I hated family gatherings when I was young! It was always the same story. Three or so people would come up to me at different times during the event and ask if I still remembered them. They’d ask, ‘Tsuro, do you still remember me? What’s my name?’ I’d then mumble something incoherent before asking, ‘When did I last see you?’ The answer without fail would be something crazy like, ‘Oh, you must have been 6months old.’ Or, ‘Just after you started crawling’ or some other ridiculous answer. And although I wanted to say, ‘Lady, are you crazy? I was 6 months old!’ I usually just settled for a polite, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s been a while.’
In retrospect, that was a small price to pay for the sense of community and belonging I had then. I am amazed by how lonely and fragmented European society seems to me. Yes people go on dates or go out to the pub for a drink, but everyone’s life here is their own. It seems to me that politeness and respect of other people’s space has created invisible walls and has isolated people. And although I love Steve Jobs, iPods have only made things worse. Now, people can be little, mobile, self-contained, sound proofed units!
I know some will think I’m exaggerating, but am I? If you live in Europe, have you tried to help someone lately? If you succeeded, I bet they paid you back in a flash! We had friends visit the other day. Their daughter, an asthmatic, was a little wheezy and my wife, who’s a doctor, offered to listen to her chest. After our friends had left, we discovered they’d left some money on a table! And if you think that’s a little extreme, when was the last time you let someone do you a favour without feeling you needed to get them something in return? Or, when was the last time you admitted you needed help to a friend or neighbour?
That’s what I miss most about Zimbabwe. Because things are so difficult, self sufficiency isn’t possible. It’s common to have to ask your neighbours for a little money to tide you over to the end of the month. A frequent reason for visiting is to borrow a little sugar or salt or a lot of both! And although we call it borrowing, both parties know that these things will never be replaced. It’s not because of any sort of dishonesty, but the understanding that tomorrow the tables could very easily be turned. And because you know that you’re going to need the people around you, a lot of effort goes into maintaining good, genuine relationships with them.
I’m not claiming that Zimbabwe is a utopia or anything like that. You only have to read the odd newspaper to know that things there aren’t great right now. That said, people there know they need each other. The funny thing is that although people here are rich in so many ways, there is such a poverty of genuine loving relationships outside the home. There isn’t the same sense of community.