It’s Independence Day in Zimbabwe. We are in the Honde Valley, remote and rural, removed from the chaotic bustle of the city of Mutare. It’s quiet in the village of Pimaii where there is seemingly no town centre, just hillside after hillside dotted with rural homesteads and fields of maize, bananas and tea. Thirty two years of Independence have left Zimbabwe in a state of perpetual decay from the days of colonialism. It’s as if time stopped at Independence and the deterioration of infrastructure and buildings started. It’s not entirely true, there are some new structures and buildings being constructed but they are being built using old methods – hand moulded bricks, thatched roofing, and rock embedded dirt roads.
On this day, we meet a beautiful gogo named Esther. She lives just down the road from the care centre in Pimaii and we pass by her house every day. Today, we stop in with her care worker and as we approach, she raises herself from her seat on the ground, smiling, and greets Easton and I as old friends, with a hug. She is very happy to have us visit her and she ushers us into her rondawel, as she asks if Easton will stay and live with her, promising to take very good care of him. She is 87 and shrinking in her body, hobbling on feet that have carried her to the fields probably every day from the time she could balance on them. She cares for three grandchildren here – two boys who are 17 and 19 and are looking for work on their own and one granddaughter, Farsai, who sits with her today. Farsai is maybe 14 and is able to go to school because of the intervention of her care worker. The care workers in Pimaii helped provide roofing material to a new primary school building in exchange for 73 of their children’s school fees. So, Farsai is one of the 73 children who are able to attend the local primary school as a result.
We ask Esther how she is doing and she tells us that she has spent Independence Day eating traditional relish (fried tomatoes and onions) and sadza (mealy meal) prepared without oil as she has run out. She finds it ironic that today of all days, she runs out of oil when she should be preparing a celebratory meal. She laughs it off though with a wave of her hand and says it doesn’t matter, that her life is improving because of the care workers. She tells us that her life depends on the community based organization and the care workers who visit her. The clothing that her family wears comes from donations through the care workers. Her granddaughter is able to attend school because of the care workers provisions. She tells us that the rondawel that we are seated in was built by the care workers just a few years before. She speaks of George Snyman as her best friend and how he has assured her that on his next visit, he will stay with her in her home. She is proud and comforted by the friendships she has with her care workers and also with the Hands volunteers she has been visited by. She tells us that when she passes away, she has left instructions not to be buried until Farai can be there to attend her funeral. She is insistent on that. We spend some time with her and there is much laughter and joy in her home, despite the fact that she is 87 and still raising children, carving out a living in fields and carrying loads far too heavy for a woman half her age and twice her stature. I’m completely taken in by this woman. Her eyes are large and luminous, filled with wisdom and love to be shared, never diminished by the inclusion of yet another person in her circle of friends, only multiplied. I ask her if I can take a few photos and she is happy to oblige me. It’s one of the frustrations of photography, I want to capture her in her candour, the very natural way she moves and sits and speaks. I’m limited by my ability to capture her spirit – but fittingly so, for a spirit as large and lovely as her should remain free. So, this is simply one dimension of Esther. There is so much more to her. I’m so thankful for the chance to have glimpsed it and experienced it.