Bringing Zimbabwe to Waterville
Chiwoniso played in Cotter on Saturday, October 16 as part of the Oak Foundationâ€™s Zimbabwe celebration.
Students, faculty and community members didn’t need to cross the Atlantic for a taste of Zimbabwe last weekend; The Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights brought a little Zimbabwe right to Mayflower Hill Saturday, October 16. The extravaganza featured a student panel, a home-cooked buffet meal and the music of one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated musicians, Chiwoniso, and her band.
Each year the Oak Institute brings a front-line human rights activist to the College for a respite and to teach a course about the work that he or she does. Jestina Mukoko, the National Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is this year’s Oak Fellow. Her presence on campus was part of the motivation behind the event. Walter Hatch, director of the Oak Institute and associate professor of government, coordinated the event.
It was standing room only in Diamond 122 during the panel discussion. The panelists—the College’s four Zimbabwean students—told event attendees about their home country. Tendai Mutunhire ’13, Rumbie Gondo ’14, Gift Ntuli ’14 and Takudzwa Dizha ’14 answered questions focused primarily on life “in a country struggling with hyper-inflation, widespread poverty and strong-man rule” as the Facebook event advertised. Isadora Alteon ’13 acted as the facilitator for the discussion.
The students talked about hardship experienced in their homeland. The educational system, for example, does not function well. With the high inflation rates, teachers may not show up to class unless their students pay for their food. There may not even be food for students at lunch. “It’s so hard for me to watch people throw away food here,” Ntluli said.
There is a large migration of Zimbabwean talent from the country, and each student expressed his or her desire not to perpetuate that trend. All four said that they would return home to try to help their country in their own way.
“I hope I can find some meaningful way to contribute,” Mutunhire said. His peers echoed the sentiment.
“Zimbabwe has taught me to see opportunities and to grab them,” Gondo said. She said she has learned to always be ready with a plan of action.
The dinner that followed the panel featured food made by students from all walks of life. Petie Booth ’11, who helped coordinate the whole event, opened up her kitchen off-campus. “People from Pugh, Oak, the International Club, a couple of the Zimbabwean panelists and my wonderful friends jammed to African music and chopped vegetables for literally nine hours,” she wrote. Students and community members gathered in the Diamond atrium to partake in the Zimbabwean cuisine. Escar Kusema ’09, a graduate from Zimbabwe, came up from Massachusetts, where she works, to orchestrate the preparation of the buffet dinner.
“The food was great,” Teko Mmolawa ’12 said. “I thought the buffet was a beautiful gesture towards anyone familiar with that type of cuisine, and an opportunity for others to learn something completely new.” Mmolawa comes to the Hill from Botswana.
Chiwoniso’s soulful performance in Cotter Union topped off the evening. Pulver shook with the sounds of the mbira—an African instrument—R&B and dancing.
Molly Bennett ’12 attended the event. “I loved the way Chiwoniso transformed Pulver, usually a neutral space where people try not to make eye contact with strangers, into an electrically charged social dance zone,” she said. “I think the warm, upbeat quality of the music, as well as Chi's constant dancing at the mic helped to do that. With two drummers, the band had a really accessible beat that just made everybody want to move. And those ululations! Golden!”
Booth applauded the success of the event saying, “I think the day went pretty seamlessly. It was a really fun, engaging way to make The Oak Institute and Jestina Mukoko’s important work more visible and relatable.”