Reading Sisyphys’s post this morning comparing and (mostly) contrasting Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe with South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, I was left reflecting on a “student teacher” I once had from Zimbabwe.
Mpumelelo Moyo was a Jesuit Priest from Zimbabwe studying at the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College when he worked with me in my classroom at Cathedral High School in Boston as part of his Master’s program in Religious Education. He was here to get credentials that would allow him to become qualified to gain a more prominent position in the school he taught at in Zimbabwe. Moyo is good soul, the kind you are most fortunate to meet in this life.
I love Moyo and learned a lot from him. I was a Mukiwa; a white boy. He was one of the few (four) Black, male adults in the school with a student population that was over 90 percent students of color. In a sea of African-American and Afro-Caribbean students, here was an actual African.
The culture shock worked its way around our triangle of relationship between the students, Moyo and me. Moyo couldn’t believe the casual relationships, as he saw them, that existed between students and teachers in our school. His school in Zimbabwe was modeled on old-school English system: students stood when teachers entered the room and remained standing until a “master” sat. (“Get real Mr. L, like that racist &*#@ is gonna fly here.”) Moyo’s presence did, however, provide a unique opportunity to encounter Africa and its colonialist history for my students as well as an opportunity to encounter African hertiage and custom. The one that still stands out in my memory is shaking hands: when shaking hands you support the elder’s forearm/hand with your own so that the elder doesn’t have to support the weight of your hand while greeting you. Moyo said it also took him a while to get used to the way people who knew each other would just pass right by each other without saying hello. Although he admitted it did have its advantages at times as a trip to the local market back home could take hours for all the long conversations such errands could entail.
Moyo was a member of the Ndebele ethnic group and his native language contains clicking sounds, which both fascinated my students and which they found humorous and which none of us could master. He also spoke Shona the language of the other ethnic group in Zimbabwe.
Perhaps my fondest memory of my time spent with Moyo is taking him to Cape Cod and watching him play in the mud and the surf with my son, who was but a toddler at the time and collect shells in fascination. I suppose I would have been held in as much wonder by the beauty of the bush or Victoria Falls.
We still get emails from him each Christmas and on our wedding anniversary wishing us well and on our wedding anniversary that he has said Mass for us. I can’t say I share Moyo’s faith, but I share his grace and meeting him was truly one of the blessings of my life.
Our world has grown smaller. When Robert Mugabe threatens stability and safety of his own people, when the United States uses its military power because it can in pursuit of endless war, there are countless friendships, families and relationship put into daily anxiety over the safety of loved ones, needlessly. How long must we sing this song?