‘England did me no favour’

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By Nesta Kupemba

I CRAVE a home I have not found.
A home I don’t know even exists.
A place where my soul feels at peace and my mind feels at ease. A place that I’m scared I might never find.
I was born in Germany and left shortly after.
When I was shy of six months old, we returned to Zimbabwe.
My father was a diplomat, a job that didn’t leave room for one to grow attached to any place for it wouldn’t last long before you’d be plucked away from what you thought was home.
Here, in Zimbabwe, is where I learnt my mother tongue.
Then once again we packed our bags and moved to England, a post that had come rather suddenly and had me sulking because at four, I was leaving everything I knew behind.
It is in England that my mother tongue was lost to me.
I immersed myself into the British culture, while losing touch with mine.
The only other black faces I saw were my family’s and my own – in the mirror!
As the years passed by, I fell in love with England.
I couldn’t imagine life outside of the UK.
It had become a part of who I was.
I knew their national anthem and saw the queen as my own.
I celebrated their holidays as I wore green on St Patrick’s Day, cried when they wore poppies and remembered those who fell in their ‘Great Wars’.
But as much as I loved their food and culture, it wasn’t enough to make me British.
Though my entire childhood was in England and each memory before I was 11 years was filled with thoughts of London, it still didn’t make me anymore British.
This was the harsh reality I had to face.
Even when we left the UK – I was 11 years – it didn’t sink in that England wasn’t my home and Queen Elizabeth wasn’t my sovereign.
So back home I began secondary school.
It was only when I was 14 years that I realised Zimbabwe was the country where my allegiances should lie.
When I first started secondary school, I was referred to by my peers as ‘that British girl’.
I know it was said with malice, but secretly I loved it.
They didn’t realise in that moment they were giving me the validation I needed to feel as though England still flowed through me.
That England hadn’t left me yet.
I didn’t have any friends and that suited me just fine.
I walked to school by myself, other students mimicked my voice as teachers asked me to read out loud.
It made me an island unto myself and this further made me believe how English I was because everyone knows Britain is an island, we shared that in common, it gave me some sort of identity.
Then suddenly, my accent began to vanish and then my memories soon faded.
I couldn’t remember the names of my former primary school teachers.
I didn’t have the indulgence of calling friends who were an ocean away as most of them had been lost in the wind.
The few I did remain in contact with never wanted to talk of the present or future – only the past.
Soon my previous friends and I were nothing more than just facebook friends.
Close enough to say ‘Happy Birthday!’ to but enough of strangers to not want to inbox them directly.
My entire childhood felt as though it were a farce.
The few fragments of memories that I clutched in my hands like sand began to slip through my fingers.
I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I decided I would embrace Zimbabwe as it was my country of descent.
Yet the people didn’t accept me – a ‘coconut’ is what they called me.
Not all of them hated me, however.
It seemed there were two schools of thought concerning me; it was either people were fascinated or found even saying my name distasteful as though they thought being my friends would make them ‘traitors’ by association.
While the latter completely ignored me unless they were throwing hateful slurs my way, the former only talked to me to ask about England.
My ignorance about things Zimbabwean, our values and ways was treated like a disease.
Leaking into every crevice of my being was the harsh reality that I was just another ‘foreigner’ in my own country they’d temporarily allowed in.
England had done me no favours.
Too ‘white’ to play with the black children as I sounded like a stuck-up b***h; were the remnants of England in me.
My own people wouldn’t accept me.
I tried to bend, tried to lose myself in Zimbabwe as I had lost myself in England all those years ago.
But I was older and less susceptible to it all.
It was as though my brain was porous enough to make sure all things Zimbabwean went straight to the garbage dump.
To compromise and become more Zimbabwean, I began to cheer at football games as ‘they’ did, cry during Heroes Day celebrations, complain about politics and speak as much Shona as I could muster.
Yet the cheers had no joy, the tears had no empathy, the complaints had no understanding and the Shona so broken you would think a child was speaking which elicited laughter from those who heard.
My inability to understand my mother tongue made me seem like a traitor to my country.
My tongue refused to bend to Shona, my language.
I stumbled over simple words.
My dislike of sadza, my country’s staple food, made me a ‘Judas’.
I couldn’t hold down a morsel without gulping down water in between bites.
My distaste for maguru and mazondo, delicacies, again isolated me as I opted for salad.
All this seemed to provoke people into calling me a ‘salala’ and yet it was just who I had become in England.
I couldn’t change how I talked so people said I was ‘nosing’ and I discovered many Zimbabweans find that distasteful.
I didn’t know how to be less offensive to people so they could look past all that and see that I just wanted to sit in the dining hall without them all leaving.
I wanted a friend to walk to school with and for someone outside of my family to want to know what goes on in my mind.
I wanted to understand and be understood.
I am 18 years now and still working towards being Zimbabwean.
I identified with the British for so long but a point came when I realised I wasn’t one of them.
Am I to be a nomad all my life; searching, looking, seeking my Neverland, always clutching at something that is not really mine – a mist in the early morning sun?
But I am Zimbabwean that I now know – and will never be anything else!

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