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Some embarrassing ways of loving

Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday Everyone is welcome here, as long as they have hunhu, deep respect for the other person. But on the day of the ki...

Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
Everyone is welcome here, as long as they have hunhu, deep respect for the other person. But on the day of the kiss, Piri said hunhu was seriously under threat. The prolonged kiss happened right here in the village, under the moonlight.

We all saw it. On that day, there was a cool breeze coming from the east and we could smell the rain even though it was still a few days away.

We were all sitting outside my mother’s kitchen hut as we often do, enjoying the full moon.

The dogs were busy chewing left-over chicken bones on edge of the village homestead as we talked and shared good wine and beer.

There was me, my friend Bhiya, my cousin Piri, my brother Sydney, my niece Shamiso and her husband Philemon, our neighbour Jemba and a few young men from nearby who often come along to get free beer and music.

Apart from drinking free beer and eating sadza with meat, our neighbours also came to see some of our white visitors or varungu, because you hardly see Westerners in the village these days.

Gone are the times when we had so many European expatriates coming down here to volunteer for any job, even bricklaying and carpentry.
While Shamiso believes that bride and groom kissing during a wedding, in front of people is fine, Piri and Philemon are of the opinion that wedding or no wedding, kissing in public is in bad taste
In those days, soon after independence, Zimbabwe was the darling of Western countries. Donors and the odd missionaries used to wander down here to do development work or to bring a few lost souls to Christ.

These days, we hardly ever see visitors from Europe or anywhere else here unless we bring them to see the work we are doing in the Simukai Project.

Most times, the Europeans who come here are our friends or relatives.

Each time they come, word goes around very quickly to say, we have visitors from afar. People come to greet and welcome visitors, as they should.

Everyone is welcome here, as long as they have hunhu, deep respect for the other person.

But on the day of the kiss, Piri said hunhu was seriously under threat.

Involved in the moonlight kiss was my friend Alison, the one I went to university with when I was in Australia many years ago, and her new boyfriend Doug. Alison met Doug earlier this year in a yoga class. Both of them had been single for some years. Now, they were so in love and could not stay separate from each other.

“Why do they kiss in public like that? Zvinonyadzisa,” said Piri, meaning the kiss was such an embarrassing and shameful thing to do. She turned away from the two lovers as they remained locked in a kiss, completely oblivious to our presence. Piri’s frown looked like it was saying she had never kissed anyone in her whole life. And maybe she had not. We do not often discuss these intimate issues.

“This is not the age to be kissing,” said Jemba, laughing. “Varungu ava, are not teenagers.”

“Maybe you have taken too long to show them their bedroom for the night,” said Philemon looking at me.

“They make us feel embarrassed in front of you all.” Alison heard the word kissing and let go of Doug.

“Jemba said you are too old to be kissing,” I told her.


“Yes,” I said.

“At what age do people here stop kissing?” Alison asked, pouring herself a glass of wine. Doug reached for his long lens camera and wandered into the nearby field to look at the stars.

“We do not have an age to stop kissing or showing affection. We just do not do it in public,” said Sydney.

“Ah, what is so embarrassing about a kiss?” asked Shamiso.

“When I get married one day, the pastor will say, ‘You can kiss the bride’. And I shall be kissed in public!”

“Nani?” Philemon asked, meaning, by who?

“You of course. Do you think I will marry another man?”

“I will not do that in public,” said Philemon, walking away from the whole conversation. It was all getting too embarrassing for him.

“A wedding is a good place to show a kiss. All the guests can see that you are in love and God has put you together in holy matrimony,” said Shamiso.

“Wedding or no wedding, you should not kiss in public like the way these two have just done. Hazvina hunhu,” said Piri.

“But, Tete, where are you getting lost? Kissing is normal at weddings, especially Christian weddings. It is the Western thing to do,” said Shamiso.

“When I get married, I will demand a real kiss. Not this touching on the lips. Real kissing where you can see the swirling of a tongue. You will see. ”

“When that moment comes on your wedding day, you will not see me there. I will disappear until that embarrassing episode is over,” Piri said.

Then Piri turned to me as she often does when she wants to embarrass me. “Sis, will you sit there and ululate when Shamiso and Philemon attempt a kiss on their wedding day?”

Before I could answer, she fired another question. “Have you ever kissed in public?” Piri asked. I was not going to answer that, especially in front of my brothers and others. Such subjects must be approached with cultural care. I gave a general answer, saying kissing was a necessary way of expressing love. It takes good chemistry to get it going well and to sustain it over time in relationships, especially in marriage. Some Western people do it very well.

Back here in the village and also in the cities, this kissing business is still a problem. Where and when do we kiss? Is it okay or not okay to kiss in front of people? What about those people we call vanyarikani, meaning the relatives and others who make us feel bad if we demonstrate some culturally unacceptable behaviour like kissing in public?

Any public expression of physical intimacy must be avoided when they are there, especially one’s mother-in-law or son in law.

Growing up here in the village compound, we never ever saw anyone kissing, cuddling or doing anything physical that suggested intimacy. Lovers met in secret places behind the anthill, in the hidden valleys, under the willow trees by the river bed and in the dark. Pregnancy in young girls always came as a big surprise because you could not tell where they met in order to spend time to conceive a child without being seen by prying disapproving eyes. And yet, lovers were intimate with each other. All the time. And they still are.

I recall one time when my mother was visiting Harare from the village. We were all staying at my sister Varaidzo’s place.

In those days, my sister lived in a very big house because she was among the first black people to move into former white-owned suburbs in Cotswold Hills. There was a big lounge room and a swimming pool although none of us could swim.

But we liked to see the pool. Then the water became green because the gardener did know how to clean it and add chlorine, acid and booster.

My sister and her husband soon emptied the pool, filled it up with sand and grew maize on top of it.

We liked the house because it was so big and Western. We also liked to watch television because back in the village, there was none.

One day, we were all sitting with my mother, brother-in-law and others in the lounge room, relaxing and talking while the television was on. A romantic movie was showing. We watched the European couple on the movie go out to dinner. They looked at each other over candlelight drinking red wine.

Her black dress had a low cut and you could see her cleavage very easily.

Then the man paid the bill and they walked to his car. His hand slipped around her waistline and she shivered.

Then he suddenly took her in his arms. His mouth lingered on her lips. She slowly opened her mouth.

At this point, my mother quickly took her wraparound cloth and got up. She bent herself almost double as she clapped her hands to walk past my brother-in-law. Later on my mother said, “Since when did a mother-in-law watch such physical intimacy in the presence of their son-in-law? These televisions of yours embarrass us.”

“If the church says you can kiss in public, then there is nothing wrong with that,” said Shamiso defiantly. She was not going to let go.

“But culture does not allow us to display such embarrassing behaviour in public. Can you imagine yourself sitting here and watching me kissing some bearded man?” Piri asked.

“Why not? I will clap hands when that happens Tete,” said Shamiso laughing. Piri did not think it was funny.

“Sometimes the church needs to pay attention to culture and not embrace everything because it’s Western,” said Piri. Chimwe chirungu hachina hunhu.

“Are you guys still talking about kissing?” asked Alison. “I am really sorry if I embarrassed anyone.

“Seriously,” she said. Then she followed Doug to the open fields. The next minute we could see their silhouette in the moonlight, locked in a kiss.

“People, Zimbabwe is beautiful,” said Jemba, licking cigarette paper and rolling his tobacco. “You can have a honeymoon right here in the fields.”

We all laughed except Piri. She said, “There is a place for showing intimacy.

“Bedrooms were created for that.”
Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.
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