Over the holidays, Thembi’s house burned to the ground. She and her husband, Charles, their four sons and several other young men from Zimbabwe who were staying with Thembi’s family got out of the house in time, but all their material possessions were lost.
You may remember Thembi from earlier blogs I wrote about her or from her recipe in the Green Hope Farm cookbook. She worked here at the farm for four years after arriving from Zimbabwe as a political refuge. Her husband, Charles, a soccer coach for the Zimbabwe national team, found himself unexpectedly seeking asylum in the US when he was put on Mugabe’s hit list. When he took refuge in the US, Thembi found herself single parenting her four boys in Harare. It took Thembi three years of arduous effort to get herself and her children to the US to join Charles.
How Thembi got her children and herself out of Zimbabwe is a tale of determination and courage. After years of challenges including many bus rides back and forth to South Africa to get food for the children, she finally managed to get all the paperwork to join Charles in the US. During what was supposed to be a last trip to the US embassy to get things finalized, all her documents were stolen inside the embassy. It looked like all was lost, then Thembi made the US officials look at their camera recordings of her showing her paperwork at the first embassy checkpoint. Even when it was agreed that the crime had been committed on US property, Thembi was on her own to get new documents.
When Thembi first stepped on US soil, it was July 4th. She would want you to know that she arrived in heels. This was probably the last time in her life in rural New Hampshire when heels were a good idea.
During Thembi’s four years working at the farm she taught us a lot about going with the flow and seeing life as an adventure. Her deep faith matched her sunny optimism and enormous heart, while her infectious sense of humor and her funny stories of life in Harare took us to another world, truly.
It was an enormous change to leave her familiar African world of family, friends and the bustle of the city to live in the wilds of New Hampshire, but she did it with zest. Her house adjoined the playing fields of Kimball Union Academy where her husband worked, and her boys, soccer players all, took to this life of green grass at their doorstep. Thembi rolled with the whole country thing even as she preferred concrete to turf. She even managed to impart her sense of style to the many layers of clothing needed to keep warm during New Hampshire winters.
After her years at the farm, Thembi got herself enrolled in college and begin a job that worked better for her schedule as a student. We were very sad to see her leave the farm but also awed by her continuing determination to live her dreams in a new country.
As Thembi navigated the aftermath of the house fire, I was reminded again of her indomitable spirit. She greeted everyone who came to help with genuine concern about how they were doing. As we sat at a neighbor’s kitchen table only hours after the fire, Thembi wanted to know all about everyone at the farm and laughed with delight at various tidbits of good news. She literally had no shoes or clothing beyond her pajamas, yet she celebrated our lives without a thought to herself. As the days passed, it became clear that her optimism and general go with the flow attitude wasn’t just shock. Thembi has the gift of accepting what is AND embracing it. Day after day!
I do not know if her equanimity is because she already lost her country, her friends, her family and all her material possessions when she left Zimbabwe. I can imagine that someone who had lost so much already could react to more loss with bitterness, but there is not a shred of this in Thembi. She is calm about beginning again. She isn’t grimly determined but instead sees it all as the next adventure of her life.
Thembi is anchored in a profound sense of being taken care of by a caring universe even in the midst of this traumatic circumstance. I am sure it took a great effort to find this anchoring, but now it flows from her like a river.
Yes, there is much for her to organize for all her boys, but it is just stuff and they will figure it out. She is moving on and embracing what lies ahead with the same open-hearted optimism, faith and sense of humor that helped her create a new life in America. In the aftermath of the fire, she gives her optimism and love of life to all who enter her orbit. She gives from a place of riches far beyond material things. It is awesome to witness and I thank her for her example with all my heart.
Here are a few photos I have of Thembi.
Her grandmother lived on a farm in the country so Thembi always loved being part of farm activities like harvesting wild ramps in the spring.
Here is Thembi at her bon voyage party at the farm.
Thembi is always ready to chat over a cup of tea.