TSHIFHIWA ITAI RATSHIUNGO
THIS IS NOT YOUR COUNTRY
when father crossed the river and reached its banks
somewhere in Malala, they asked where he was from.
he named his home country.
laughing, they corrected father:
“you mean Republik Murambatsvina?”
and he smiled, ashamedly
feeling if he misses the joke
he will float back lifelessly
because what he made into something
of a boat, the raging waters swept.
to know if you’re from this country, they will ask you
an idiom in Tshivenḓa: “ntsa i ṱamba nga mini?”
of which the answer is, “ntsa i ṱamba nga ntsana.”
but father, knowing the tongue
but not what “ntsa” is
thinking literally of what it uses to wash
said, “tshisibe” – soap.
he smiled, ashamedly
but to let him stay, they told him to remember:
this. is not. his country.
when father returned home with bread for his family
he bored them with his reminiscence of a time that was.
“but this is the good past,” father
would say. “i am made up of my memories
because i have so much not to remember:”
his drowning boat, proverbs
and idioms, the life he came to live hard
in this country, from hand to mouth
from hand to under his mattress to keep
for his starving children, starving wife.
she works as a street vendor
but her job closed with lockdown.
the exodus at the Beitbridge border is of people with papers.
and father’s wife? she had the river, she had her children
and the banks reaching somewhere in Malala.
are they fleeing hunger? lockdown? six-to-six?
are they returning to work? are they from the Republik?
is this a humanitarian crisis? must all borders close?
the news asked a man waiting in line a question.
he answered: no one does not love his father’s land.
no one wants to leave home. but there’s no money
to put food on the table. our children have stomachs.
some beyond their thin bodies.
did the river say, “this. is not. your country?”
she died on the week of Christmas
the time the rains had given rage to the waters.
they were on an inflatable boat –
mother, and her children
and those who survived –
reaching for the banks somewhere
in Malala. it capsized so close.
the news asked a survivor a question.
all that he remembers of mother is how she called
for her children, drowning, as she was, begged
by the waters to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tshifhiwa Itai Ratshiungo is a writer and creative from South Africa studying law at the University of the Free State. A selection of his poetry appears in African Writer and History and Imagined Realities: An Anthology of South African Poetry (Impepho press 2021), a project powered by Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud.