Over the past couple of years Lois and I have experienced the joy of our connections to Zimbabwe in ways that we never experienced. Here are two stories, with names changed since they are other people’s stories too. The first story is in this blog, and the second follows.
A couple of years ago we were approached by a friend (let’s call her Nomathemba), the daughter of a Zimbabwean couple (we’ll call them Simba and Dorcas—not their real names) who live here in Manitoba. She wanted to get engaged to her Mennonite boyfriend (think the usual names here, like Penner, Plett, Giesbrecht, and so on, and you’ll have the idea). They wanted to honour her culture as a Zimbabwean in the process, so they came over for supper and we had a talk about what to do.
Noma’s extended family is back in Zimbabwe, so they asked Lois if she would be Simba’s sister, and if Lois and I would approach her parents to introduce her boyfriend and ask if they may become engaged. We agreed, and then we found that means we had to bless their desire to marry first, so plied friend Penner (not his real name either) with questions about his background and their relationship. We were happy to give them our blessing.
So we called Simba and asked if we could come over for supper and bring the young couple with us. (I’m not used to inviting myself for a meal, but it worked well.) A few nights later we sat in Simba and Dorcas’ living room, talking with them and the young couple, who had shown up earlier than they were supposed to. Penner just wasn’t used to waiting until told he could come in now! A delightful meal followed. (I should invite myself over more often!)
Then the moment came. Penner and Noma asked us if we could ask their parents if they could get married. Everyone in the room could hear the question. So we called Noma’s young brother, Simbarashe over, and asked him to ask his parents if his sister and Penner could get married. He crossed the two yards between us and them and asked them the question they had now heard twice already. Simba and Dorcas huddled together speaking in Shona, then told young Simbarashe the answer, which the couple could hear plainly. He stepped back to us and gave us the answer, which all again could hear. Finally we turned to Penner and Noma and gave them the good news that her parents had agreed.
After the drama was over, and we had all played our parts, Simba and Dorcas started reminiscing about the process when they had first gone to her family. We found out how much dowry (1) he had paid for her, and ways in which they had negotiated behind the scenes before anything was done in public. We learned also that usually there would have been all the members of the family present, and the question would have gone from youngest to oldest through a chain of all the father’s brothers. Then Simba added, “All of these people are witnesses of the commitment the couple has made. If they have trouble later, these are the people they turn to for help.” I was impressed with the sense that marriage is a real exercise in community.
Simba also told us that the first thing he did when he learned of their interest was check ancestry.com to make sure that the Penners and the Moyos are not related. We laughed—Russian Mennonites and the Shona people of Zimbabwe come from two different worlds, but behind the laughter lies the awareness that the totem, the clan is important. If one marries inside the clan, there are further steps one must take to make everything right.
So we are White Americans, who have become White Canadians, and now thanks to our Zimbabwean friends we are also White Zimbabweans. Tatenda, Shamwari Simba.
(1) Dowry or Lobola (Ndebele) or Roora (Shona). Not a part of our Canadian customs, but very much part of Zimbabwe.