I walked to breakfast today with the presence of death on my shoulders. The son of our driver had died. It was not so much the sadness of what happened that haunted me as deeply as the lack of reaction from anyone who heard the news, including the reaction of our driver himself. It told me that in this rural area of Mhondoro, really in Zimbabwe itself, death is never far.
I am in this rural town of Zimbabwe working on a documentary film about village life. It seems untouched in some ways, a culture preserved in the memories of the elders, resistant to globalization and technology, but the cruelty of Mugabe’s regime is far reaching and the village was unable to escape.
An hour later I found myself in the medical clinic in Mhondoro. When we walked up to the building to start our day we were greeted by cries of the sick holding their thin, haggard arms in a universal plea for help. They had formed a line all the way around the medical hut and out into the yard. Wooden carts pulled by oxen continued to bring in more and even more who couldn’t find the strength to walk.
I followed the doctor into the bare room with the stained walls and a mud-packed floor. The patient was a woman who had been there, laying on the single cot for 4 hours now. She had been here last week too. Like many others, they had walked into the night to get here. The lack of medical clinics in the area forces most to travel miles to get to any sort of primitive medical care.
As the woman was being treated I heard the mooing of cows and scuttle of chickens, only separated from us by a thin wall. The room was empty except for the cot, a wooden bench, a stethoscope and a thermometer, the only medical tools available.
Preschoolers sang next door in their rhythm of hope, but the closeness of the preschool to the clinic with just the mud separating us reminded me how imminent any sort of illness is in such a rural area. The preschool children are all as thin as old women. They often don’t have food all day because there isn’t any. Their clothes hang in tatters, but ironed tatters nevertheless. I wonder how long the skin will cling to their bones and they will be able to play instead of sit outside the clinic like so many children already do.
The woman on the cot had been brought in by her husband who sat nearby. Behind the mask of masculinity the culture puts on their men, I saw a glimpse of sorrow crack through the edges that any human would recognize, regardless of where they grew up. He moved to shift the position of his wife’s leg that she was too weak to move by herself.
I never saw the woman’s face and wondered if that is symbolic to me of the pain of so many in this rural area in Zimbabwe who all have death on their shoulders, binding them together, but who still have enough hope to iron the dirty clothes on their children.