Growing Up in Africa

I had the perfect childhood. Sometimes I think my earlier years were too good to be true, and I must have imagined it all. I could describe growing up, but it’s just a bunch of memories that are only fun to me. The best illustration I can give is that it was a cross between the Netflix series “Stranger Things” ( minus cross dimensional monsters, of course ) and the classic movie “There’s a Zulu on my Stoep”. “Stranger Things” reminds me of 90’s Harare suburbia; riding around on our bikes, playing board games and Nintendo, and going to the cinema. “There’s a Zulu on my stoep” reminds me of the holiday adventures on farms and wildlife parks; drinking cow’s milk straight from the udder, teasing baboons ( not advisable ), and being chased by turkeys ( demon birds ). So yeah, it was nice!

Being in the first generation of a mixed race family I always stood out wherever I went. I was the darkest skinned with my paternal cousins, and the lightest with my maternal cousins. The innocent childhood honesty of my peers made me aware that I didn’t quite fit. Early on in life I had to contend with the question of identity. Young me chose to be more like whiter side of my extended family, using the same aforementioned naive judgement. My biggest point of contention was my Shona first name, Simba. I begged my parents often to change my first name to an English one. When I was about fourteen, my adult eyes started opening. I let go of the idea of changing my name and actually loved my name. I had realised that my African heritage was important even though I didn’t quite understand why. I felt it. I loved my name, Masimba Rodgers; Shona first, English last.

I’d been away for the school holidays and when I came back home the day before the new term. I was going to a new boarding school and had a trunk full new stuff and had to check that everything was in order. The lid of the trunk had my initials painted on in the wrong order, “NMR”. I didn’t mind. I began trying on the crisp uniforms. After tugging at the collar of the blazer I’d tried on, I opened to look at the inside breast pocket. The label sewn on said “Nigel Rodgers”. Another mistake, not a big deal. I checked the rest of my stuff. Uniforms, bed linen, text books everything was mislabeled. This was an emergency! I was in full-blown panic mode when I calmly went to my mother and told her I had checked everything and there was one small problem.

“Oh.” She said. “I’d forgotten.”
She took out a photocopy from here handbag. “I made copies of your new birth certificate. Look.”
She held out the paper with an expectant smile. “First Names: Nigel Masimba” it read.
“Ma, they also made a mistake on my birth certificate.” She laughed at my observation.
“You always wanted to change your name didn’t you?” She was right, but I was devastated.
“Ohhh! Thank you ma!” I said in mock surprise. I smiled and hugged her even though I was crushed inside.
My pan-african fantasy had been destroyed, but I was too occupied with thoughts of the new school to worry about it.

The decision to change my name had been purely practical, not philosophical. The problem was that a Shona first name with an English surname are very uncommon, so cashiers always switched the order to make my name Rodgers Masimba. Even if cashiers were explicitly told of the order, someone along the paper trail always found it and “corrected” it. I was sent home many times for unpaid school fees, much to my delight and mom’s chagrin, because my name didn’t show up on the bursars roll. So, fed up with the book-keeping errors she changed my name to the less ambiguous Nigel Rodgers.

I settled into school and my new identity quickly. Names really aren’t that big of a deal after all. Boarding school is another set of memories that are only meaningful to me, and I’ve bored you enough so I’ll stop here.

I guess it’s a bad ending to the post so let me know in the comments what questions you have or how you’d have wanted it to end. If you liked it there’s 28 more like it to come this month for the #BlogTember #30DayAfriBlogger challenge so please follow to get notification as soon as they are out!

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