When I first saw the title and debated on whether there was anything I could write…(G.Ngwenya)5 min read

When I first saw the title and debated on whether there was anything I could write, there was a sudden rush of places, dates, people that came to the fore, there was a re-igniting within me of stories that had been filed away in my subconscious and suddenly I could taste the desire that I had to write and share my experiences, it was now or never.
Growing up in the eighties, one knew that at least twice a year, you would go and visit grandparents in the rural areas, our maternal ones stayed in Pakame mission, somewhere in the Shurugwi area. I remember as a child it was quite an adventure, and what left us wide eyed were the stories around the fire in my grandmother’s kitchen. Once we had eaten, and eating was never in individual plates, we had a plate for the sadza and one for the relish, so there we were, town kids adjusting to eating communally and having to wait our turn to pick a piece of meat. This type of eating was so foreign to us but the novelty of being able to eat together was equally fascinating. However, what was more interesting were the stories that filled the smoky kitchen. Stories of how my mother and her siblings grew up, as well as neighbourhood rivalries and the various beliefs that existed in the community.
Fast forward to the mid 1990’s when I started university where I majored in geology, and every year for the duration of the programme, we would go on field trips. We certainly didn’t stay in hotels but in camp sites. This meant that besides spending our days traversing the many hills and valleys looking for geological formations, at the end of each day, there would be a campfire and the main activity was cooking for the hungry men and women who had contributed to the advancement of learning, and like we used to say, “we mapped a bit more of what Macgregor had done”. For those not familiar with geology, if you go into the geological annals of Zimbabwe, you will be amazed that one man known as Macgregor mapped and documented most of the geological formations and the mineral reserves of the country. I was not one of a strong rural background and that meant I had not been exposed to cooking over an open fire and unfortunately when exposed to the smoke, my eyes swelled up like one of those Guyana lizards. But it was around the campfire that a lot of stories were shared, mostly about the day’s experience. A typical day on these geological expeditions involved being sent packing by our lecturers, with our hammer, campus, bottle of water, tin of canned beef, provita biscuits and oranges! I vividly remember when we were second year students, part of our field trip took us to Chinhoyi, Kariba and the Sengwa area in Gokwe. On that trip, we were warned of the elephants’ love for oranges and how crazy they became. So one particular day, before we even got to the campfire, Ntombi’s group experience had spread like wildfire, there were so many versions being punted, but we knew the actual one would be shared around the campfire. Ntombi was part of an elite group of female students who had made history by being the biggest female intake the department had registered since its formation. So as we waited for the bona fide version, unfortunately Ntombi never quite got to tell us her story around the campfire because there was a boisterous fellow Brian who just took it upon himself to recall how he saw Ntombi’s group running for their lives with one elephant in hot pursuit, and Ntombi screaming, “I don’t have children yet, don’t trample on
me”, as if the elephant had any understanding of what that meant. In case you are wondering,
Ntombi married her college sweetheart and together they had 3 children. I didn’t pursue a
career as a geologist, I guess if I had there would have been a lot more stories around the
campfire!
In our family, we have a tradition to celebrate birthdays with pomp and fare. This year was
no exception and for my birthday, the venue of choice was Hippo pools. This is after having
accompanied my sister and her husband to pick up my nephew and fallen in love with the
place. Though it doesn’t have as many hippos as a place out at Queen Elizabeth National Park
in Uganda where we had a “hippo symphony” and I remember my nephew suggesting we
capture the sound and set it as my ring tone. So back to birthday celebrations, turning 44
heralded my first voluntary camping trip. So with my sisters, brother in law and friends, we
set out on a Saturday morning, the girls in one car and the boys in another. My sister had
lovingly downloaded a playlist off Deezer with my favourite hits from Toni Braxton to Tracey
Chapman and by now you all know that stories around the campfire don’t start at the
campfire but that they are a build-up of stories and things that have been happening around
us, so our around the campfire started as we drove out to Hippo pools, where one of our
friends who recently divorced had taken the plunge and agreed to go and meet a potential
partner and it turned out all he needed was a girl who could cook “sadza rezviyo”. So that was
the end of the potential relationship but the beginning of the interrogation from the
girlfriends. At the campfire, the girls sat on camp chairs around the fire, whilst the boys
prepared supper. The banter oscillated from what the guys were not doing right, to chastising
one of our friends who wanted to help them with the cooking, to how the older we get, the
simpler our demands become. Around that campfire there was laughter, love, and a
camaraderie that can only come from genuine friendship and individuals who realise that life
happens and campfire moments add the hues and tones to a life well lived