What is the best question you have ever been asked?

Here is a second chance to read about my favourite question, and some other stories too.

Every now and then I think back to my time at Pakati & remember something that happened, someone I met, somewhere I went, something I heard, smelled, tasted, or tried for the first time. Here are a few of the small things which struck me for some reason or another.

One day not long after arriving, I was accompanying Mr Samakomva somewhere, and so early in the morning we walked from the school to the bus stop known as ‘pachuru’ (anthill), about 20-25 minutes walk. As we walked past a number of family homes along well-trodden paths, I heard a distant voice & Mr Samakomva replying. The voice came closer, another reply, and evetually the two met & passed without stopping. Their conversation continued until out of range, and maybe took several minutes as the clear morning air carries sounds well. It turns out they were just saying ‘hello’! The first time I really understood the importance of greeting in Shona culture…

There are balancing rocks all over Zimbabwe, and plenty in the area around the Pakati schools. They are sculpted by wind and rain over thousands of years.

Recent photo sent to me a former student of mine, from her home close to Pakati school

Before I came to Zimbabwe I had a taste of the local music scene back in Bradford. There was an annual Festival, lots of different bands from a ross the world. I watched The Real Sounds of Africa who impressed me with a great full sound, lots of rythym, and they clearly enjoyed playing their music. I was in Harare with some felow VSO volunteers & saw a poster advertising for the same band, at the Kamfinsa Hotel (now closed?). They were amazing, and after the 2 hour show in Bradford, I then learned that it’s different in Zim…they played all night! I became a regular wherever they played – Jobs Nitespot, Mushandira Pamwe, Club Hideout or where I most saw them, 7 Miles Hotel. I became friends with several of the band. All except one were from Zaire (now DRC) but had married Zimbabweans & settled. I still listen to them via YouTube.

My first taste of sadza was soon after we arrived in Zimbabwe, at a training centre in the north of Harare, and I instantly took to it. It was at Pakati I had Kapenta (similar to anchovies) for the first time, cooked by my colleagues & housemates (George Mutatapasi & Regis Chriape – where are they now?). I had locally grown greens, tomatoes, onions, potatoes all fresh, eggs & chickens also locally produced. A butcher from Musami occasionally cycled over selling beef from a cool box. I ate as well there as I have anywhere in the world.

In Musami I tried Chibuku (a local maize-based beer) for the first time, declined roast mice (too burned, I wasn’t drunk enough!), discovered the Mombeyarara bar had the coldest beer & was the only one selling Zambezi…I played darts in Musami, and occasionally walked there & back from school.

At Chigwada I met Thomas Gombera, owner of the Hamamaoko store, and his wife. Also several local farmers, teachers from other schools, and my own colleagues met there regularly as it was the nearest store in 1989. I had a birthday party there at least once with two other serving VSO volunteers who were working in Tanzania at the time. The hill where some old rock paintings can be found overlooks Chigwada, and I took several visitors there. Many good memories

Rock paintings dating back over 1500 years can be seen, they are at the back of a cave below the overhanging ledge near the top.

To get to Chigwada was a 40 minute walk. 30 minutes to get to the dirt road, then walk along it, round a curve in the road, before walking towards the store past the grinding mill. At the apex to the curve there was a homestead and one day as I walked past, I was asked the best question anyone has ever asked me. I heard a voice of a small child, a young girl of maybe 5 or 6 years old, and as she ran from her home to the gate to greet me, she said at the top of her voice:

‘Why are you?’

To this day I am unable to answer. But I did respond after a short stunned silence:

‘I am fine and how are you?’

She ran off clearly delighted, laughing all the way back to her home.


My name is Chris Walker, and between January 1989 and September 1991 I worked, through VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), at Pakati Secondary School in Murehwa South district in Zimbabwe. I was a Maths teacher for 2 years, the Acting Head for the last 8 months there. I have also taught in Botswana & the UK, had 4 years working for VSO, and have been a Civil Servant in Bradford since 2005.

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