Growing up eNkompon’, everyone went to the same preschool, the same primary school, bought at the same store, boarded the same buses, went to the same clinic and used the same gate. Inevitably, nearly everyone knew everyone else – by name and nickname. And that wasn’t just among children. Adults knew each other well. And they knew most children because they knew who gave birth when, where, how and why. In short, everyone knew quite a bit about nearly everyone else.
The more you know somebody, the more likely you are to find out if you’re related. Therefore, eNkomponi, you may quickly establish that you’re related to nearly everyone else. The Sakala’s come from the same place as your mom in Zambia, so you’re related. You’re somehow related to all the Tembo’s because your mom is one. And the Mvura’s, Mtonga’s, Kamanga’s, Mnthali’s and Chikoza’s – all Malawian, you’re related to somehow mostly due to your Malawi roots. Your distant relatives are related to the distant relatives of the Phiri’s. In the end, you’re related to half of Cement.
And then there are neighbors. Some of our neighbors we’ve had for over 20 years. And we’ve seen them nearly every day over that time period. The bonds that form cannot be explained. They go so deep. So deep that in some instances your neighbor may just walk into your house and start cooking on your stove. Cooking your food. While sharing the latest Nkompon’ gossip. That is how close it can sometimes get with neighbors.
All this means that, as a child, virtually everyone becomes your parent. You’re related to many people, and those people are your parents in our culture. Your neighbors are so close that they can act as your parents in many situations. And these are not just parents by title. If your blood parents can send you to the grocery, send you to someone’s house to get something, or ask you to help out in the yard, so can your other parents – everybody else. If your parents can spank you if you do wrong, then so can everybody else, usually. You see, that is the other thing: nearly everyone at Cement believes in child-spanking. Let us call it beating, because spanking sounds light. Parents believe in beating children.
If, as a child, you got a beating from another parent – other than your blood parent – one of two things usually followed. Either your parents beat you hard, or they beat you harder. There were several reasons. The cheapest reason is that they were meting out their own discipline, because you had done wrong. The most common reason is that your parents would be somewhat ashamed that you were giving out the impression that you were not raised right – to the extent that you were being disciplined by somebody else. However, the most puzzling and funniest reason is this: that you parents did not like somebody else beating their child – you. And so they vented their frustration and annoyance on you. “Bengakutshaya bekubulale ke, uzathini? Ngizakutshaya, ngizakutshaya, ngizakutshaya…,” they would say as they beat you. Logic.
It was funny when we acted out the whole thing in our favorite pastime, amatope. You’d find a seven year old child remonstrating with a six year old child: “Ngizakushaya, ngizakushaya, ngizakushaya…”
More next time.