Saturday, December 4, 2010
Gatsby at Goromondzi pre-school graduation
It was a Friday morning with a surreal air: we were attending the very rural Little Stars Pre-school graduation. It was over an hour on some pretty metaphysical roads--roads in the abstract if you will. However, the bright pink building was not hard to find as we came within sight. It was my first pre-school graduation. The point still baffles me: no other graduation, not even high school, is honored here to this extent, except perhaps the doctorate.
Pastor Diamond greeted us warmly. The kids were assembled, sitting on the dusty cement. We sat on tiny chairs along one wall with tiny desks in front of us, covered with tiny table clothes. After a prescribed amount of verifying, readjusting decor, and the sound crew (on their tiny chairs with tiny desks seated under a window to our left), the programme began.
This effort was planned and rehearsed since school began sometime in January. These small ones had memorized in English (with very little idea of what they said) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star complete with hand motions, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and an entire Nativity play. It was half way through that we realized that was also in English. There were also many Shona songs and skits--usually starring the best-in-class.
The highlight of the occasion was the capping and reception of diplomas. There were several little black capes and two little black mortar boards to go around for 65 kids. So the children stood at one door dressed in a cape, came forward when called, had the mortar board placed on their heads, received their paper, had the mortar board removed, and turned around to run into the next small one coming in with cape flying. It was a delightful, chaotic, musical event. Everyone was having a ball. Most of these kids are orphans, taught by the dedication of Christian Zimbabweans committed to making the Kingdom better by whatever means they had.
Then a bizarre twist reminded me of the frantic scramble for success and material prosperity in this land devastated by AiDS and corruption. When the first ten or so graduates had filed up and back, a family, well-dressed, complete with father, mother, and baby accompanied one of the graduates up to the front again to the Christmas tree. The ceremony was continuing and this family, laden with gifts, stood for a photographer who officiously posed them and took portraits. Then the boy who had graduated began to open his gifts. Two of them were battery-powered toys. One was a helicopter with lights, which ran and made a racket, the other was a reindeer which played a Christmas carol. Father proceeded to put batteries in and the toys were set on the floor. The graduation dimmed as every eye focused on this special child. Not only did he have two parents and nice clothes, he had gifts and a photographer documenting his good fortune.
I looked into the faces of the other small ones, those being ignored as they received their little certificates, those who stood with forgotten papers in their hands, mouths open, watching the helicopter flash green, red, yellow lights, whirr, hum, and careen across the cracked cement. I could not read those little faces. Was it admiration? Envy? Disappointment? Pain?
The Tom and Daisy Buchanans have arrived in Zimbabwe. They are scrambling up a scree-covered slope. It has been a long haul, and no doubt there have been some reservations overridden to reach the top. I tried to read the faces of the father and mother as they paraded back to their places after their little interlude in the limelight. I could not read them, either. They had made their point. They are on the top of the hill and for a time it is theirs.