“I feel like a foreigner in my own home”

Those are the words of Zimbabwean filmmaker,  Denise Khumalo , in her latest documentary, Khayalami (My Home) which documents her visit back home to her home city of Harare after being in the United States for six years. This feeling of being ‘a foreigner’ is a theme that dominates the entire documentary, as she revisits places she went to as a child, in a quest to reconnect with her heritage.

The short documentary has been doing the rounds on the film festival circuit mainly in the United States. It was recently awarded the “Achievement Award” in the documentary short film category in the  2016 Silicon Valley African Film Festival  and the “World Cinema Short Documentary Award” at the  Marina Del Rey Film Festival .

In essence, the film tells the story of an African woman’s quest to know who she is, and where she comes from, despite being physically detached from her “home”. It has been described as ‘a story about an African woman’s struggle to keep her traditions and customs alive while living in an increasingly Western world’. The Western world is not only overseas, but also in Zimbabwe itself with the advent of influences from social media and Western pop culture. She cites not witnessing a lot ‘traditional activities’ growing up the city of Harare.

The Parallel Experiences Of Africans In The Diaspora

The film was written and narrated by the filmmaker herself; therefore it is a very personal reflection on her connection with the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘heritage’. She recounts on how, after she completed high school, her parents sent her to the United States to study film, because “she was not good at maths” or anything else. This could indicate that being good at maths opens up the door for African kids to follow traditional or so-called practical fields such as medicine, engineering or teaching.

Initially, she was reluctant to make the move across the world; however after six years of being in the States, the viewer gets a sense that she has made it her new home in that it offered her a new sense of freedom. She says “America was the best place to go: because there’s so much freedom… you can do whatever you want”. Seemingly, the US has a more liberal attitude, away from the conservative gaze of people  back home  and thus no longer under the rules and authority of her parents. This is a common experience for many college-bound students who leave the nest and experience freedom as adults free from curfews and rules.

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Throughout the film, she visits some key places she would frequent as a child from her hometown in the capital city Harare to Bulawayo. One such place is the Amakhosi theatre in  Bulawayo , in which we see dancers performing traditional and ceremonial Shona and Ndebele dances.

One of the key themes this documentary tackles is the disconnectedness or detachment from home that one experiences after being away from ‘home’ so long.

You get the sense that Denise has undergone so many changes since being away, that she is no longer the same person she was six years ago.  The changes that she underwent are not missed by her family and friends: her parents’ remark and shock they experienced when she first came back from college with piercings and ‘uncombed hair’. Her childhood friend also remarks on how open-minded she is, and how outspoken she is. She is also accused of abandoning traditional norms or being ‘Americanised’. One of her friends expresses doubt she will return- suggesting that that she is now belongs to America- and is merely a visitor.

Despite these changes or modernity, you also get a sense that despite the modern lifestyle that she and her peers live, there is a desire to hold onto to customs such as the traditional bride price a groom pays towards his bride’s family known in Zimbabwe as lobola ( in Ndebele) or roora ( in Shona).

The film also addresses some key themes such as the ethnic tensions that has existed between the country’s two dominant ethnic groups- the Shona and Ndebele tribes for generations. She also addresses the influence that social media and foreign influences, from  Western pop culture ( TV, radio, internet) has had on Zimbabwean youth behaviour and speech. This is illustrated in the night scene where Zimbabwean youth converge clad in Western clothing  and where the club plays Top 40 HITS from the United States or the UK, with occasional hits from the  continent.

Personal remarks:

Being a member of the Zimbabwean diaspora, I too experienced similar feelings of disconnectedness. Going to Bulawayo felt almost like a ‘culture shock’ as I walked through the streets of the second largest city with my camera in hand as if I was a tourist. Just like a tourist, I indulged in the local street cuisine I grew up eating such as the  mageu drink , slap chips with extra salt and vinegar and sweet buns from the local bakery as if I was experiencing it for the first time.

I spoke English most of the time and felt a tinge of shame and embarrassment for not being articulate in my home language, Ndebele.  I had a tiny fear of being labelled a “musalad/salad/salala” a nickname that I had received from cousins as a child. The term usually refers to a Zimbabwean who grew up in suburbs, went to predominately white schools (private schools) and who are therefore perceived to have imitated Western culture.

Another term is “munozi’ (nosebrigade)” which refers to people who speak nasally.

Musalad is a term that is equivalent to the Coconut or Oreo- black outside, and white inside.

On a final note, I think the film does an excellent job of highlighting just one experience of many Zimbabwean youth who go abroad seeking opportunities, and the impact that Globalisation has on their ‘cultures’. It also does a good job of challenging misconceptions people may have about Africa, or Zimbabwe to be more specific. It shows that there is not just one African story- we are a continent of many different countries and stories and that there are many different factors that pull and push people to move abroad.