Musariri On Belonging in All That It Ever Meant

All that it ever meant Blessing Musariri

“I have three lives; one as a child of two Zimbabweans I am Zimbabwean too; as a child of immigrants, I am a British Citizen; I am the person behind these two things I can choose.”

I loved Musariri’s new offering. All That It Ever Meant is written beautifully albeit the twist almost at the end that had me flipping back to see if I had missed something. It is full of humor and the camaraderie between Matiponesa and Meticais who until at the end I had no idea what “they” were ghost or spirit or…is endearing.

A Zimbabwean family living in England is visited by The Death in the family and everything changes.

“It was like mama had been our meeting place and now that we had no place to meet up anymore, we kept to our own corners, words and all.” P.12

Musariri employs flashback in moving between the past and present, it may be confusing in the beginning but once you get a hang of it the story flows easily. In these flashbacks, Matiponesa tries to understand what kind of a person her mother was in relation to the family, country of origin and country of birth. What is home? Where is home?

Mama missed Zimbabwe, a lot. She would come here on holiday often, by herself-not for long, “just to recharge,” she’d say. “England is all very well but home is best.” She stayed in England because it was our(the kids’) home.” P.58

It appears home is what one is familiar with, food, language, lifestyle…even another human being. Baba and Mama grew up in Zimbabwe and they have three children born in England, what the parents and the children call home are two different lands.

“You’ve never really seen my country,” he said. It’s yours too, if you want it to be. I know you hardly spent time here but no matter what happens, it will always be home.” Baba P.98

“…he and Mama used to take turns coming home as often as they could, like two people sharing one oxygen tank underwater.” P.70

Adults are perhaps not psychologically prepared to adjust to new environments. Which brings me to worry about the many Zimbabweans, now scattered all over the world and how they are managing so that, “the clouds wouldn’t get so deep into ‘their’ bones.”

“I don’t think Mama ever felt she belonged in England.” Chichi P.98

“I once asked mama what made her sad about England. “I feel closed in by the sky,” she said, “I’m constantly in my bed under my blanket. Even the sound is muted-like I am in a dream.” P.58

In school, the teachers fail to pronounce the children’s names until they have to change and use their, “christian names,” even though the kids themselves did not feel comfortable with the English names and to add to that Mama thinks

“We have been in England since you were born, you should call me Mum. It’s the Queen’s English and we are in Rome so we must do as the Romans.” P.13

Eventually she stops speaking Shona altogether. There is the tug of war, the kids attempt to speak the little Shona they know and visiting relatives, especially Kulu and Gogo complained…

“ … how our Shona was really bad and said they could barely stand us.” P.92

…and the kids envied visiting cousins who spoke the language proficiently. Even baba refers to the children as, “…my poor English children,” indeed they had created “…a little Zimbabwe of their own in England—country population which was five.”

And then there are the cousins who come to visit and awe the children with their proficient Shona

“I like how my cousins sound, like no one is going to ask them where they’re from-from. I have two voice, but Mama felt like she was losing one and she couldn’t find herself in the other.” P.59

The cousins who would say,

“Ohhhhh! Mati, Chichi and Tana are your crib names and those(meaning the English names) are your spy code-names so you can blend in.”

Blend in like MAMA, telling the children to call her MUM and not MAMA. MAMA refusing to speak Shona to anyone. MAMA trying…

“…to fit herself into the space and forget about being a Zimbabwean mum, like if she layered England over herself-the words, the clothes, the food, the lifestyle-then the clouds wouldn’t get so deep into her bones.” P.59

“Belonging is a tricky thing,” baba says.

To whom does a husband belong to? His wife, his parents, his children? To whom does the wife belong to? Her parents, her children, her husband? Do things get messy and mixed up when two people come together and start a family?

“…in the next sixteen years she will try to find herself behind two more children and all they bring, without a chance to be herself for herself…”

Matiponesa observes this of her mother as well…

“…she got stuck on the other side of her love for Baba and couldn’t be in the real time of her own life. I think because she loved him so early in her life she forgot who she had planned to be before she met him.” P.95

I wanted to say that I think Mama never felt like she belonged to herself, like she was stuck in that spot in between twilight-not able to be either fully day or fully night at any one time.” P.98

…which leads me to conclude that to belong, is in many ways to lose critical bits of you.

All That It Meant, Published 2023 by W.W Norton & Company
Author: Blessing Musariri
ISBN: 978-1-324-0305-9
Number of Pages: 176

Undiagnosed Trauma in the novella SHARDS

Shards - Cynthia Marangwanda

Cynthia Marangwanda falls in the select group of Zimbabwean writers who inspire me to continue to explore language; the many ways in which it can be broken and bend to speak that which we want it to. Other writings that have had me pondering on the magic and dexterity that language can bring into telling stories are by Memory Chirere, Ignatius Mabasa, Ethel Kabwato, Fungai Tichawangana, Blessing Musariri, Tariro Ndoro, Tsitsi Ela Jaji, Togara Muzanenhamo, just to mention a few.

Shards is revered for dealing with issues spiritual but to limit its focus to this only would be a total disservice to the author’s gift of dealing with interconnected underlying themes that add to the richness of the story-telling.

From the beginning, it is clear to the narrator, even though she admits, almost halfway through the book that she is

“…off centre…” P.78

For me, there is an incident that could easily be brushed aside or ignored that is mentioned on page 6 which hints at the reason why the narrator is off-centre.

“My arms are riddled with bullets. They stopped bleeding when I stopped feeling at the age of seventeen. That is when a father figure grabbed me by the throat and threatened the innocence out of me.”

This toned-down shattering of a seventeen-year-old seems to fit the finding of

“…undiagnosed psychosis…” and “merely clinically depressed children in denial…”

as alluded to by Shavi on p.68, whilst the seemingly convincing hallucination by the narrator of a character called Benzi insists…

“I keep telling them I’m not insane, but they have made up their wayward minds that mine is a case of the deranged.” Benzi Pg 54

as if they are aware of the root cause of their affliction other than the diagnosis provided by medical institutions.

I also note the loss of respect for the elders aka (father figure), for what kind of a father figure corners a child by the throat?

“…we no longer worship their authority, rather we curse their cuts or personality. We are a bitter brood bringing desecration in our cupped palms…”

There is a pulsating rebelliousness in the narrator and I would associate this with the ‘fermenting’ trauma of the aforementioned incident…

“The bathroom looks so clean and sanitized I have no choice but to promptly vomit on its sparkling floor. I purposely avoid the toilet chamber. My intention is to mar.” narrator p.7

Even though the narrator never spills the proverbial incident, it is not too far-fetched to say that she thinks it and voices to herself the quest to free not only herself from this secret but perhaps a whole people.

“The time of living in cages has long since said goodbye and vacated the premises, leaving us at liberty to crack the padlocks that once constrained us and spill out like a seething dark mass unattached to tomorrow.” P.22

Benzi who calls the narrator, Mupengo, a case of the kettle calling the pot black, has a level of disorientation that is disturbing and because there is no back story to him, one wonders whether he was, as Pan would say, a case of Mupengo

“…befriending ‘her’ own hallucinations,” P.60

Also, the way the nurse turns, confused (P.57), when Mupengo asks if Benzi has also been discharged like her, is a pointer to the heightened hallucinations the narrator was having.

What are the manifestations of trauma and to what level does trauma fester and how would it affect one’s mental health? This trauma, to what extent does it affect an individual’s imagination and their ability to employ this imagination to escape and survive? I would throw in grandmother and Benzi for argument’s sake.

This review is not to dismiss issues of spirituality, for me it is to say that this novella has so many intriguing twists that may leave you astounded after reading it.

It also, in many ways, provides a juxtaposition of how for the longest time mental health and issues of spirituality have been misconstrued, confused, and still are even today.

“The diseases of our thoughts had us clamped by the throat. The battle to be considered sane was a deflating, degrading one.” P51

There is too much going on for the young and with the backdrop of a malfunctioning economy and the lack of “occupation,” a hopelessness of sorts has crept into their psyche.

“What’s the point of clinging to youth when the electricity has all gone…” Sheba confronts Shavi on P.69

They are suicidal, rebellious graffiti-bombing youths seeking “eruptions and explosions.” Even Mupengo who has attempted twice is confused why Sheba who is perfection-personified would want to “annihilate” herself. There is an ignored mayhem, pandemic-like, that is being downplayed.

I love what Marangwanda has done with language in this novella. She has mastered the many influences she has encountered and managed to absorb that which is essential to her environment, the result is Shards, a meal with just enough seasoning in the right quantities.

Shards was first published in Zimbabwe, in 2014 and won a NAMA in 2015.

Second Edition was published in Great Britain by Carnelian Heart Publishing.
ISBN: 978-1-914287-40-4
Number of Pages: 94

We Are All Patients Of The State

Because Sadness is Beautiful Poems

I got my autographed copy of Tanaka Chidora’s debut poetry collection, “Because Sadness is Beautiful? on the 23rd of February, 2021 – it has sat on unread-books pile for roughly two years. Life happens and I am glad I finally found myself in the “zone,” two weeks ago to dig in.

The poems here are far from gentle. They are an attempt at, “purgation,” from word ‘purge,’ you know honey?” I am looking for honey to tell us if she/he knows. Until I find honey I feel it is the purging of country; the exorcism of the individual from the clutches of hardship.

Have you ever bumped into the sharp edge of a kitchen unit so hard it was too painful for you to cry. Imagine bumping into it with an almost drying, almost healed scab only to start bleeding again. Some of the poems in Sadness is Beautiful? feel like that indescribable pain. The pain of being in this “Slow Country ,” whose main occupation is to allocate sadness to it’s people.”

Chidora writes from memory, of a place not too far. Over 20 of his poems are dedicated to people – most of them writers, friends and family; childhood memories, events and places lived and visited. Some kind of twisted nostalgia exists in some instances.

Magamba Hostel is a kaleidoscope of the many textures life can take. The rituals of christianity, politics, commerce, art, poverty-all are encapsulated from block 1-13. Here the language is of affection, a bit indulgent and forgiving of the seemingly “violent,” environment.

Magamba carries bittersweet memories of ‘dust,’ and ‘shit,’ and many of it’s people are so used to discomfort that they start to mistake it for luxury;

“shit smells nicer
when you flare your nose…”

There is a giving, a vulnerability, pitying of self. A romanticism rather, of the status quo and how somehow this could be the magnet to this place that is Magamba Hostel.

In remembering there is an urgency to preserve what was, the little that carried beauty in order to maintain sanity in all the chaos e.g. in the poems Mother, and Father

“I want to preserve Mother in my mind
I want her to live forever
to traverse the footpaths of memory
until Memory and Mother become one.” P. 111

“I remember waking up every morning
with pride that somewhere in this country
my father was moving around a big machine.” P.113

It is here that you may be tempted to believe that sadness is beautiful through the recollection of happy childhood memories. The memories are a place to escape to for comfort.

I find the use of the phallic symbol excessive. It appears one too many times throughout the book, denoting power and it’s abuse, it’s dominance over the weak. I wonder if Chidora is saying, we are in all this, ‘shit,’ because of the three-legged visionaries who have led us these so many decades. When the personal becomes political, the tongue wears an unsanitised veil.

The language is raw and blunt but honest, touching wounded places of truths many may be afraid to dine with. “Language,” exists here not as a dialect but as the energy to place a place and a people in a particular time. My naughty side almost convinced me to title this write, “Of phalluses, phantoms, buttocks, and shit…” 🤣🤣🤣

There is an evident dejection, a surrendering to that which the narrators cannot change. It is echoed in the poem, “Waiting,”

“our delight is in standing
because standing means
we may perhaps move …” P.13

moving, backwards, forward, sideways, up and down. What confusion this is to a “patient of the state.”

Hope seems to be fleeing, a reflection of how dire the circumstances are;

“my blinkered vision cannot help me tell
why the green on the flag has become pale…”

to a point where one begins to harbour thoughts of leaving but again, “sometimes leaving is not easy,” because one must carry the luggage of memories to whatever newfoundland.

It reminds me of a saying we had in high school. “Make the best years of your life count, the best years of wearing a school uniform, once those are over, you are on your own.” This was to say that as a student or young person, mostly you are cushioned from life’s hardships by your parents, you don’t worry about the price of school fees or bread, they worry and experience on your behalf.

Adulting as it is called these days throws you into real deep-end life situations, you become a citizen, “a father too,” if unlucky, a patient. A patient of the state.

Because Sadness is Beautiful? was published by Mwanaka Media & Publishing (Pvt) Ltd in 2019.