Reflections on community and curiosity; on renewal and regeneration from an Old friend
My name is Melanie and my 13 year old son Tinaye and i just returned to the West Coast of Canada after staying at Kufunda for 7 weeks.
I was returning to the place and people that taught me how to live in community and village 15 years ago. I had the honour and privilege to live and work at Kufunda for 2 years. Stepping back into Kufunda, those 15 years felt like a lifetime ago, and also like only a short time had passed. I was welcomed back by old friends as if I had never left. Yet I saw the growth and blossoming that 15 years planted in one place, in one communal vision, can create.
Something in me was planted deep in this soil, and as I walked on the earth, breathed in the air, hugged old friends, danced together, and recollected memories, those seeds of 15 years were soaked, germinated, and reborn.
I am in awe when people here remember the details of our time together. It makes me feel seen and known in some way that I can't quite express, other than to say the roots of connection and impact are deep, and cannot be doubted. Village life carries a weight, a sinking in and through. And it's this weight and depth of connection that I grieve when in Canada with those of us settlers who haven't had long woven threads of community to weigh us down into each other and through to the future.
Don't get me wrong, I don't (or at least try not to) romanticize village life in Zimbabwe. It's hard. Conversations and actions every single day revolve around making enough money to eat, to pay kids' school fees. Every day is a day filled to the brim with ideas and actions on how to get ahead....and by getting ahead I mean eating more than maize meal, vegetables, oil, and salt....conversations every day include questions like: "how can I get my car running? What is the price of fuel today? (its been at least $1.70 USD since I have been here), What is the inflation rate today? How can I get maize meal to my parents since they are too old to grow it themselves? Somehow I need to pay for my child's exam fees (they are about $150 per year)..."
...And yet the basics are covered here at least at Kufunda and I assume most villages. Adults make sure kids are fed. Newcomers and villagers are welcome in every house all day....all night. There is always someone to talk with, a child is always singing and playing with another child. Conversations and check-ins are the main forms of communication (not facebook). And this may be trite, but it really really REALLY isn't. Every day when I step out of my door I am in conversation with people. I truly believe many of us, in fact, most of us in most of the north have lost the gift of communing with people all day. This I grieve too. I am remembering how to do this myself, and I see how difficult it is for Tinaye. He is already used to connecting through a device at 13.
And yes, Kufunda is different. It is able to exist due to a vision of one deeply touched woman, Maaianne, and her family welcoming her vision onto their land.
It's different because as well as those survival questions, Kufunda dives into bigger questions; about the future, about the past, and about how the present is the crucial and magical link to both. Kufunda has been here for 20 years now, and I can see how these deep roots, these curiosities, and explorations hold the soil of life in one place. I am overjoyed when I witness the pride and presence of the children that are raised by parents who are free to ask these powerful and visionary questions. They are raising children who don't get beaten in school for wrong answers, and who don't get turned away for not being able to afford school fees or a uniform, who when there is conflict it generally gets sorted with each other, problem solving together. Kufunda knows that educating the child and adults through curiosity and exploration is the ONLY way Zimbabwe will get out of this extraordinary deep pothole it is stuck in. Dreaming up the future now.
So one step at a time, and then another step towards freedom and authenticity.
The land. It is an oasis in this very barren, very parched area. The British came and grew tobacco for a very long time. Now the earth is sand. There are hardly any trees in the surrounding area, only at Kufunda where they have security guards patrolling day and night for poachers of trees used for firewood. It's one of those hard balances. People are poaching for survival, yet without the forests there's nothing. You all know this. Forests are everything.
In the 15 years since I was here, I see the success in the form of renewal. Grasslands are making way for forests. Msasa trees grow fast and so in 15 years where there was a sandy scraggly nothing, there is now large Msasas. Large ones. And the birds are here, and chameleons, a large variety of butterflies and moths, wild bees, snakes, bush babies. As well, there is soil to grow food. The gardens here are thriving. All this is due to conservation and trusting the long process. Earthen houses, jengatahuni stoves, compost toilets, solar panels, and community working together.
When i look around and see how people tend the land, they know they are also tending to the wild places, the ecosytem within them and within each other. Its a renewal of an old way of living that is being rebirthed. And just in time. Just in time.