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.

Review: Finding Me (Viola Davis)

Finding me Book

On Saturday, 20 August I got a message from an unknown number informing me they had a parcel for me from Tendi van der Mufunde. Because this son of mother had not said anything to me about the parcel I wondered what it could be. When I received the parcel I felt it with my hands and it felt like a book and I thought well, it could be a journal then I thought hard and remembered I had posted on my WhatsApp status begging for someone, anybody to gift me the Viola Davis memoir, “Finding Me.” I had an inkling son of mother had read between the lines and answered this “prayer” of mine. When I opened the parcel I was ecstatic and started dancing and ululating like a mad one. I read the memoir over twenty-four hours.

I had experienced Viola in the following films; “Fences.” “The Help.” “Widows,” and most recently in the TV series “How To Get Away With Murder.” It always bothered me how she always got roles about struggle and how she embodied the struggle like a real lived experience and now after reading the memoir I understand how she settled, owned the characters she played and she rightly says “…your depth of understanding yourself is equal to the depth of understanding a character.” All this time she was giving ‘herself’ to us in those movies.

This memoir is a roller coaster of the journey and life of Viola Davis. This is a story about chaos, violence, anger, poverty, shame, fear, trauma, racism, colourism but ultimately, a story of forgiveness and triumph. I can relate to it on many fronts but most critically as a writer/performer and someone who has suffered with fibroids for the longest time and like Viola I am close to telling the doctor to yank the whole thing out if it doesn’t kill me before I am strong enough to relay the order.

“The plumbing was shoddy, so the toilets never flashed. Actually, I don’t ever remember toilets working in our apartments. I became very skilled at filling up a bucket and pouring it into the toilet to flash it.”

Even though circumstances may be different, this hits home and immediately pulls the veil on the life we see on TV and some realities experienced by those who sell us the illusion that life is honky dory where they come from when their lived realities could be totally different, the opposite of the lives portrayed on TV and even a friend of Viola is shocked by the level of lack when they visit her home;

“…one time a friend came over to our house and when she opened the refrigerator and saw there was nothing in it, asked, “Are you guys moving?”

It was not just the poverty it was also the abuse that is glaring in this memoir. Her father always beating her mother when he was drunk, how Viola and her siblings witnessed this without being able to help in any way as kids. I was left teary when I read this;

“There are not enough pages to mention the fights, the constantly being awakened in the middle of the night or coming home after school to my dad’s rages and praying he wouldn’t lose so much control that he would kill my mom. Sometimes her head or arm would split open. She would have a swollen face, split lip. I was always afraid when he picked anything up like a piece of wood because he would hit her as hard as he could and keep beating. Sometimes all night. There was many times we would see droplets of blood leading to our apartment and we just knew what was happening.”

This hit close to home again. Once my family lived next door to a family whose father was always beating the mother every time he came from the beerhall drunk. He kept an Assegai and he would run around the house chasing his wife threatening to kill her. I wonder if they too felt like Viola.

“I imagined what our lives would be like without him. I imagined a life with no more drunken rages and constant abuse of my mom. I secretly felt how much better our lives would be.”

I can’t begin to think of the magnitude of trauma and scars this left on the mother and the children who were always screaming for help. Lucky for my neighbour people always intervened but Viola and her siblings didn’t get that relief of extended compassion.

It also took me to a conversation I had with a work colleague some time ago. My colleague told me that she has a guy-friend who told her he was not on speaking terms with his father and that even when the father died he did not mourn him. Reading this memoir kind of gave a reason why a child and a parent could drift apart to that extend. Unattended trauma can be a cancer. It however appears that Viola worked on healing and forgave her father before he died.

It can be said that Will Smith helped Viola Davis on her healing journey by asking her, “Viola who are you?” After unsatisfactorily answering the question Will gives her a lead by telling her who he is, Will says, “Look, I’m always going to be that fifteen-year-old boy whose girlfriend broke you with him. That’s always going to be me. So who are you?” I stopped there and asked myself the same question to me this question rang like the “Acomodador” in Paulo Coelho’s book, The Zahir…that event in our lives that is responsible for us failing to progress; a trauma, a particularly bitter defeat, a disappointment in love, even a victory that we did not quite understand, can be making cowards of us and preventing us from moving on. Who am I? “I’m the little girl who will forever want acknowledgment for what I do because it was never extended to me when I was growing up.” Who are you?

What struck me was how this adversity, the trauma was the driving force of what Viola eventually became. Her deliberate steps and passion in stage and screen acting inspired by the inimitable Cecily Tyson are encouraging. To have a clear vision from a tender age and set your mind to it without wavering despite the many adversities she met on the way is beyond charming.

“I felt if I did not go to college, if I did not get a degree, if I was not excellent then my parents’ reality would become my own…either you achieved or you failed,” and she goes on to say, “I felt that achievement could detox bad shit. It would detox poverty.”

There is a lot to learn from this memoir as artists. Finding one’s voice and staying authentic to it. The idea of stepping away, highlighted in Viola’s trip to the Gambia and how it allowed her to clearly articulate what it is that she was about and the essence of what she wanted to represent with her art. Because not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, she subtly talks of putting in the work and being patient;

“Most actors don’t want to be artists, they want to be famous,” and, “Fame is intoxicating.”

“I’ve realized there in no true network, no rhyme or reason or textbook way to getting into this business, except finally getting a job that leads to the next job and the next.”

Putting in the work and showing up are the best referrals for an artist it seems but whilst waiting for that break of that one big job that will lead to the next one, work, work, work because, “you have no leverage if you do not work.”

I was to learn something very important that writing like, “acting is a collaborative art form.”.

“The actor needs the director, writer, make-up artist, hairstylist, cinematographer and finally the audience,” just as much as the writer needs the editor, graphic designer, typesetter, proof-reader, printer, book reviewer and readers. Everything artistic is a whole production depending on the existing ecosystem or artistic community that supports all the efforts from the different players.

Viola reveals the ugly and the beautiful of being in the film industry. I was left with no illusion that it is no easy feat to get as far as she has with nominations and so many awards under her belt without sacrifice and hard work. The many sacrifices made whilst keeping eyes on the price. The hunger, the tears, the pain and in the end the triumph and growth making history by becoming the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama for her work on How to Get Away With Murder and establishing of her own production house. Despite going on this roller coaster, Viola says;

“…what I have realized since is that those moments of feeling alive are part of a continuum. You find that moment. You bask in it. Then as soon as it passes, life becomes about chasing the next moment. I now understand that life, and living it, is more about being present. I’m now aware that the not-so-happy memories lie in wait; but the hope and the joy also lie in wait,”

because hey,

“There is no way whatsoever to get through life without scars. No way!! It’s a friggin’ emotional boxing ring.”

Reading Zimbabwe: TUDIKIDIKI

tudikidiki by memory chinyerere

“Munhu wese pasi pano anekanyaya kehupenyu hwake kanomuvhundutsa. Kanyaya kaasingagone kutaurira kana ani zvake. Kanyaya kakangofananawo nekaronda kekumusana kasinganyatsopora. Karonda kausingagone kuratidza mumwe munhu kuti akukwenye uchitya kuti angazoudza vamwe vanhu achiti, ” …wamunowona uyo, ane karonda kasingapore, kanonhuwa sehanyanisi.”

Tudikidiki ukaritarisa unorishora uchiti kabhuku kadikidiki. Unogona kuzvinyepera kuti ndinokaverenga mumaawa mashomanana ndikakapedza nekuti kane tunyaya tudikidiki Kabhuku kakatakura zvakakatakura. Kanetunyaya tupfupipfupi, tunyaya twekuti ukapedza kuverenga tunokushungurudza kwenguva yakareba. Ndakawona kuti kabhuku aka kaida ndikaverenge pfungwa dziri pamwechete, dzisina kubvanganyurwa nezviitiko zvezuva. Kaida ndikaverenge kunyanyanya rungwanangwana ndisati ndaremerwa netwakawandawanda nekuti kabhuku kane tunyaya twakatakura zvatwakatakura.

Muna Amai naBaba muna Maggie anechishuvo chake. Anoowona kuputsika kwainge koita Mai nababa vake. Maggie anoedza paanogona pese kuti avabatanidze. Anokunda, chishuvo chake chozadziswa. Ndinoidira kuti inoita kunga ine “kahappy ever after” mukati. Manyorerwo akaitwa kanyaya aka kanogona kutwa bhaisikopo risingataurwi riya rikabuda zvinoshamisa.

Pempani Pembani kuita kunge kuti Chirikure Chirikure…mukomana wekuramba kufuririka. Aigona chikoro zvaibhowa vamwe kunyangwe aibva kumusha kwaiva nehurombo hwaizivikanwa mitunhu yakawanda. Aiva zvakare nechipo chekudhirowa. Ndakafarira zvikuru kuti vamwe vana vepachikoro chaaidzidza vaimubatsira nechikafu nokuti vaiziva kwaibva Pembani kwaiva nenzara. Vamwe vana vakayedza kumukukumbira kuti asiyane nekuita nhamba hwani, iye akabvuma asi kupera kwetemu vakazoshamisika ari iye ari nhamba hwani.

Imwe nyaya yakandinakidza inonzi Pasi peNgoma. Iyi inyaya inobva yandifungisa chimbo chaTocky na EXQ chinonzi, “Wakatemba,”…Big-Boy Chiseko akatorerwa musikana na Remington akabva aita Chiseko sezita rake. Inopenengura nyaya yatinoti, “procrastination” pachirungu.

Nyaya yaGabhu nekambo kake Kamwe karwizi inyaya inoti vhundutsei kwekupedzisira. “Waiti ukamubvunza kuti kambo aka ainge akadzidziswa nani, aitsinzinyira. Aizovhura maziso onongedzera miti, matombo, uswa. zvuru, makomo, ivhu, mombe…Kuziva kuti munhu wamaigara naye muchifarira maimbiro ake, maimbiro aivhura ndangariro dzakazvirarira, akaponda baba vake, zvinhu zvinovhundutsa.

Kune varume vanorarama neraki kunga Mandiziva. Ndakambonzwa munyori, vaChirere vachiverenga nyaya iyi. Pandakaiverenga ndainzwa maverengero avo. Dzimwe nguva chinhu chakanaka kunzwa munyori achiverenga zvaakanyora nokuti unogona kuverenga nepasipo.

Chichena, chirefu, chinonhuwirira…imwe yenyaya dzinotemesa musoro. Imwe yenya dzinoda kuti munhu azviverengere oga kunge imwe yacho Roja rababa vaBiggie. Hanzi Muroindishe.

Ndikakurega handizokuwona ndiyo yangu chaiyo. Inotaura nezverudo rwakadzika zvokuti runoponesa munjodzi. Mumarengenya munoita kunga musina chirimo, muzere mazirudo. Mazirudo anopa upenyu.

Patunyaya makumi maviri turi mukabhuku aka unogona kuwona woseka wega kunga Gora nokuti unogona kuzviwona urimo mukati menyaya. “Gora rinoseka kunge mvura iri kuchururuka mukarwizi kanodzika kubva mugomo. Kobo kobo kobo kobo-o kuseka.”. Unogona kuchema zvakare nekuseka ikoko, usisaseke tunyaya asi uchizviseka iwe wega.

Tudikidiki kabhuku kakanyorwa naMemory Chirere kakatsikiswa mugore ra2007 nePriority Projects Publishing. Ndinotenda sahwira wangu Tinashe Muchuri akandikweretesa bhuku iri, igoridhe. Dai raizowanikwawo zvakare kuti mukwanise kurava moga.

#ReadingZimbabwe