The way to my primary school consisted of three routes. One route passed through the local shopping areas with supermarkets and fruit and vegetable markets. This route was to be avoided if you had no pocket money as it presented many temptations. The second went via a beer hall which was also not preferred as it was undesirable to walk past drunkards frequently found there at midday and having to contend with their numerous questions on whose daughter you were. The last route which I had discovered later than the other two was probably the more scenic and detoured through a small section of a Miombo woodland with a lot of rock out crops. The woodland provided a mini amusement park for child growing up in the early 80s where entertainment was mostly left to the child’s imagination.  Slopes provided the slippery slides and tree climbers provided swings for us.

This route soon became my favourite. Not only was it a child’s paradise but it was also a source of good food. There was a wide array of wild berries, roots and tubers to snack upon.  Having lived in the city all my little life I had no knowledge of wild foods. I took guidance from my friend Chenai who knew shrubs from her days in Chihota where she used to go cattle herding with some of her cousins. Chenai was like a walking encyclopaedia when it came to Bundu knowledge. She knew insects, creepy crawlies, shrubs and grasses.

This mini forest had a lot to offer. At any given time there was fruit of some kind in season.  Some that I liked a lot and others not so much. I never took any fruit home mostly out of fear. My grandmother would be livid to know that I was consuming stuff she had not approved of, let alone stuff that I could not confidently identify. That was considered sacrilegious in our home.

One afternoon after school, we took the scenic route as usual. Chenai suggested we go a little further into the forest as we had exhausted the supplies of fruit where we usually foraged. Deeper into the forest we discovered a grove of nzviru (Vanguaria infausta). This grove seemed untouched and we felt like the David Livingstones of nzviru land.  There were fruits on the ground, on the trees, everywhere. This was berry heaven. I had never seen this fruit before, and it tasted so good.  Unable to control my appetite, I consuming these fruits in copious amounts.  Chenai did not warn me of the dangers of overconsuming or perhaps she did not know either as she too consumed in proportions.

I went home much later that day’s route had been longer.  I did not touch my lunch still feeling very full from the fruit attack. The rest of the afternoon was spent as normal, playing on the dusty streets. Trouble came at the onset of evening. I avoided joining my grandmother to watch television in our small overly decorated lounge. I was dropping bombs, which in our present day would be described as weapons of mass destruction. Upon detecting an undesirable smell Grandma suggested I visit the bathroom which I did but not got no joy from the visit.  I returned but the farts got worse. My stomach was making loud sounds, much like the roaring Save river in the rainy season.  Grandma gave me 2 table spoons of cooking oil. Within minutes I was running back to the bathroom with a running stomach.  I emptied my bowels and was able to relax.  That evening everything I ate seemed to pass through my stomach without stopping.  On inquisition Grandma discovered that I had eaten too much fruit and it was unwashed and that I may have had gastritis or E.coli poisoning. None of this made sense at the time. Grandma was a nurse I thought she spoke gibberish most of the time. An infusion of murumanyama bark eased my stomach a little, enough for me to sleep.

The next day was more unpleasant that the day before. I had developed serious gas in my stomach. I was mostly passing out wind and my stomach hurt and continue to roar and rumble. I had to miss school.

Our neighbour Mai Varaidzo suggested zumbani as treatment.  I knew little about it but recognised the name. This was the stinking stuff that she administered on her chickens to prevent fleas.  I had witnessed how on countless occasions she brought leaves from the forest and tied them in bunches and hung them around her fowl run.  Was this not the same stuff she sometimes burnt during the night to repel mosquitoes and other pests around her home- the insect repellent?  I also recalled how at one time when another neighbour’s teenage son came home behaving strangely and everyone thought he was possessed by evil spirits, zumbani was prescribed. They burnt zumbani and he had to inhale the fumes from under a blanket. The boy passed out immediately after and slept rather soundly. The next morning when he woke up with a hang-over did people then realise that he had been drunk and not possessed. He had stolen a bottle of brandy from his uncle and imbibed it all on his own.  Many had however believed in the power of zumbani to have chased away the evil spirit in him and still do.

The same zumbani was the common cure for colds, flus and fever in the neighbourhood and was found in every house. How exactly was this zumbani supposed to assist me with my ailing stomach?  Soon I was to find out that a crumpled juicy ball of zumbani mixed with tomato leaves would be inserted as a suppository using a reed.  On this realisation I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me. I did get caught eventually. It was amazing how the stuff worked. It is certainly better than having an enema. My bowels emptied with ease almost immediately. Within a couple of hours my stomach had calmed down. To this day I am convinced that nothing else works for gas and constipation as much as zumbani does. I have also heard testimonies from my Ndebele friends of how effective the method is as it is commonly practiced in Matebeleland, ‘ukuphozisa’ they call it.

I learnt at that tender age of the perils of overconsuming natural products and how the problem can be corrected by another natural product.

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Nyarai Kurebgaseka
Nyarai Kurebgaseka is a Biochemist who has worked in Natural Products Research and Development since 2000. She has developed a number of commercial products which include cosmetic oils, food oils, essential oils, wild fruit jams, pharmaceutical ingredients and food ingredients among others all derived from wild harvested plans. Her fascination with plants and their properties along with her scientific background is what has contributed towards the development of her career. She is recognised as one of Zimbabwe’s leading entrepreneurs in natural products.