Author Peter Wood on growing up in Zimbabwe
7 October 2016
Mud Between your Toes: A Rhodesian Farm is Peter Wood’s account of life in Zimbabwe in the late 70s.
Based on his diaries from the time, the story traces his journey from the bush in Africa to Hong Kong, where he is a photographer, author, and now Chinese national.
What is your book about?
It’s a memoir about my childhood growing up gay on an African farm during the Rhodesian bush war. The book is based on my diaries that I wrote in the 1970s and is peppered with anecdotes and stories about the people who influenced me. Boarding school far from home also plays an integral part of the story. An ever-changing web of confusion and learning curves, of sexual frustration and hard discipline. In time, I learnt to become tough – a means of survival in the dormitory.
What led you to write the book?
A cardboard box with “Pete Wood’s Diminishing Life” scrawled over the top in black marker pen had been sitting in the bottom of my cupboard for a couple of years. I knew what was inside, but was never tempted to open it until 2002, a year after my parents had been thrown off their farm in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe’s controversial land grab. Only then did I feel the need to carefully remove the five diaries I had religiously written between 1975 and 1979 – five turbulent, yet exciting years during my teens, growing up surrounded by the beauty of a wild Southern African farm, tormented by my sexuality and, without a doubt, scarred by a civil war that raged on our doorstep. Despite being born in Africa, and considering yourself “African to the core”, you’re astonishingly a Chinese national.
How did that happen?
After living for 13 years in London I came to Hong Kong in 1993 as a photographer and worked for the Eastern Express newspaper, which was owned by The Oriental Press Group. After Zimbabwe became a pariah state, travel was restricted for citizens so I approached Hong Kong immigration to get a HK passport. They initially laughed, telling me that it was impossible as I needed to become a Chinese national first, and to become a Chinese national you needed to be ethnic Chinese. However, after a little persuasion they relented and after renouncing my Zimbabwean citizenship I was granted both Chinese nationality and a HK passport.
This article first appeared in the Aug/Sep 2016 issue of Expat Living Magazine.
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