Towards the end of the last century, I worked for a public relations consultancy in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was an amazing place to work and I loved my years there. The country was booming and there was much to share.
My colleagues and superiors generously shared their knowledge and experience. I learnt so much. Our clients shared good practice and news and progress and prosperity and hope. I learnt so much. We also shared more than our fair share of laughter. I laughed so much.
Our best laughs were with our wonderful receptionist who laughed until the tears ran down his face, no matter how funny things were! He was perfect affirmation and encouragement for any would-be stand-up comic (no names mentioned). He would have to take a few deep breaths before he could answer the phone when my friend and I were sharing stories with him at the front desk. Wiping the tears away with his handkerchief, he would say, “Ooh, you make me funny!”
I once had the task of gathering information from our local trade association. I called the association and explained to their receptionist what I needed. Very politely she told me that unfortunately their switchboard wasn’t working, she could therefore not transfer my call, and, with huge apologies for the inconvenience, asked if I wouldn’t mind calling back the next day. So taken with her courtesy, I said of course that would be fine, I thanked her for her politeness and attention to let me know what was happening. I then asked her, in light of the information I needed, who I should ask for when I called back the next day. She said, “Oh, you can speak to me.”
After a brief pause, I said to her, “So … do you think I could speak to you now?”
“Oh, yes, I didn’t think of that,” she said. I didn’t have to call back the next day.
One of our clients was the quasi-governmental body that handled the nation’s marketing of grain. They built some new grain silos in a small town outside of the capital, Harare, and we handled the official opening. We commissioned a jeweller to make a silver replica of the silos as an official memento of the event, we invited the media, we arranged the catering and entertainment, we sorted the logistics and the small, dusty town in rural Zimbabwe laid out the red carpet in honour of the occasion.
We got to the venue early and waited as the slew of dignitaries arrived. The media arrived, as did the local government officials, community leaders, businesspeople and others who considered themselves legends in their own lunchtime. The minister of agriculture was the guest of honour and he arrived amid fanfare and adulation from the gathered masses. The master of ceremonies welcomed everyone, outlined the morning’s proceedings and invited the local school choir forward for their opening number.
The boys and girls from the local primary school filed neatly to their spot at front and centre of the outdoor gathering. A few shuffles to the left and right and each one, not a hair out of place and not a sound uttering from their lips, took their place in the body of the choir. They watched in anticipation as their choirmaster strode out to take his place at front.
Nattily dressed in smart suit and tie, the wide centre parting of his hair matched only by the gap between his front teeth (the kind of teeth that can eat an apple through a tennis racket), the proud and grinning choirmaster’s moment had come.
His charges awaited his instruction, chins lifted, chests out, camera smiles at the ready. He lifted his hands in anticipation, eyed his gathered team and, as his hands began to flow, so the song began. With choreographed sways to the left and the right, hips swinging and fingers clicking in unison, the children began to sing, with all their hearts, “Sweet, sweet, the memories you made for me”.
I expected a traditional Shona song in honour of the gathered elders. But as the loud, beautiful and youthful harmonies rang through the dusty rural town, congregated and proud, I realised that Dean Martin’s classic was the perfect song. And I was grateful to realise, in that moment, that my best memories are made of moments like these.
Sunshine signing off for today!