“When things fall apart, the children of the land scurry and scatter like birds escaping a burning sky,” NoViolet Bulawayo writes in her novel We Need New Names. “They flee their own wretched land so their hunger may be pacified in foreign lands, their tears wiped away in strange lands, the wounds of their despair bandaged in faraway lands, their blistered prayers muttered in the darkness of queer lands.” Bulawayo tells her story through Darling, a 10-year-old girl caught in the misfortunes of Zimbabwe. Darling listens as grown folks talk about politics. She and her friends steal guavas to fight the growl of an empty stomach. She reflects on the day the police bulldozed her house, being forced to live in a tin shack, and the day her father returns home from South African after a long time away.
Bulawayo writes about women doing their best to look pretty, and men leaving home to find work. Escaping to America or another place better this “terrible place of hunger and things falling apart,” is the dream of both young and old. Darling ends up in America. I made my first visit to Zimbabwe the spring of 2003. I was there with a group of journalist to report on President Robert Mugabe’s decision to take land from white farmers, the AIDs pandemic, and opposition to Mugabe’s presidency. My trip to Zimbabwe, more than any I have taken before or since, altered my view of global citizenship. A theology viewed from the lens of American privilege was forced to consider the plight of those hindered beyond anything I have ever witnessed. My common prayers seem empty in comparison to what they endure. My tears began in the middle of a wheat field. As a white farmer shared his opposition to the policy that would take his farm away; I noticed a black man holding a stick in one hand, and a large sack in the other. I stepped away to observe the man. “What’s in the bag,” I asked after noting that it seemed he didn’t know I was watching, or that he didn’t care. He pulled a large rat from the bag. “This is my dinner,” he replied just before I dropped my recorder. “I don’t make enough money to feed my family. This is what we eat.” It became harder to report on Zimbabwe. The sight of dying AIDs infected children in a hospital with no medication to treat them, the squeal of mothers upon hearing of the death of their children, mobs of women on streets begging us to purchase their crafts so they could eat – the pain never ceased.
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