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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Esnath and Mattias

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Esnath yet. It’s criminal. Esnath is our Zimbabwean mom, and a wonderful lady. When Ale and I first arrived in Zimbabwe, we stayed at a lodge next to the GRS offices. Esnath keeps house at the lodge, and as we passed 3 weeks there while GRS looked for a house for us to rent in Bulawayo, we bonded with Esnath during many nights without electricity. Esnath cooks the best sadza I’ve ever tasted, and there’s just nothing like a home-cooked Zimbabwean meal when the zesa (power) fails. Eventually the time came for us to move into a new home not far from the office or the lodge. One afternoon before we moved, Ale and I looked at each other and realized how much we were going to miss Esnath and Mattias, the security guard at the lodge. We’d now become very close with both, sharing pictures and stories of our families over meals and staying in the tiny dining room, just the four of us, to chat long after we’d finished eating dinner. Although we live a few blocks from the lodge now, Ale and I have dinner with Esnath and Mattias at least once per week at the lodge. Esnath and Mattias are like family now, and Esnath calls us her Kiwha sons.
            Mattias is a wiry young man, probably in his mid-thirties, with a gap in his teeth and an ever-present smile. He is soft-spoken, with an accent that differentiates him from most of the other Zimbabweans we meet. He provides all-night security at the lodge 5 nights per week. Mattias is one of the Tonga people from Binga, on the shores of Lake Kariba. He speaks Ndebele, English, Shona, and of course his native Tonga. He has a heart of gold and is a talented bike mechanic, and somehow he functions on only 3 to 4 hours’ sleep per night, riding his bike nearly 20 kilometers to work every day. One night after our truck had broken down for the millionth time, Esnath was afraid to allow us to walk home alone from the lodge. Mattias grabbed his bike, walked us home, and then returned to the lodge. While at the house he inspected our locks and our gate (this was shortly after we’d been robbed the first time) and made recommendations for our safety. Mattias has only 2 kids right now but says he wants 5. That way there will be at least one who decides to stay home and care for the aging parents!
        Esnath is from Bulawayo and has 5 children at home. She has been working at the lodge for years and stays in Bulawayo, away from her kids, for the six days per week that she works. When she hops in a combi (commuter bus) to go home, she brings her wages and checks on the kids. One of the older girls does all the cooking at home and gets her siblings to school every day. One day Esnath told us that her daughter had been sent home from school because she’d been late to pay the $110 school fee. For someone who makes $200 per month, that’s a very steep fee. Luckily her daughter is now back at school, but it makes one realize how precious education is. And how inaccessible it can be in Zimbabwe. The net secondary school attendance stands at only around 50%, and an acute shortage of books and supplies plagues most learning institutions and limits the quality of education. I just hope that as the economy here continues to strengthen, education will be prioritized. Sure, the few prestigious boys’ and girls’ private schools in Zimbabwe continue to flourish and offer excellent educations – some of the best for teens in Sub-Saharan Africa. But on the whole, for the average Zimbabwean child, getting a complete education is an uphill battle. Unfortunately, finding an opportunity to apply that education is even tougher. Unemployment peaked at 95% in 2009, forcing many family providers to seek opportunities elsewhere and draining the nation of wealth and expertise. The result is a loss of industry and a persistent lack of job opportunities. For people like Esnath and Mattias, life is far from easy. They work hard day in and day out for themselves and their children, yet unlike many parents in the US, they cannot be confident in a better future for the next generation. They just have to pray and hope for it. However, they can be proud that they both emphasize education and are dedicated to their families. I know I’m thankful that Esnath and Mattias are who they are. They’re two of the reasons I feel at home here in Bulawayo.

 Mattias by the cooking fire.

Esnath dishing the sadza.

Mixty beef! The classic Zimbabwean meal.

Christmas dinner 12/12/11.


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