Sunday, April 18, 2010

Women Writing Zimbabwe

Women Writing Zimbabwe, 2008, Harare: Weaver Press.
(A fleeting review by Memory Chirere)

I have always had a copy of Women Writing Zimbabwe, a short story book in English published by Weaver Press in 2008 but only began to read it now.

Carrying short stories by fifteen different new and established women writers of Zimbabwe, this book has multiple thrusts. The stories are set in and out of Zimbabwe.

So far ‘Chemusana’ by Sabina Mutangadura is a story that I like best. Chemusana’s mother goes to work as a nurse in London, leaving Chemusana and his father behind. Chemusana depends on the house girl, Estella for care and companionship. They are happy together. The absence of Chemusana’s mother causes disagreements in the large family. Chemusana’s father’s sister is against Chemusana’s mother’s going away. She points out that her brother is as good as single and worse, Chemusana’s mother could be having affairs wherever she is. Ironically, Chemusana’s father has no problem with his wife’s escapades. He points out that his wife has gone away in order to provide for the family and there are suggestions that the wife could be sponsoring the husband’s on going Masters Degree programme.

In the subplot, Estella is involved with a man in South Africa who exploits her sexually whenever he visits. She is keen to join him in South Africa even if it means quitting her housemaid’s job unceremoniously. Chemusana’s father, ironically fails to understand why the young Estella wants to go into the diaspora when he sees reason in his own wife’s stay in London. Estella leaves in a huff without saying goodbye. But immediately Estella returns, having learnt that her boy friend is actually a married man. There is joy in the home because at least Chemusana now has company again. Estella is the mother that Chemusana needs (and maybe the wife that Chemusana’s father does not have.)

Then there is the story ‘Mr. Wonder’ by Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Opportunities and tactful people! Mrs. Mutasa has a good time flirting with a young man in San Francisco. She does it as revenge because her husband is always having a nice time with various girls. He is sometimes caught red handed with some of them in bed. Usually he makes up for it by paying her off with goodies and very irresistible offers. This time he allows her a holiday in the US with the children. Wonder the ‘garden boy’ is asked to go with them. Mrs Mutasa wants him to clean up and do the laundry. But Mr. Mutasa only agrees to have Wonder join the family so that he keeps an eye on the wife on behalf of Mr. Mutasa.

In San Francisco, Wonder an Apostolic Christian, finds an open space in which to pray as he misses Zimbabwe and his church mates. Some Americans are attracted to poor Wonder’s meditative apostolic church style. His congregation grows from a trickle to large numbers. Wonder discovers that he has founded an apostolic gathering. The followers, out of sheer awe, pay him lots of money, to his amusement. An earthquake occurs in San Francisco and Wonder’s growing gathering thinks that this is a true sign that Wonder is indeed a man of wonder and power. However, the same earthquake scares Mrs. Mutasa and she quickly leads her party back home.

You must read ‘The Carer’ by Chiedza Musengezi. Tragicomic. Makes you think critically about some of our family values. Her son and his wife who stay in Harare take in old demented Mbuya Skipa whose husband died a long time ago.

This has various problems from a Shona point of view. 1. Customarily, Mbuya Skipa cannot stay permanently with her son because that means having to be nursed by a daughter in law, which is taboo. But she has no daughters of her own or living relatives. 2. Her Harare family assigns their cottage in the backyard to Mbuya Skipa because they think, and rightfully so, that the old lady needs her privacy. But the other Harare relatives abhor this because in the Shona customs, putting your mother further off like that is taboo. You risk suggesting that you do not love your mother that much. 3. Mbuya Skipa has lost control; she urinates and defecates everywhere. Sometimes she walks into the main house and says anything obscene in front of visitors. 4. Hannah, Mbuya Skipa’s daughter in law wants to go and visit her husband in Dubai. A friend suggests that she puts her in an old people’s home but according to Shona traditions, this is taboo. Only old people with no children of their own end up in old people’s homes.

Then ‘Delivery’ by Annie Holmes. My God! This one is threatening to be my real favourite. So many eyes looking at eyes looking at eyes. 1. The love between Percy (a white Zimbabwean woman in post-independent Zimbabwe) and Obi (an English cultured and educated Nigerian man in Zimbabwe. Percy is an inside outsider because although she is Zimbabwean, she is foreign to popular Shona culture. Obi is an outsider insider because although he is foreign, he is black and African like the Shonas. The black people in Murehwa think that Obi is Shona because he is black, only to notice that he does not know a single Shona word. They are even more shocked to hear Percy, a white person telling them in Shona that Obi is from England and knows no Shona!

2. There is the unstable understanding between Percy and her van Heerden family because she is going out with Obi, a black boy when they could have preferred she went out with a white boy.

3. There is the friendship full of compromises between Percy and her black friend, Tafi, whom she tolerates but does not understand e.g. Tafi’s fear that her daughter might be affected by countryside evil spirits when Tafi herself should be at home with all things African, baffles Percy.

4. Percy has very fond memories of Praxides, the African woman who nursed her but whose surname and Murehwa address she does not remember. It means Percy cannot get the Christmas greetings to Praxides. Obi chastises her for that and it fills Percy with regret because it seems to confirm that Percy is racist.

5. Percy tries very much to fit in the setting but her whiteness remains very visible. On the truck she shows sympathies for the bound goat, not aware that to the Shonas, the goat is as good as dead, however hard it frowns and frets. It is ready for the pot. When she walks into the n’anga’s homestead there is excited pandemonium at seeing a white person at such a place and someone shouts, ‘I didn’t know that even whites come to consult here.’

I stop here because I must go out. When I come back, I will read stories by Zvisinei Sandi and Petina Gappah. We were together in college in the early 1990’s. I am expecting ‘fireworks’.

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