This blog takes me back to when I researched and wrote my Honours dissertation. I have reworked the introduction to make it relevant for the blog. The material is self-reflective and, at the time, it worked as a catharsis for me, helping me understand my own identity and my own place in the world. The dissertation also gave me the opportunity to begin (and eventually complete) my doctorate. The dissertation is called ‘When “Back Home” isn’t England: making visible the memories, lives and experiences of some white women in Rhodesia’. I was awarded First Class Honours although there was some dispute regarding my work and a third examiner had to be appointed. I had a similar experience with my doctoral thesis so it seems to me that my writing has the effect of polarising readers. I have included some excerpts from the journal I kept on my trip which serve to illustrate the thoughts and feelings in my mind and heart at the time.
So, here goes:
I remember an incident that makes me reflect on my place, as a white woman and a member of a minority ethnic group, in Rhodesia. This is in 1976 on a tourist bus in Greece – somewhere between Athens and Delphi. An Austrian man, sitting next to me on the bus, is highly sceptical that any white people who are not British, or of British descent, are settled in Rhodesia. I feel affronted and defensive that this stranger can, so arbitrarily, dismiss my background. This bewildering sense of being unseen, feeling unseen, is an experience Adrienne Rich expresses as psychic disequilibrium: ‘When someone … describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing’. I understand that this is my experience.
In November 1996 I decided to go home to Zimbabwe. I was feeling homesick and missed my family (most of whom were still living there in 1996). This, in retrospect, is when I realised that the awareness of ‘difference’ had been simmering in the background of my life – not only since the bus trip in Greece, but since I was a young girl, questioning my ‘otherness’ in school and in the Rhodesian society. I realised that this is the haunting space into which I seldom looked, the moments of ‘psychic disequilibrium’.
30/11/96: Ever since we migrated to Australia, I’ve thought of my paternal grandmother, leaving her home country, with a young child, and going to ‘darkest Africa’ – with no idea of what lay ahead (do we ever?) Following what? A dream? Freedom?
According to Barry Schutz, white Rhodesia’s most extensive social alteration occurred between 1896-1921 when, as demographic data shows, white settlers in Rhodesia ‘were transformed from a fortune hunter’s frontier into a fundamentally stable, family-oriented society’. My grandparents arrived in Rhodesia from Russia in 1908/1909 less than 20 years after Cecil John Rhodes’ Pioneer Column in 1890. Together they established their family, most of whom remained through the subsequent history of the white people in Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe in 1980 after black majority rule). Now, today, not one of the family remains in Zimbabwe. The mini-diaspora of the family is scattered from Australia to the United Kingdom to North America.
To be continued, or not – depending on how I feel.