Celebrating the gift of life with 103-year-old

Samuel Chiyemu together with his wife Severina Meki and grandchildren (from left) Blessed, Oleen and Bliss

ACCORDING to Judaism, Christianity and Islamic mythology, a man called Methuselah once walked the earth and lived for 969 years.

However, so goes the tale the Christian Old Testament Bible, God decided to revise the maximum number of years a man could walk the earth to 120 years.

In Genesis 6:3, it is written: “And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.”

While scholars have argued for millennia over the interpretation of these words, it, however, seems very few humans have lived past 100 years and, indeed, if one reaches just a century alive on earth, they have every reason to celebrate this incredible milestone.

One such person to have been given the gift of life is Samuel Chiyemu, now 103 years old and hoping to turn 104 in July this year.

Until proven otherwise, he is currently officially Mashonaland East province’s oldest living person and NewsDay Weekender hopes to hence forth start recording and celebrating the life of Zimbabwean centurions for posterity.

With Zimbabwe’s current life expectancy estimated to be 64,7 years for both males (61,2) and females (68), according to the country’s 2022 population census, Chiyemu is obviously in an enviable league of people whose life on earth is worth celebrating.

Globally, the average age of death is 68,9 years for men and 73,9 years for women.

The country with the highest life expectancy is Monaco, where on average females live up to 89 years, while males survive until 84 years.

The country with the least life expectancy is Lesotho at 55 years, which leads a host of many other African countries with very low life expectancies.

Research has determined that demographic variables, socio-economic status and health factors largely determine life expectancies, while genes, genetic mechanisms and pathways also play a part.

For Chiyemu, his long life on earth can be summarised as a pure gift, especially in Africa where the average life expectancy is 64,11 years.

Born in a family of six, two years after the infamous World War I, in what was then Mutoko, now Mudizi South district, Mashonaland East, the centurion is, however, still a young man in the league of global centurions still living, with Venezuelan Juan Vicente Perez aged 114 years leading the list.

But Chiyemu’s life is still worth celebrating, having witnessed the deadly World War II triggered by Adolf Hitler who sought to establish his Aryan race world dominated by the Germans.

Many Africans, including Zimbabweans, participated in the war which claimed 916 locals of all races.

At 20 years, Chiyemu was an ideal candidate for the frontline, but “I was just lucky not to take part in that war”, he told NewsDay Weekender.

“I never liked violence. Whenever altercations erupted, I would simply walk away,” he said, which most probably explains why he was never near an army barrack, let alone the warfront.

But the spectre of war was not done yet as it erupted closer home when indigenous black people took up arms to fight colonial rule in a bitter 15-year-long war which ended in Zimbabwe’s independence from British rule on April 18, 1980.

Chiyemu, who has a very sharp memory of all his past life, except the actual dates, says he was working in Harare, then Salisbury, during part of that war.

He had a mixed career of being a house cook in Harare’s Greenwood Park, then a landline telephone installer with what was at the time called the Postal and Telecommunication Corporation, now TelOne.

He was also a waiter at Bronte Hotel, where he still has fond memories working with then manager Mrs Carley and close workmate Timothy Kapumha, Phenias Mutonhora and others.

He then migrated to the rural areas when duty called for him to be a village head for Machisa village under Chief Chikwizo.

He married twice and had three children with his first wife, whom he married in the early 1960s and seven with his second wife, whom he married in the early 1970s. He has 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Chiyemu’s life is quite intriguing in that the man loved his beer and cigarettes since he was in school.

“I used to be punished a lot for drinking, but I never stopped,” he recalled with a chuckle.

Incredibly, he only stopped smoking when he turned 92 years following an incessant terrible cough each time he lit a stick; while he stopped imbibing when he turned 102 when his urinary tract blocked for more than three months in what he felt could have resulted in him breathing his last because of the excruciating pain.

Doctors saved him by giving him a catheter after draining more than two litres of urine he had carried for over three months. The turning point also saw him stopping working in the field.

Asked whether he ever drank illicit brews and taken drugs along his long life journey, he said: “I used to drink Tambirani, but am sure the type they are making now has too much chemicals which are making our youths mad.”

Tambirani, a strong spirit brew smuggled from neighbouring Mozambique, is among dozens other brews such as Zed, Star, Saints and Sixer, among others, being manufactured illegally in Zimbabwe’s backyards which have wreaked havoc among both youths and adults as an unprecedented alcohol and drug abuse scourge grips the country.

“The problem is that many who are drinking today don’t eat, which is very dangerous. One must eat and not drink the entire night and going home in the morning to only sleep and start drinking again when they wake up. You will die if you drink beer like that.”

Warning imbibers not to mix brew he explained: “You should never mix Tambirani with (Chibuku) Super, or mix drugs with alcohol, that’s very dangerous.

“I took mbanje (marijuana) once while I was having my beer, I went lights out and never finished my beer. That was the first and last time I smoked the drug.”

Having truly had his fill of alcohol and tobacco, he is now down to fruit juices and other non-alcoholic beverages.

Like they say, when one gets older, they become toddlers again, Chiyemu is down to porridge, a little sadza (thick mealie-meal porridge) and biscuits as his favourite snack.

“I like Mazoe (Orange Crush), but they no longer make it as they used to, they are putting too many lemons. I also like Coca-Cola in a bottle and not in a plastic bottle, it has a funny taste when in a plastic bottle,” he smiled.

Asked about his general health, he said: “I feel very well. I feel no pain or sickness, but walking is now a bit of a challenge.”

Was there a secret to his long life?

With a smile he said: “I was never troublesome all my life and I never had any girlfriends. I have also lived long with my wife because I never beat her not even once,” to which his wife Severina Meki (74) responded with a shy smile.

Chihemu, who could actually be much older given that back then in the colonial era black Africans were hardly registered at birth — especially in rural areas — and their ages were later estimated in adulthood for them to obtain identity documents, feels too idle at his advanced age, but strength to work is failing him.

“At this rate, I may not live another 20 years,” he smiled.

But who knows, the man has already survived an epic over 100 years of wars and such epidemics as the late 1980s HIV and Aids pandemic which wiped out thousands and still with us today; the late 2019 coronavirus which shutdown the globe and mainly killed the elderly in Europe; and malaria, a disease endemic in his Mudzi South district and claims hundreds lives in southern Africa every year.

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