Home » Arts & Culture » A Visit From New Relatives

MY aunt, or Tete from Gutu and her Apostolic group of women friends clad in white robes were coming to stay for one night on their way to all-night prayers outside Harare last week.”What time will you arrive?” I asked Tete while she was still in Gutu , the night before they were to get into a kombi to Harare.

She said they would be at Mbare by 1pm.

My cousin Piri waited for them so she could guide them to my place.

They arrived at 7pm, when it was already dark.

“Tauya!” Piri said.

“We have arrived!” She walked in to the lounge, carelessly throwing a big bag full of fresh peanuts, pumpkins and water melons, gifts from Tete.

I was relaxed on the sofa having finished cooking sadza and meat for Tete and what I thought were two or maybe three of her fellow worshippers.

“I hope you have enough room,” Piri whispered into my ear.

“Madzibaba are also here.”

Madzibaba?

These were the male apostolic sect members. Tete did not mention that she was bringing men as well to my house.

Then my visitors started coming in. In front were four men in their white robes, with shaved heads and long beards and hooked Shepherd’s crooks like what you see in Biblical photos of prophets. Behind them was my Tete, looking elderly with her walking stick.

She is about 65-years-old now and her knees are sore.

But she says prayer takes away the pain of arthritis each day, not tablets.

Right behind Tete were three women, and a girl of about 10 years.

I welcomed them. Seeing the surprise in my eyes, Piri kept on hiding her giggles.

After the greetings, the men found a spot outside in the garden. They asked for firewood and lit a fire under the moonlight.

The women moved into one spare big bedroom and sat on the carpet.

“They want tea,” said Piri.

“While I am making the tea, you can make another extra pot of sadza.”

She made two big pots of tea and added large quantities of sugar and powdered milk.

Then she filled two trays with buttered bread and sun jam.

She served Madzibaba first and then the women.

One of the women, Madzimai Bathsheba, pulled out a basin from her bag and inside it was cooked rice with peanut butter.

On top of the rice was a pile of salted fried fish, matemba.

From another bag, she took out a brown bag with cooked sweet potatoes.

All the food that had travelled from Gutu was placed on the tray alongside the bread.

Then we feasted on the food.

When we were all full, Madzimai relaxed and waited for the sadza and nyama.

“This will teach you a lesson Sis. You do not say to village people, ‘yes, come over, yes, and bring your friends.’ That is not done. We are not living in the village anymore. Where will all these people sleep?” Piri asked me when we were busy dishing out the food in the kitchen.

There was room for three or maybe four women.

All the other rooms had a couple of relatives or children.

It was school holidays and my little nephews and nieces from the village were here to enjoy bread and tea, ice-cream and all the junk food that they would not get in the village.

Piri was determined to rub this in until Madzibaba and Madzimai left for the prayer night tomorrow afternoon.

I shrugged and said nothing, thinking of the times back in the village when visitors were always welcome.

Back in the village, our visitors were usually relatives from my mother’s village.

They came during the harvest.

These were mostly the wives of my mother’s brothers and nephews, coming to provide help in the fields.

They knew that my mother had several children who were still too young to harvest maize, beans, groundnuts, nyimo, sorghum and millet.

My mother never asked how long the five or more relatives were going to stay, because it was the work that would determine the length of stay.

In those pre-independence days, we grew a lot of food and the rains used to come on time.

My mother’s people worked in the fields from early morning till late.

Throughout the day, while working, there were stories told and much laughter.

My mother killed a few chickens and one or two goats.

Our relatives then left with half a basket each of grain from the harvest, so they could show the people back home that my mother had been a successful farmer.

Our visitors returned to their homes when we still wanted them to stay.

“These apostolic visitors are just like any of our relatives from afar,” I said this to Piri.

She frowned and hissed something about strange religious freeloaders.

“The only person who really matters here is Tete because she belongs to our blood line. She is our elder. She can come at any time and share this house, the food and everything.”

Piri was being very harsh.

Times have moved. Families have broken down.

Tete has no close family members over there in Gutu.

The apostolic faith is her new family.

She even cares for three little orphaned children because she does not have grandchildren of her own.

Madzibaba and Madzimai were her family. Therefore, by extension , they were our family too.

“Fine, but she should keep the new family in the village, not here. Life is expensive,” Piri said.

I said they were here for only one night. Tomorrow they would go to their zambara or all-night prayer where they would preach and sing by the fire in the hills of Concession.

At bed time, Madzibaba said all four of them would sleep in one room, two on the floor and two on the bed.

Madzimai said they would do the same in another room.

“Overcrowding and unhealthy,” Piri said, when we were alone.

At 6:05am, on Thursday morning, just before sunrise, Piri and I were summoned by Tete to join the apostolic prayer on the bare brick paved floor outside in the driveway.

We were stripped of anything that might remind you of the richness of this earth.

Earrings, wedding rings, necklaces and watches were removed.

Tete covered our heads with a white veil. Then we were ordered to take off our shoes and kneel in front of Madzimai and the one child.

We were all facing east, to the sunrise because when Jesus comes, He will come from the east.

I was cold. Madzibaba Mateu stood a metre or so on my right hand giving orders to the other three Madzibaba.

Tete said I should hold my right hand in the air with my fingers tightly closed together so I could receive the blessings that Madzibaba Mateu was going to ask God to give me.

They started singing, “Emmanuel, Emmanuel.”

After the song, Madzibaba Mateu looked to the sky and made deep noises.

Then he said, I was to be prayed for, kuyereswa.

In his vision, he could see a new illness, something like asthma that would cause me to get breathless in time to come.

To avoid such illness which he could see vividly in the vision God gave him, I should get a fresh jar of honey from the shops.

I will then eat, directly from the jar, one teaspoonful for 12 days.

If I followed these orders, the illness of shortness of breath will never get anywhere near me.

Then Tete and the women sang.

Madzibaba Mateu asked another Madzibaba to draw crosses on my right hand palm, on my forehead and in both my feet.

It was a rather intimate public affair.

A strange man drawing on you.

Piri said she would not want to be prayed for in the morning but would like it to be done in the evening.

Nobody argued with her.

I paid for the kombi that came to take Tete and the worshippers to Concession.

“See, that was not too hard,” I told Piri.

She mocked the whole idea of a jar of honey from the shops. Then she told me that the whole group was coming back to stay one or two nights before the journey back to Gutu.

And they needed money for that journey back to their villages.

By late afternoon on Friday, Madzibaba and Madzimai were back.

The men sat under a tree towards the gate, admiring the oranges on the tree.

They asked for some and Piri gave them only one each.

Inside the house, Tete and her three friends including the child sat with legs outstretched, drinking more tea and eating bread.

They were having an interval before the next prayer because they pray every three hours. There were bits of grass and soil all over the carpet floor. Some of this had travelled all the way from Gutu and from Concession.

“Our new relatives need transport money to return to Gutu tomorrow,” Piri said, smiling with a tone of sarcasm.

“By the way, Madzibaba and Madzimai are not in a hurry to return to their villages.”

I paid for the trip back to Gutu and Tete was very so grateful to have a niece who not only cares for her, but for the rest of her new clan.

After they were gone, Piri laughed and shouted, “Muzvipfidze!” meaning, ‘you have learnt a hard lesson.’

“The city does not have enough food to feed village relatives or enough room for them to sleep. Let them stay in the village,” she said.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.

Source : The Herald

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