Musariri On Belonging in All That It Ever Meant

“I have three lives; one as a child of two Zimbabweans I am Zimbabwean too; as a child of immigrants, I am a British Citizen; I am the person behind these two things I can choose.”

I loved Musariri’s new offering. All That It Ever Meant is written beautifully albeit the twist almost at the end that had me flipping back to see if I had missed something. It is full of humor and the camaraderie between Matiponesa and Meticais who until at the end I had no idea what “they” were ghost or spirit or…is endearing.

A Zimbabwean family living in England is visited by The Death in the family and everything changes.

“It was like mama had been our meeting place and now that we had no place to meet up anymore, we kept to our own corners, words and all.” P.12

Musariri employs flashback in moving between the past and present, it may be confusing in the beginning but once you get a hang of it the story flows easily. In these flashbacks, Matiponesa tries to understand what kind of a person her mother was in relation to the family, country of origin and country of birth. What is home? Where is home?

Mama missed Zimbabwe, a lot. She would come here on holiday often, by herself-not for long, “just to recharge,” she’d say. “England is all very well but home is best.” She stayed in England because it was our(the kids’) home.” P.58

It appears home is what one is familiar with, food, language, lifestyle…even another human being. Baba and Mama grew up in Zimbabwe and they have three children born in England, what the parents and the children call home are two different lands.

“You’ve never really seen my country,” he said. It’s yours too, if you want it to be. I know you hardly spent time here but no matter what happens, it will always be home.” Baba P.98

“…he and Mama used to take turns coming home as often as they could, like two people sharing one oxygen tank underwater.” P.70

Adults are perhaps not psychologically prepared to adjust to new environments. Which brings me to worry about the many Zimbabweans, now scattered all over the world and how they are managing so that, “the clouds wouldn’t get so deep into ‘their’ bones.”

“I don’t think Mama ever felt she belonged in England.” Chichi P.98

“I once asked mama what made her sad about England. “I feel closed in by the sky,” she said, “I’m constantly in my bed under my blanket. Even the sound is muted-like I am in a dream.” P.58

In school, the teachers fail to pronounce the children’s names until they have to change and use their, “christian names,” even though the kids themselves did not feel comfortable with the English names and to add to that Mama thinks

“We have been in England since you were born, you should call me Mum. It’s the Queen’s English and we are in Rome so we must do as the Romans.” P.13

Eventually she stops speaking Shona altogether. There is the tug of war, the kids attempt to speak the little Shona they know and visiting relatives, especially Kulu and Gogo complained…

“ … how our Shona was really bad and said they could barely stand us.” P.92

…and the kids envied visiting cousins who spoke the language proficiently. Even baba refers to the children as, “…my poor English children,” indeed they had created “…a little Zimbabwe of their own in England—country population which was five.”

And then there are the cousins who come to visit and awe the children with their proficient Shona

“I like how my cousins sound, like no one is going to ask them where they’re from-from. I have two voice, but Mama felt like she was losing one and she couldn’t find herself in the other.” P.59

The cousins who would say,

“Ohhhhh! Mati, Chichi and Tana are your crib names and those(meaning the English names) are your spy code-names so you can blend in.”

Blend in like MAMA, telling the children to call her MUM and not MAMA. MAMA refusing to speak Shona to anyone. MAMA trying…

“…to fit herself into the space and forget about being a Zimbabwean mum, like if she layered England over herself-the words, the clothes, the food, the lifestyle-then the clouds wouldn’t get so deep into her bones.” P.59

“Belonging is a tricky thing,” baba says.

To whom does a husband belong to? His wife, his parents, his children? To whom does the wife belong to? Her parents, her children, her husband? Do things get messy and mixed up when two people come together and start a family?

“…in the next sixteen years she will try to find herself behind two more children and all they bring, without a chance to be herself for herself…”

Matiponesa observes this of her mother as well…

“…she got stuck on the other side of her love for Baba and couldn’t be in the real time of her own life. I think because she loved him so early in her life she forgot who she had planned to be before she met him.” P.95

I wanted to say that I think Mama never felt like she belonged to herself, like she was stuck in that spot in between twilight-not able to be either fully day or fully night at any one time.” P.98

…which leads me to conclude that to belong, is in many ways to lose critical bits of you.

All That It Meant, Published 2023 by W.W Norton & Company
Author: Blessing Musariri
ISBN: 978-1-324-0305-9
Number of Pages: 176