I didn’t shed many tears when my grandmother died three weeks ago. Instead, I rejoiced. Like the many speakers at her funeral in Zimuto, a dusty village in south-eastern Zimbabwe, I celebrated a life well lived.
My grandmother was 96. Or 98, or 100 or even older. No-one knows for sure. When she was born, the colonial authorities didn’t record the births of black people. She may have been non-existent in the eyes of the Rhodesian administration, but for my family she was our matriarch: “the Queen” as her eldest granddaughter called her.
She had 23 living grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. At the funeral, some of them remembered her lessons, such as the importance of order. Her fellow villagers call her “Mrs Smart”, because she was a stickler for tidiness.
She insisted that clothes be properly folded, saying disordered drawers were the sign of a disorganised mind. She wanted firewood stacked according to length and thickness. Logs that weren’t the same size were considered unsightly and burnt immediately.
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the habit. She would be dismayed by my precarious piles of books on top of clothes on top of more books. But I did learn a few things from her, like the importance of living simply.
When I worry about finding a good job and earning enough, I remember how my grandmother told people to stop buying her dresses: she had enough clothes. She taught me that a person only needs so much “stuff”.
My grandmother appreciated the small things in life, like the colourful plastic mat I bought in Uganda. She sunned herself on it every day until someone forgot to bring it indoors and the dog shredded it.
When I am tempted to make a rude retort during the stressful production of Wits Vuvuzela, I am reminded of my grandmother’s other nickname “Mrs Private”. She never humiliated or shouted at people in public. She would speak to them privately until the problem was resolved.
My grandmother only had a few years of primary education, but she knew what was important: keeping material things in their proper place and living peacefully with other people.
Her name doesn’t appear in my country’s birth registry and won’t appear in any history books. But she did live, and she lived a simple, beautiful life. Zororai murugare, Mbuya. Rest in peace, Granny.