Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 29, 2022|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

The wisdom of getting down and dirty. 

Never be afraid to get your hands dirty in life, in work, in business, or in the field  I mean the muddy one where they grow crops.

This is my greatest advice to any aspiring journalist or entrepreneur.

Roll up your sleeves, squint into the sun and see your sweat as the honey of your efforts – feel the dirt on your hands.

Good honest dirt was an expression I heard in Africa in 1996 and it stayed with me. It came from the lips of the late clergyman-turned politician Archbishop Abel Muzorewa as we filmed him tending his garden near Harare.

“This is what I love,” he said turning to the camera, “Good, honest, dirt on my hands.”

Shame, Muzorewa’s hands were often covered in dirt, but not always good and honest. In his time as the  head of the transitional state Zimbabwe-Rhodesia – on the way to independent Zimbabwe born on April 18 1980. He sanctioned more than a few shady political deals along the way including saying his day had been “well started” when he heard the news of the Rhodesian air raid on guerrilla camps in Chimoio, over the border in Mozambique, in November 1977. It was also known as the Chimoio massacre that left 3,000 of Muzorewa’s fellow black Zimbabweans dead and 5,000 wounded.

Back to the fields and I speak from experience. I come from a long line of honest toilers in the fields. Right back to my great-great-great grandfather, they were all tillers of the soil for a handful of coins every week – if they were lucky.

My great-great-grandfather worked in the fields all his life, save for a spell driving a delivery cart for a brewery. He lived into his 90s but sadly died blind and lonely in a workhouse, a poor house that supposedly sheltered everyone from the old to the insane; there were no social services in those days.

My great-grandfather, John Charles Bishop, was even born on a farm – a stone’s throw from where his father toiled in the fields. He grew up to do the same, but eventually, he learned the trades of ropemaking and leather working and managed to raise 11 children on a meagre wage.

My own grandfather, Eric Hunt, also worked with his hands and was a fine carpenter. Yet, in the dark days of the depression of the 1930s, he picked up a shovel and dug ditches for a living. On a winter night, in 1935, when my father Tony was born my grandfather put down his shovel and cycled to see him. According to my late grandmother, my grandfather sat down and slept through  the entire visit.

My father grew up to become a  journalist and wordsmith – a crafter of words as his father was a crafter of wood – yet he was always ready to pick up a shovel, as well as a pen, and  passed them both onto me.

Their legacy to me was a good turn of phrase, a steady hand and the constitution of an ox. When I was a teenager, I too worked in the fields, digging planting and irrigating, to pay for my text books for college.

I know what it feels like to see the sun go down and feel so drained you can hardly lift your feet. What it feels like to be covered in dirt from head to foot and have the boss shout at you when you only understood every fourth word ( his accent was strong, but his English was weak).

A scenario familiar to entrepreneurs across Africa. It made me stronger, saner, more compassionate, and wiser. Good, honest dirt.