I am from the Future

by Fungai Machirori

Ilustration by Naddya Oluoch.

“Where are you from?” asks the man at the front desk, with a kindly smile.

During the past week and a half of struggling to adapt to the inclement New York weather, I have walked into the building with my nose running and my gloved hands clenched. On this day, I am wearing my purple Rwandan earrings so large they could serve as coasters. On my wrist is a set of beaded bracelets — orange, blue, white, and red — purchases from the Maasai Market in Kenya. On my back is my satchel made from a bright patchwork of African prints from Ghana; my dress, from Nigeria, is a vibrant olive. I tell him that I am from Zimbabwe.  He says that it is the vibrant colours and textures I wear that have made him curious enough to ask about my ethnicity, but as I walk away, I wonder if I have become his exemplar for Zimbabwean culture.

None of the artefacts that I wear — the beads, bangles and scarves which, for the man in New York, might now come to signify the place from which I come — are actually redolent with the Zimbabwe I navigate. Rather, they add an ineffable layer of otherness to me so that  people often ask me – within Zimbabwe- if I am ‘really really’ Zimbabwean. I think about this as I punch my floor number into the elevator, leaving the man at the front desk to his work. What does it mean to inhabit space such that your body, and the different ways in which you express yourself through it, betray a perpetual otherness?

Perhaps it is because I do not reflect the dominant idea of a Zimbabwean woman: married, highly religious, and wearing Westernised styles of hair, dress, and so on. I stand at almost six feet and I wear a size ten shoe — my unusually large size sets me apart as a ‘giant’ woman, a gonyet. Colloquially, ‘gonyet’ is also used to describe haulage trucks. Gonyet is what I’m often called when walking along the streets of my natal  city, Harare. When I hear the word uttered as I pass by, even when I don’t know who has said it, I know that it is to me that the speaker is referring. Does my body lend itself to erasure by its excessive visibility in any space?

In New York, it is the flamboyance of what I am wearing which marks my otherness while simultaneously marking me as exotic and privileged — a certain type of African. Yet, this place, the imagined Africa of my provenance, is a place and no place at the same time, for it is a microcosm of highly individualised experiences unique to my own navigation of the world.

As a result, I am simultaneously from somewhere and nowhere; in one place, I’m part of the dominant culture, elsewhere I’m Other. How does one adapt to this double consciousness?  

A few years ago, a friend came up with a simple answer for the othering she experiences as a result of her non-conformist identities; experiences often represented by that simple-but-not-so-simple question, “Where do you come from?”

“I come from my mother,” she’s taught herself to respond, disengaging from further interrogations about her race, sexuality, or nationality.

I remember laughing out loud when she first told me about this response she now gives out quite casually. But still, I fully understood the reason for it.

“So where am I  from?” I ask myself.

I like to think that I am from the future, from a place which defies rules and conventions on who I should be, that accepts who I am. With multiplying identities, the healthy interplay of certain intersections seems almost unfathomable. Perhaps I am from the future, from a place that defies the rules and conventions around who I should be or accept that I am. But I remain hopeful that I am from a time that is coming soon, that soon, I will be able to say that the future is here.