Follow Me On
The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}

Dis-Ease: Living with Prostate Cancer

{Click or visit Books in the main menu}

« Pursuing Both Knowledge and Happiness ~ The Impossible Possibility | Main | What’s in a (Bad) Word »

Zuri Manyika and the Zimbabwean Diaspora

One of the main characters in The Woman in White Mable is a Zimbabwean named Zuri Manyika. Zuri is part of the Zimbabwe diaspora, having been sent by her mother to live with her aunt in New York City when she was eight years old. She quickly became a good American girl, at first out of survival and later out of love for her adopted county. The transition needed to go from being a little girl living in the Highfield area of Harare to growing in New York City separated from her mother and her friends are only hinted at in the book. However, you can assume they were substantial. While I did not write about that history, I am nonetheless indebted to No Violet Bulawayo, whose book We Need New Names, gave me a sense of what that transition might have been like. Anyway, Zuri was educated in New York, went to graduate school at Stanford University, and became a professor and researcher in African, African American, and cross-cultural studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. Zuri is smart, strong, and yes beautiful. She is a survivor. I have to say, if it doesn't sound too pretentious, I like Dr. Zuri Manyika.

 It’s fair to ask why I chose to have a main character, becoming involved with an American while they both were staying temporarily in a small windswept town in Northern England, be an African from Zimbabwe. The African bit was always a given, for reasons I can’t really explain. I just knew she would be from Africa. Zimbabwe is a bit more complicated, however. I’ve travelled to a dozen African countries, many of them several times. I enjoyed and valued my experiences in each (with the exception of Angola – I always hated going to Angola, though my contract there was a great guy whom I liked). So why Zimbabwe?

I guess Zimbabwe holds a special place in my heart, and a number of things made that so: I have friends in Zimbabwe; I have Zimbabwe friends living the diaspora here in England; I have seen people living through the collapse of their society while still maintaining hope; I’ve seen empty shelves in empty stores guarded by the military; I have stayed in Harare and visited roundhouse villages far from the big city; I’ve heard Zimbabweans sing. I could go on, but you get the idea. I have a sense of “knowing” Zimbabwe, though obviously my knowledge of the country, what it means to live there, and what it means to be part of the Zimbabwean diaspora is limited. Still, as I thought of the character, it quickly became obvious to me that she would be from Zimbabwe. Her name followed.

 The Ears of the Hippo, 2013 Zimbabwean artist and sculptor Dan Halter’s collaborative work.* I have three Zimbabwean friends living in England. All are accomplished; two are in the ministry and one in education. I emailed one of them, Wilbert, the other day asking him to speak to me about the Zimbabwean diaspora. Here is some of his response:

Most Zimbabweans living outside of the Zimbabwe are economic refugees. They go to other countries seeking safety and economic opportunities. Some have established themselves in their new homes so much that they have little to no desire of returning to Zimbabwe. Those who want to go back are not prepared to go under the prevailing conditions.

Not surprisingly, those in diaspora are considered fortunate; they managed to escape Zimbabwe before a catastrophe ruined their lives. As Wilbert said, you can therefore “see how they proudly carry that mental image of being the better ones.” Having said that, all members of the diaspora experience a huge burden to help their families in Zimbabwe and they do so when and to the extent they can (in many African countries it is not unusual for almost every family to have at least one family member living in Europe, the U.S., etc. sending money home). Again as Wilbert said: “They are forced to offer this help considering that no matter what status they have in diaspora, they are still better than their fellows back home.”

It has been estimated that possibly 4 million Zimbabweans have left their country. The diaspora has a 95% literacy rate in English and a very highly educated adult population. The main languages spoken are English, Shona and Ndebele. (See Zimbabwean Diaspora)

This is the soil from which Zuri Manyika grew. She is intelligent, strong and proud. She speaks English and Shona. She has survived the heartache of being sent away by her mother as a young child. She has no intention of returning to Zimbabwe to live, but she sends funds home for her mother and visits as much as she can. She has suffered under the hands of the Zanu-PF and has seen her brother murdered Zanu-PF thugs. She has been betrayed by those close to her. And when she is angry, step back. She is really worth getting to know.

I can see Zuri clearly in my mind. Hopefully you will too if you read The Woman in White Marble.

Copyright © 2014 Dale Rominger


* A woman refugee crossing the Limpopo to escape destitution and tyranny, her baby swaddled on her back, her belongings on her head. See: African Alchemy.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>