devil abandoned.
It is nasty, rough, clumsy, dusty, painful, dangerous, rickety, awkward, sore, bumpy and everything else in between that is horrible as the two yoked oxen ply unsteadily and inelegantly ahead with no cohesion or sense of rhythm whatsoever.
The ride is horrific, but it is reliable and oxen get you there, but you need three days recovery to heal the bruises and aches and pains.
There is always the danger of contracting tetanus from the deep cuts and gashes inflicted by rusty torn metal plates or wires sticking out from somewhere and the rusty tins intruding into you.
The oxen can also be startled suddenly by anything and start running wildly into the bush tipping the cart violently over, injuring and instantly killing the passengers on board.
The thought of dying like that was an ever present worry to me every time I was aboard one as I crashed indecorously into the fellow passengers and wires. As I clung onto the razor sharp metal edges for dear life, I imagined that the shame of dying on an ox-cart in Mutoko would be worse than death itself.
To be continued next week….