‘If you meet a guy in a bar and go back to his place with him, if he doesn’t have a bookshelf, don’t sleep with him!’
I love this quote by John Walters …
When Multi Award-Winning Zimbabwean Designer, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri recently launched her book and global brand, A Woman With No Country, AWWNC she very kindly asked me to give a talk on ‘A Woman who Reads’
Books are sexy, I argued.
A woman who reads lives a thousand lives, she is reflective, globalised and has travelled the world through many characters.
My grandmother lived beyond a hundred years, she never new her date of birth. A lioness of her kind, she born nine children, uneducated, yet she was the sharpest woman I have ever known.
Every night after a meal of sadza and vegetables, always vegetables because meat was for special occasions, we would huddle around the smokey fire, our weepy wooded eyes glaring, roasted nuts tossing in a chipped mud pot. Grandma would be begin the stories with:
‘Paivapo‘ which translates to ‘once upon a time’ in our Shona language.
And so the stories unfolded, some fictional, humorous and always cultural. Most were flavoured with superstition, designed to instil a childhood fear that still haunts me. To this day I am petrified of snakes and darkness. These elders pitched their stories around their long lived experiences and cultural exposures. In many ways they wanted a better life for the children who sat around them in those dark nights, they dreamed of a better tomorrow. All this was communicated rather artistically in African proverbs, rituals and the highest regard for our cultural values.
There were no writers or publishers in my village to capture these moments, the stories are documented in an oral history that touches the core of my heart and spirit. In many happy and sad moments I return back to that fire place in search of clarity, peace and providence.
I love reading, I love the feel of books, the crispy turn of a page, I love dribbling over my book when I fall asleep, my life synchronised into these characters that I have grown to love and loathe.
I can never loan my books out, I struggle with that, I miss my books, those characters who have become friends beyond the pages. I would rather buy you a book than lend you one.
The world is too often a stressed out space, we have over complicated the simple construct of humanity. Although we have made remarkable progress in science and technology, our attitudes to the value of life are still ancient. In this agitated world, it is poetry and yoga that ground me. I often come back to Ben Okri work, I adore Warsan Shire writing. I come to Warsan’s poetry for validation of my feminism, strength and silence. In this poetry, Warsan nails down the mood of the world:
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
― Warsan Shire
Over the years, I have loved reading so many books but a few stand out. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee blew me away it still does, I come back to that book so often in search of justice, The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the finest books of our time, I read Facing the Congo by Jeffery Tayler at a critical time in my life, forever loved it, We need new names by Non Violet Bulawayo is a beauty of a book, its humour is a necessary as the harrowing stories behind it.
I always have two books on the go, I am currently reading ‘The other woman’ by Yewanda Omotoso, stunning read, so well written and Mars His Sword by Philani Amadeus Nyoni, a sparkling poetic infusion of love and humanity.
As the famous writer Mark Twain said, ‘The secret to getting ahead is to get started’
Let’s get reading!
To order Philani Amadeus Nyoni’s book, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Director Tribal Sands
All rights reserved
I love London in the summer. At a glimpse of sunshine, this multi-cultural city throws up a number of African festivals, complete with African arts, music, literature, fashion and Diaspora conversations. Events are as spontaneous as they are planned. I have never been good at saying no to an African party.
The Lioness roars
Director of Tribal Sands
I appeared on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head talk, on an engaging if not grilling discussion between Kenyan politician, Raila Odinga and British Political Jounalist Mehdi Hasan. My fellow African Affairs Analyst Agnes Gitau was a special guest in her capacity as a Kenyan and East African Economist.
Africa needs fresh leaders who are committed to public office and development.
Tribal Sands June 2016
Award winning Public Health Specialist and MSc Public Health (2008) graduate, Dorcas Gwata shared with the Alumni Team the impact studying at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has had on her career and the recognition her work in public health has received.
Dorcas was working as a Mental Health Nurse in the National Health Service (NHS) as the HIV crisis was escalating in Africa. She knew that she wanted to work in global health and give back to Africa but was unclear about which pathways would allow her to do so. “I contacted my now great mentor Professor Vikram Patel, who suggested that I study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, a defining decision in my career. Today, I am a finer clinician, analyst and public health specialist because of the wealth of knowledge that I gained at the [School].”
As a frontline clinician, she worked shifts in an inner London Accident and Emergency Department, whilst she was studying. She struggled to juggle clinical work with studying for a MSc Public Health, however her supervisor Dr. Nicki Thorogood was incredibly supportive. She understood the pressure that Dorcas was under, and helped her to think through solutions and consider different learning styles.
The relationships Dorcas formed at the school have been incredibly useful and remain solid to this day. She has collaborated and consulted on research and analysis with various students that she met on the course. “I am grateful for the on-going contact I have with my tutor, Dr Nicki Thorogood, she is always just an email away”.Gangs 4
Since gaining her degree from the School, Dorcas has gone on to have a commendable career in public health. She currently works on a project that provides mental health interventions for young people and families affected by gang culture in London, the majority of whom are from minority backgrounds. Additionally, she is involved in HIV Mental Health projects in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, she recently contributed to a UK Parliamentary paper that explored lessons learnt from the last Ebola crisis, and her current research explores lessons that the NHS can learn from low income countries.
Dorcas highlighted an important moment in her career; in 2013 she was working as a Mental Health Advisor for a charity called AFRUCA, which was formed against the backdrop of the Victoria Climbie case. She explained that this experience strengthened her knowledge and skills in safeguarding and African cultural practices such as female genital mutiliation (FGM), human trafficking, witchcraft branding and migration issues afffecting affecting African families in the UK. Today she analyses African affairs on many media platforms, as well as runs her own blog www.tribalsands.com
Indeed her achievements have not gone unnoticed, she was named RCN Nursing Standard Mental Health Nurse 2015 for her work in innovative methods of engaging with young people involved in gangs. In 2015 she was nominated for the Zimbabwe International Women’s Award, in 2014 she was awarded the Florence Nightingale Travel Scholarship, which allowed her to carry out research on the Friendship Bench Project in Zimbabwe and extrapolate lessons from that model into her clinical work with young people involved in gangs in London. “Ultimately though my proudest moments are those moments when I make a difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals.”
Chitungwiza Hospital TeachingWhen asked about what the future holds for her career in public health, Dorcas told us “We have achieved some amazing milestones in delivering cost effective, culturally acceptable mental health care through the Friendship Bench program in Zimbabwe. I would like to work in Global Health Policy and help shape policies and strategies for better mental health care for minority groups and those in low income countries. Within my media analyst role, I would like to continue to provide progressive platforms that discuss and re-shape narrative about and around Africa. Despite its global health challenges, the continent is rising.”
Dorcas took the time to acknowledge a number of people who have been instrumental in supporting her throughout her career. They include: Dr Tami, KramerCAMHS Consultant; Professor Vikram Patel, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Professor Peter Carter ex-President RCN; Dr Melanie Abas, Friendship Bench Project; Dr Kate Adams, Chair of ZHTS; Professor Vesile Senturk Cankorur; Dr Titilola Banjoko, Better Health for Africa; Dr Nicki Thorogood, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and her family.
In closing Dorcas wanted to offer some advice to current students “Studying at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is one the greatest priviledges in your career, the standards of learning are very high. They are high because they are setting you up for higher goals in your career. Study hard and take time to enjoy this cosmopolitan multi-cultural city.”
Thank you Dorcas for sharing your experience with us. We wish you continued success in your career.
– See more at: http://blogs.lshtm.ac.uk/alumni/2016/06/06/alumni-profile-dorcas-gwata/#sthash.uIvt7BYN.dpufLon
Director Tribal Sands 2016
On my recent visit to Zimbabwe, I was interviewed on ZiFM Radio Station. I discussed the role of the Diaspora in scaling up health training in Zimbabwe, the ground breaking work of the Friendship Bench Project, our teaching programs in Chitungwiza and Ingutsheni Hospitals, and lessons that the UK can learn from low income countries like Zimbabwe. Here is my discussion with Larry Kwirirayi of ZiFM:
Thank you to ZiFM for providing me with a platform to discuss this important work and for their continued support.
Thank you to Florence Nightingale Foundation Trust.
Thanks to all the amazing and hard working health care professionals
Thank you to our charity Zimbabwe Health Care Training Support for their commitment to health care development in Zimbabwe.
Thanks to Drs Dixon Chibanda and Melanie Abas and the entire Friendship Bench team for years of great partnership, I truly love work with you guys
Thanks to my clinical supervisor, Dr Tami Kramer, CAMHS Consultant Psychiatrist. I learnt from the very best.
Director of Tribal Sands
‘I have brought your insects’ a ‘murungu’ friend of mine recently told me on his return from Africa. The thrill in my heart, the party in my mouth! Mopani worms are a vegetarian delicacy in Southern Africa, they are known to feed on Mopani treesScientifically known as the Imbrassia Belini is a largecaterpillar of the Gonimbrassia beeline species.
I love serving maponi worms when ever I have a fundraising event. The worms often go well before the beef and the chicken, symbolising how much people miss home. My home sick friends usually throw in long winded stories of how much they disliked these in their childhood, and now they relish in them like long lost Diaspora’s longing for a piece of Africa.
Environmentalist and Bio-Diversity groups argue that this is the way we should be eating, mopani worms are healthy, easy to source and consistent with our cultural norms, a fair enough that might be good antidote to the rising levels of pot-bellies associated with the growing African middle class who seek indulgent meaty eating.
I am with the mopani community.
Director of Tribal Sands, May 2016
Now and again, a Zimbabwean writer comes along and transcends readers minds with the offerings of their writing. Philani Amadeus Nyoni’s (PAN) poetry knows no boundaries, his voice is established and he handles his work with care and authority.
I met PAN for drinks in Bulawayo, on a day when the long awaited rains had finally given way. Our conversations are grounded and humorous, our silence is comfortable and thoughtful. He has clout, plenty of it and he is boldly fearless. I want to cocoon him in an impenetrable fortress, but his poetry is as free as the African eagle that looms over Matebeleland, and he asks that we, his readers let him be, because at his best he is writing poetry. Philani is as feisty as he is controlled, he is ahead of his time and he chooses to write within the bounds of his homeland, surrounded by the spirits of those who came before him and paved the way for intriguing writers and readers alike.
PAN talks to Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands:
PAN, your work, your art is a readers treat, how did you find the pen, or did the pen find you?
Thank you, I do what I can. My relationship with the pen was a gradual courtship. I was wooed at an early age; in fact, I can remember the first time I said it out loud that I wanted to write. I was ten, talking to Babili. Even then I was deeply aware of my ability to use words in a unique way. In fact when I changed schools in third grade, I was supposed to repeat the second because they felt I was not ready for their vigorous curriculum. One of the interviewers strongly opposed the motion on the basis of my exceptional reading.
Five years later I wrote my first poem. I will not go into the details of who was who, but there was a writer on a park bench, another walked with me. He is dead and somehow I was aware of his presence and absence. He was narrating something to me about the other writer (they were great friends in this life). The words kept ringing in my head when I woke up. I wrote them down and stood back and said, “wow, I can write poetry!”
Your personality, and sense of freedom stand out as much as your writing, do we as readers understand you in the light that you want to be understood?
The funny thing about that is I hadn’t noticed this until I got a signed copy of “More Than A Woman” by Ericah Gwetai (Yvonne Vera’s mother) signed. The MC had arbitrarily decided I should read a few pages at the launch and I happily complied. She wrote something similar to what you are accusing me of being and now I have to sit back and wonder.
I am a liberated person, I have always had a terrifying imagination and that wasn’t always my best friend growing up. It was always scraping against society, authority, religious prescriptions everything else. At some point I hated myself because of the ease with which I seemed to get into trouble. When we are younger nobody wants to be different; some people never grow out of it. My liberation came from the acceptance that I am what I am; I should not be afraid to be.
Yet I try not to be the artwork, once a writer becomes too recognisable then he cannot be a writer, a writer should be read not heard, or seen.
Many are comparing you to the late Dambudzo Marechera, and your writing reflects that quality, does this come with a sense of responsibility?
Yes indeed it does. Marechera represents different things to different people. When my mother makes the comparison it’s an unequivocal insult, when John Eppel, Dr. Drew Shaw or Memory Chirere make the comparison it’s probably the highest compliment on the Zimbabwean literary landscape .
Being compared to genius is not easy, but what I know is that I have to break away from the negative stereotype associated with Marechera and uphold the positive. The world (worse off Zimbabwe and Africa) was not ready for him; he was a couple of decades premature. I think ‘Mindblast’ best argues his life, especially after a return to the newly founded Zimbabwe.
The biggest responsibility I have is to redeem his name and those of all writers. when I am done, the names of writers will not be used as insults.
They say your first book is in fact your biography, in this regard was ‘Once a lover, always a fool’ your story and your vulnerability?
Writing is a lot of things including catharsis. The best stories are written in blood. In fact when I started writing it I was writing a long letter to a lover. I would sit on the fire escape every night and write one or three poems about her. This was the source for The Light Pages. Essentially I wrote it over three years but to turn it into a book, or an Opus (Lord forbid I should write just ‘another book of love poems!’) took three months. For trivia’s sake: parts of the first two sections were once distributed at a pamphlet called ‘My Love In Black And White’ which could fit in a shirt pocket. My friends liked it but I felt it had no soul. I spent three month carving a soul for it and what came out was ‘Once A Lover Always A Fool’.
John Eppel wrote a beautiful introduction of you in your latest book ‘Mars his sword’, how did you come to work with John?
John and I first encountered each other’s work some eleven years ago, at least I encountered his then. I was studying literature at O Level. One of my set books was ‘Many People Many Voices’ and John wrote a commentary to it. I was a year into writing poetry then, John’s interpretations were so familiar to my spirit I felt he had found the words I was aching to put out, I had found a kindred spirit. A year later he would judge the Girls College Literary (inter-schools) Competition. I would submit and be awarded ‘First Class’ for poetry. The following year I received ‘Honours’ and the ‘Best Poem’ award in the seniors category for a poem called, ‘Shakespeare’.
I suppose we will save the rest for the memoirs, but right now, let me say John has been the strongest influence on my writing. Our views on writing and the writer are very similar it was refreshing to work with someone who understands. It was also an endorsement of sanity when I began and in recent years he has been someone I could turn to when I had doubts or radical ideas. He has been part of every work I have produced, from editing, to co-writing and now providing a blurb. I am honoured to work with him, most importantly learn from him in this life.
You write within the bounds of your own country, and push the very boundaries that contain you, why have you chosen to live and write in Zimbabwe?
Choice is an interesting word when one must wear the title ‘Zimbabwean’ on one’s tongue and name wherever one may wander. I was born here, I lived here until I was nineteen and returned at twenty-few. I suppose the question becomes ‘why come back to a rathole’?
If I ever leave Zimbabwe again it will not be because I was driven out, but because I chose to pursue something which Zimbabwe could not give me. I never worked well with bullies, even those with uniforms or fancy offices.
Our home-girl No Violet Bulawayo blew us away with her book ‘We Need New Names’, and she continues to flourish in so many ways, what does her success mean to you?
I have nothing but love for Nonviolet, although one my characters fired a shot at her in ‘The Sonneteer’, a short story in the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology and some people ascribed that opinion to me. No Violet’s personal recommendation is the reason why I was in that book; why would I shoot the hand that fed me? It was my mischievous way of shouting out. Besides, the other character (whose opinion I think matters more) comes to her defence!
I have my reservations on ‘We Need New Names’, naturally because I am close to the source so a voice in my head will keep interrupting the story. If she had written the first part from Zimbabwe and not in foreign residency Darling’s story in Paradise would have been very different. No Violet acknowledges this in her writing style; she leans more on technique and abstraction in that part than in the second. Ultimately it’s a story and as it is deserves to contend the biggest writing prize in the world and make the history she made. You cannot take away the finesse of her writing, the emotion in both the writer and the reader. Reading ‘Names’ is as close to a religious experience some will ever have.
What disheartens me though is the architecture around her. How long shall we have to move to the West to tell our stories? How long shall we have to receive ‘education’ in the form of MFAs in Creative writing before we actually write our stories? And why must we always thrive on the painful ones? This is an African problem, the tag of ‘African literature’ and all its insinuations. In this regard, ‘We Need New Names’ is nothing new.
None the less it’s a story of hope, it’s a whisper saying, ‘Zimbabwe, we are not forgotten’.
Some say, to read well, one’s belly must be full. How do we foster a reading culture in Africa in the midst of all our challenges?
First we need to break down the elitism that exists in literature. When we begin writing and publishing for the community we will change that. A copy of ‘We Need New Names’ costs $25 in Bulawayo, isn’t that a tragedy, when people can’t afford to read their own story? Yet, I can provide distributors with my next book, slightly thicker for less than half of that on the same paper.
It’s not her fault, it’s the infrastructure around her. But I am sure her publishers have sound justification. For those of us who feel there is a problem in that setup the onus is on us to devise new architecture. The question is ‘contemporary reality’, who are we writing for? When that is said answered everything else will fall in place.
You have received many Awards over the years including the 2016 National Arts Merit Award, what is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement has to be setting a World Record with what has been compiled into the book ‘Mars His Sword’; doubling the sonnets left by William Shakespeare at half his age of death. A naive interpretation would be ‘killing Shakespeare’ but anyone who knows old Billy knows he is more than a few sonnets. And anyone who knows me knows I do not stand on the bones of giants but on their shoulders.
The process took a lot of discipline, it wasn’t intentional but I turned around one day and realized I had gone that far. I had pushed myself beyond what any human being has ever done, at least on record, and that’s a comforting thought. At my death I will fall like the pugilist sinking beneath a knock-out blow but content in losing the match because he has knocked out his opponent’s tooth; knowing that because of him, he will never be the same, even if he wears dentures.
What is your ideal writers retreat?
The make-up of a writer is against the concept of a utopia; I will write wherever I find myself.
Philani Amadeus Nyoni, thank you very much for talking to me on Tribal Sands.
Philani’s books are available for sale in the UK and beyond. Please contact Dorcas Gwata on email@example.com for sales.
Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands, all rights reserved.