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In 1950s Salisbury, now Harare, the segregated public toilets were designated thus: ‘Europeans only’; ‘Natives’; ‘Non-European other than Native’. Maud Blair belonged to that last category: neither this nor that, or perhaps everything else. It would take a well-researched history book to describe the backgrounds of these labels and a psychology book to explain how humans could invent a whole culture and way of life based on these interesting categories. In Between is both of these and more: the story about a young girl growing up in the former Rhodesia, a country in which the European rulers imagined that segregation of people (á la South African apartheid) was the perfect way of life – for everybody – and that it was sustainable. The story of this country has been told before, but seldom by those who were the direct offspring of both black and white parents in an apartheid system.
Maud Blair's birth certificate confirms who her mother was and where she was born, but all it says about her father is, 'European'. The label ‘other than Native’ entitled her to a range of privileges (though many were in theory only) that her 'Native' siblings did not receive. But as a ‘non-European’, there were limits. During her lifetime, that awkward ‘other than Native’ label was discarded, and people like Maud came to be known as Coloureds – an equally insane label, if not more so, but necessary to use here for the sake of clarity – a label brought to Rhodesia from South Africa by people of mixed heritage who came to teach in Coloured schools.
This the story of many people born and raised during the 1950s and 1960s who were labelled, categorised and largely hung out to dry by a political system invented for the benefit of one group of people and well policed to keep it so. How did children who were neither black nor white develop a sense of identity? What effect did this separation from their roots have on their relationships with their families? What were their aspirations and what were the State’s aspirations for them? And what about the fathers? Who was Maud's father? Where was he and why was he not helping her mother? This book follows Maud's quest to find him - a search that takes her to post-independence Zimbabwe via England.
Have things changed for Coloured people since independence? Where exactly do they belong – in the land of their fathers or the land of their mothers? This is the question Maud asks in this calm, clear and beautifully written memoir as she chugs along the rusty tracks of identity and wanders through the dark tunnels of belonging in the quest to find herself and understand where she really belongs.
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Maud Blair was born to a Zimbabwean mother and an English father and spent all her childhood in Zimbabwe. She attended the University College of Rhodesia, at the time still a College of London University, where she did a degree in English and history. She married a British man and went to live in the UK. While she was raising her children she did a Master’s degree in ‘Race and Ethnicity’ at the University of Warwick followed by a PhD in the Sociology of Education at the Open University. There she worked for twelve years leading on courses in Race and Education and Gender and Education. This was followed by three years as a civil servant in the Department for Education. She worked as a consultant for The Learning Trust in Hackney before she retired.
Maud has three children and eight grandchildren and lives in Cambridge.
Salisbury, January 1955, The Train Station
My feet hurt. My shoes, new and brown and shiny, squeeze and pinch my toes and slice the backs of my ankles with each hurried step. I want to stop and kick them off but Amaiguru Hilda won’t hear of it. ‘Eeh! Don’t be silly, Maudie. You can't wear a new dress and go to a big station full of people without any shoes on.’
I don’t ask again. I think of our cows back home getting milked and having their legs bound together to stop them wandering off. I picture them longing to roam around freely, straining against the tightness of the cords that hold them still, and my chest tightens. I know now how they must feel. Except worse, because I can’t even stand still, not with Amaiguru walking so quickly. How can she go so fast in her shoes, all pointy and high and sounding ko ko ko ko on the ground as she moves? She must be even stronger than the cows, I think. I grip her hand and try not to look scared.
It is night time but it’s even brighter here than in the village when the moon is big and round and shiny and we all go to someone’s house where we make a big circle and clap our hands and sing. Someone plays the drums and we dance under the full moon. Most of the grown-ups sit and watch but sometimes some of them join in.
There are lots of people in the station and the noise is deafening. The people scatter and run this way and that, squawking and flapping and trampling everything in their path as they rush about, the way our chickens do when we go into the coop to try and catch one for our meal. Even the baby ones which wouldn’t even have enough meat on them for one person join in the commotion. We’re like those chickens now. As Amaiguru and I weave our way through the din, I feel suddenly guilty and sad. Sorry chickens, I say, in my head.
Some of the grown-ups around us are holding children’s hands and tugging them along too, the way Amaiguru Hilda is pulling me; some are just standing and talking, some are on the big train beside us, looking out of the window like they forgot something. The station goes on forever. If Amaiguru lets go of my hand I'll get lost and she'll never find me. Then I would never see my mummy again or play with my brother or my friends in the village. I would never see a bird or a cow or a moon in the sky again. There isn’t even a tree in this place. And the roof is so high it might even be touching the sky. Imagine if I could climb right up to the top! My friends in the village would all wish they could be me .
Amaiguru is holding my hand tightly. I am not sure what I’ll do if she takes me on the train. It’s very long, like lots of buses joined together. It might even leave the station while we are still on it and then how will we get back ?
I’m walking with my eyes turned upwards so I don’t notice that Amaiguru has stopped until I bump into the back of her legs. She is talking to a lady dressed in funny clothes. A white lady. Most of the other white ladies in the station are dressed normally like Amaiguru with their hats and their skirts and blouses and their ko ko ko shoes. But this lady is covered up in white from her head to her feet so that you can only see her face and hands and she doesn’t have those high shoes. I think she’s one of those people who takes naughty children to the factory where they turn them into corned beef. All the children in the village are scared to be taken to the white man’s factory because someone even found a finger inside the corned beef tin. A funny feeling wiggles through my stomach. My free hand starts to feel for something behind Amaiguru’s back to hold on to and my heart is pounding inside my chest the way it does when I’m in trouble with Amai and praying I won’t get clapped. I creep behind Amaiguru and hope that the strange white lady can’t see me. I don’t want to be turned into corned beef. Amaiguru is still chatting to the lady. I don’t know what they are saying to each other because I only know how to speak chiZezuru.
They stop talking.
Amaiguru bends down and picks up the case containing my new clothes, which she had put on the ground. She hands it to the white lady. Why is she giving her my things? A lump that feels like a hard stone fills my throat. I try to swallow it, but it won’t go down. My fists curl into tight balls and my face feels hot. Why did Amaiguru Hilda bring me all this way into town to buy me all of those new clothes if she was just planning to give them away to this strange person?
- 29th June 2021 Lets not get stuck!
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