The Pied Piper of Spaceman

As a kid growing up in Glen Norah, a high-density suburb in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, I didn’t get to see white people often; the only time you saw whites was when you were either fortunate enough to go to the city center, usually for new school uniforms or Christmas clothes, or you were sick and had to go to see Dr. Sharief. Yes, Dr. Sharief was Pakistani, but that was white enough for my brother and I.

So, imagine our glee one Sunday morning when a truck with booming music and white people sticking their heads out the windows rolled down our street, disturbing our game of soccer and inviting us to follow the truck. Neon-colored gorillas danced and clapped on the bed of the truck. My brother and I joined the mob of kids and shameless adults who trotted behind the truck, not caring whence we were going.

The truck lead us to the newly-opened Pentecostal church. We swarmed inside, the elders taking the brand new benches like they had attended the church for years; the kids sat on the floor. I had been to church before with my mother, the dreary Dutch Reformed Church of Zimbabwe, where everyone was so old my brother and I teased our mom for being the leader of the youth group. This was different. Not only was the preacher white, she was young. And pretty. She had us singing and clapping like we were ready for the Rapture. I left church that day feeling like a new creation. Looking at my brother, I could tell that he too was filled with the Holy Spirit. We went home and bragged to our sisters and mother how we had been saved.

After what felt like months, next Sunday came. My brother and I showered and prepared for church. Our mother was torn between pride that her children had found God and anger that we were going to another church, not hers. We went to church early, which was great thinking on our part because the place was packed. We were fortunate to find space to squeeze into on a bench by the exit.

The sermon began, led by a dour old man who seemed overwhelmed by the large audience. We waited for the pretty white lady to save us, but she did not come. Time stood still. The crowd grew restless. As the sad old man at the front asked us once more to rise for some somber hymn, my brother nudged me towards the door, which thankfully had been left open because of the crowding. We slipped outside and walked silently home, hands stuffed in pockets, heads bowed. We got home and our sister Sandra asked why we were home early. I started crying. I think I saw my mother smiling.

I love this story because it captures my childhood growing up in Glen Norah. When I speak to my American friends about growing up in Zimbabwe I often struggle with getting them to relate with what life is like in a place they have never been to, or how it feels taking a cold shower in an outhouse where there showerhead was stolen and the water stabs you in the head like a falling icicle. This story carries so much in its nuance, the battle between religious sects for souls, the history of racial and religious trickery in colonial Africa. I love the story most of all because it was one of the few times growing up that my brother and I did something together.