Below, Bernard elaborates on how raising airfare to the States becomes a full-time occupation for two Zimbabwean students determined to study in the U.S.
In Transition 121, “Childhood,” Bernard Matambo offers a lyrical yet sobering account of the myriad challenges facing young Zimbabweans struggling to realize their dream of attending college in the United States. Raising money to pay airfare for the flights he reserves (and re-books each week to keep hope alive) becomes a pavement-pounding, full-time affair for a young student and his friend. Wearing his prom suit, and with a borrowed folder from the U.S. Embassy, he bluffs his way past security guards in banks and corporate offices to try to make his case directly to the executives he then wanders around to find.
Finding bittersweet humor in this earnest, yet potentially hopeless endeavor, the reader is left to wonder—did he ever make it to college in Ohio? Though not flagged as such in the issue, this piece is autobiographical, leaving us in the editorial office to want more of the story…
Transition: Toward the end of “Working the City” we read: “We have never actually discussed what we want of ourselves once we head off, what it is Cato and I want to achieve by leaving. But I assume it’s something good.” Can you reflect a bit (now that you are a college professor in Ohio) on what the leaving achieved? How would you advise that younger self, knowing what you know now?
Bernard: I think at that time leaving achieved a few direct and positive objectives. It allowed me to have access to a good education for one, one that allowed me to pursue a range of my academic interest, which included Writing. In that way, I was quite fortunate. Ironically too, by leaving I got to learn more about us as African people. Of course departure is accompanied by its own challenges. The piece in Transition is from a forthcoming book, where I explore this and a range of other themes that are not entirely disconnected.
I don't know if I would have any sound advice to my younger self. America has had its challenges, but it has also been kind to me. I had already been warned to moisturize well in winter, and not to assume that toothy smiles from strangers meant anything more than politeness. Image means one thing here, and another thing there; it has no fixed meaning or connotation. I suppose I would offer my younger self this.
Bernard Matambo is a Zimbabwean national and Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College. He has received residency fellowships from The Blue Mountain Center and the I-Park Foundation among others, and is one of Transition’s 2016 Pushcart Prize nominees.
More from Transition 121
In Transition 121 “Childhood,” authors consider symbolic and ideological deployments of black childhood and explore children’s lived experiences—from nineteenth century Yorubaland to 1920s France to present day Colombia, South Africa, and the United States. Guest Editor Amy Fish pulls together these diverse offerings from Temilola Alanamu, Lise Schreier, Niousha Roshani, Alex Fattal, and Zetta Elliott.
Other authors in this cluster reflect on personal coming-of-age experiences: Bernard Matambo describes his determined fundraising tactics in the effort to leave Zimbabwe for college in the U.S.; Moraa Gitaa recalls idyllic days on the Kenyan coast with a friend whose family circumstances forced harsher realities on their paths to adulthood; Mbewane’s protagonist remembers his now-foreign homeland in a forgotten childhood photograph.
In addition, the issue features a sequel to Chris King’s 1998 article about the Nigerian democracy movement (Transition 77)—revealing details that were too dangerous to disclose at the time: chiefly, his and Wole Soyinka’s involvement in a plot to kill Sani Abacha.
Gripping poetry and fiction punctuate the issue, with youth poets Kayla Reado, Taylor Ashley Crayton, Darius Christiansen, and Ugochi Egonu examining black childhood from the brink of adulthood.