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My Rude Awakening From Death

Takesure takes lots of inspiration from his life experiences. He draws much of his strength and courage from those experiences.

I was born in a family of five, one girl and four boys. My sister Oly was the first, born exactly four years before me. After her came Kel twenty five months later. I was born less than twenty three months after Kel. Just after I turned two my mother had OS. That meant she had a baby, a toddler, and two pre-schoolers to deal with. She couldn’t cope with us so I, the middle one, was taken to my maternal grandmother’s place. My grandmother lived about two hundred kilometres from our place.

I arrived at my grandmother’s place to meet my uncles Joe and Pete who were teenagers at the time. They were sixteen and thirteen respectively. I instantly fell in love with them, not only as family, but as my very close friends. We played together as if we were the same age. They knew how to adjust to my level. Uncle Joe was a great story teller, he had an almost new bedtime story every night. I loved every bit of his stories. We were very close and inseparable whenever they weren’t in school.

My Grandmother's Place

My Grandmother's Place

After four years, when I was six, I was taken back to my mother’s place to start my primary school. The closest primary school in my grandmother's area was more than five kilometres away. My grandmother and mother agreed that it was wise for me to go back to our place where the school was just over a kilometre away. Since I was having such a great time with my uncles, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave behind the two closest people in my life at the moment. The guys meant more to me than even my mother at the time. No amount of crying and pleading helped though. The decision was made already so I left for my mother’s place.

When I got to my mother’s, our place, I was welcomed by my siblings and Levi. Levi was a son of one of my father’s brothers. He was in high school and had been staying with our family for two years. His father was late and his mother and siblings stayed on a plot thirty kilometres from our place. He was attending our local high school. This high school was the only one in the forty kilometre radius so his mother had arranged for him to stay with us while he attended school. He would visit his mother on weekends or holidays.

Where I come from my father’s brothers’ kids aren’t referred to as cousins as they are in English. They are just the same as my siblings. So instead of referring to Levi as a cousin, I’ll refer to him the way we do in real life. It’s Mukoma Levi, which literally translates to elder brother Levi. Mukoma Levi took care of us. He protected us from the bullies, helped me bath, taught me how to milk the cows and all the other chores of our rural community.

I had been used to being treated very well by my uncles Joe and Pete. Here I was with Mukoma Levi, an even closer friend. It was as if he was in some sort of competition to outdo my uncles. The guy was just great with kids. He was so good to all of us and we loved him dearly. Mukoma Levi was twenty but it was amazing how he would adjust to the level of a six year old and become my best friend. He would be the first person I’d see and talk to in the morning and the last before sleep in the evening.

In the morning he would help us prepare for school. We would go to school together as the primary and secondary schools were adjacent, separated only by a fence. He was just a wonderful young men, actually a wonderful human being. At home he would help us with homework and chores around the home. My mom loved him as her own. In fact everyone loved Mukoma Levi. I don’t remember anyone saying a single bad thing about him.

Our Place

Our Place

One Friday in late July in 1986 he came home from school complaining of a headache. He left school earlier than usual and passed by the clinic to see the doctor. The clinic is a stone throw away from the school so he just passed by. The doctor gave him a bunch of pills to ease the pain and advised him to come back the following morning if the headache persisted. He took the pills after he had his lunch and went to our hut to rest.

He had promised me that we would play football after school so I was very disappointed that we couldn’t play since he wasn’t feeling well. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help to which he replied that he needed to rest, he’ll be fine after. When my mother got home, I told her that Mukoma Levi wasn’t feeling well. She thought it was probably dehydration since it was hot. Mom encouraged Mukoma Levi to take lots of water which he did. Still the headache persisted through the night.

The following morning he went to see the doctor again. The doctor’s assessment was that it wasn’t anything serious. He was instructed to continue taking the pills he had been given the previous day as well as lots of fluids. After the clinic visit, he decided to visit his mother for the weekend. He got a lift from a local agro extension officer and off he went. The route didn’t have reliable transport so most travellers relied on government and relief organisations vehicles for transport around the villages.

We had no telephones in our homes and there were no cell phones back in the day. We relied on travellers for the news so there was no update as to how Mukoma Levi travelled to their family place or how he was feeling throughout the weekend. We waited for Monday when he would return to school. Even then we would only see him after school. We expected him home around four o’clock in the afternoon since they stayed behind for study.

We were looking forward to seeing Mukoma Levi but he didn’t turn up when his friends and school mates did. The friends said he hadn’t attended school that day. I conveyed the message to my mother. We were all worried sick. About an hour later Ad, Levi’s younger brother, turned up at our place. He told my mother that Levi’s condition had deteriorated over the weekend. They had brought him back to the clinic to see the doctor again.

The local clinic as it is today

The local clinic as it is today

At the clinic Mukoma Levi was attended to by the same doctor who attended to him the first time he sought medical help. The doctor explained that a number of tests needed to be run. However, the clinic didn’t have laboratory facilities so couldn’t run the tests. So he gave him another dose of pills and referred him to the Rusape General Hospital, the district’s referral centre. Rusape General Hospital is one hundred kilometres away and in his state he needed an ambulance to take him there. The clinic made arrangements for the ambulance and off he went.

When the news broke that Mukoma Levi had been transferred to Rusape General Hospital, we were deeply disturbed. We, being kids, went to bed and slept peacefully as usual. The family elders waited anxiously through the night for any news from hospital. They were all camped at the clinic. Because of the bad state of the roads, it took the ambulance two hours to get to hospital. As soon as they got to hospital Mukoma Levi was rushed to the emergency room.

The hospital

The hospital

Back at the clinic the elders were waiting for an update on the telephone. A nurse came to the waiting room to ask for one of the family elders to come to the phone. On the other end of the phone was Nevanji, our uncle who together with Levi’s mother had accompanied him to hospital. Mambo, one of the elders at the clinic took the phone. “Hello father! We’re are at the hospital. I’m afraid I’ve bad news. Levi has passed away. He was pronounced dead on arrival.” The old man, shocked out of his skin, dropped the handset and fell to his knees letting out a loud thick cry. Other family members in the waiting room knew at that moment that it was bad.

In our culture men aren’t supposed to cry even in times of bereavement. They are supposed to be strong and offer support and comfort to women and younger members of the family. However in times like these very few men are strong enough not cry. Mambo was expected to provide guidance and strength to the younger members of the family but he was so devastated he couldn’t get himself together. He was so out of his mind with hurt, grief and anger.

Tau the youngest in the group was send to find out why his grandfather was crying. It was a matter of getting confirmation but the family knew the news was bad. “What is it grandpa?” Asked Tau. “Your brother is no more!” said the old man trying hard to control himself. “What?!” Tau couldn’t believe it. He ran out of the doctor’s office to where the rest of the family was, crying uncontrollably on top of his voice. Soon the whole space was engulfed in wailing from the women members of the family.

It took the clinic authorities a great deal of time to calm the bereaved family members down. “We are very sorry about your loss Danga family. Please this place has to maintain a level of peace and quiet. We kindly ask you to be strong and control your emotions.” Pleaded the clinic orderly. The elders had to help with moving the family members out of the clinic and make arrangements to get back to the village. Our place being the closest to the clinic they agreed to gather at our place for the night and work out the logistics of getting Levi’s body from the general hospital mortuary the following day.

Back at the village my brothers and I were fast asleep. We weren’t expecting anything to change our peace in the night. While deep in my sleep I was awakened by my mother’s piecing scream. I remember it to this day more than thirty years on. We all jumped out of the blankets and went outside. I thought somebody had broken into my mother’s bedroom since my father was away in town. To my surprise I was greeted with more wailing as members of the family who were at the clinic approached the yard.

The family had walked through the night to our place, a distance of just over a kilometre. Tau had run ahead of the rest of the family as they approached the homestead and broke the news to my mother. When we got outside the whole yard was a mess. Wailing and weeping women from all directions. I couldn’t understand what was happening. “Mum what is happening? Why all this crying?” She kept crying. “Mum please talk to me!” At that moment Tau took me aside and explained to me that Mukoma Levi was gone. I still didn’t understand. Gone where? I didn’t quite understand death at that time.

He explained as best as he could to make me understand. What I got was that he was in heaven now. He was in a place of joy and peace. If that was the case why is everyone crying? Why do we cry if our dear brother has gone to such a nice place? No one could quite answer those questions for me. So I just joined in on the wailing and crying the night out. Soon I was weary and went back to sleep. The rest of the village came through the night to convey their condolences to the family.

Mukoma Levi's family home

Mukoma Levi's family home

In the morning the elders made arrangements to have the body collected from the mortuary. A few of them hired a truck from around and made for the hospital early in the morning. They intended to be at the hospital by the time the mortuary opens. They processed the necessary papers and collected the body and came back. The whole extended family moved to Mukoma Levi’s parents homestead, thirty kilometres away. That’s where the funeral ceremony was to be held. He was to be buried next to his father at the family cemetery near their home.

At three in the afternoon on the Tuesday Mukoma Levi arrived at their home. He was in this white home-made casket. I vividly remember Tau, his mum, my mum and Ad crying uncontrollably as it was taken to the grass thatched hut to lie in state for burial the following day. The atmosphere was something that I had never witnessed at my tender age of eight. I wanted to see Mukoma Levi but the elders said no. Children were not allowed near the casket.

Mourners sang and danced throughout the night. I remember them singing a rendition of Jerusalem My Holy Home, adding Levi is on his way. My brothers and I were very tired from the day’s travelling and other activities. We needed a place to sleep. The place was crowded so we couldn’t sleep there. Tau made arrangements for us to sleep at their neighbour’s place that night.

In the morning a church service was conducted for Mukoma Levi. Reverend Mukono of the United Methodist Church led the service. He spoke so glowing about Mukoma Levi’s life that was suddenly cut short because the Lord had called him to paradise. To this day I remember every word he said about my brother. But I still believe the words did not do justice to tell the world about this young men who had left earth so young. This wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend, a great human being.

Speaker after speaker spoke so well of Levi. They all agreed he was such a great young man with so much potential and such a great human being. An obedient son, caring brother, wonderful friend, the praise went on and on. After church service, the coffin was carried to the cemetery. After prayers the older family members and the rest of the community paid their last respects to our hero and he was gone, forever!

I still didn’t believe my brother was gone. “This is just some sort of a bad dream from which I will soon wake up,” I thought. We stayed at Mukoma Levi’s family homestead for the rest of the week. On the Sunday we went back home to carry on with life after Mukoma Levi. That’s where the real nightmare began. I’d see Mukoma Levi in everything from my bath in the morning, to the cattle at the kraal, and every other chore at the home. It felt like a part of me had gone with him. It was very difficult not only for me but for the rest of the family. Thirty years on I still miss him very much. I wonder what would’ve been had his life not been cut short.

In loving memory of Levi Danga

2 February 1966-28 July 1986

© 2019 Takesure Danga

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