Figuring It Out

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Completely ignored by constabulary at roadblocks from here to Harare and back again, I was unable to test my willpower in the spitting department, although the long trip did give rise to several new thoughts of other things I could try that are a little out of the ordinary, and possibly fineable. At this rate I’m sure to be arrested at some point. I got back late enough for the feathered horde to have taken themselves off to bed in a huff, and have been properly chastised this morning. I’m thinking that whoever made doves the spokescreatures for peace obviously never had any angelic looking birds as pets. Two inches of feathered rage can have a seriously painful effect on your earlobes. Having a big sleep doesn’t make them forget either. Little buggers.

One thing that I especially love about my monthly trips to Harare are all the new shops that always spring up around and about during my four week absences. Remembering the hunger and the sadness on the faces of the people so few years ago, now I get a real kick out of seeing those same faces laughing, munching down on fast food, and generally embracing and enjoying the new pleasures available. I hate seeing suffering. I always want to take hurt or broken people home with me and fix them. Yesterday, although I know that there really still is a lot of suffering in this country, I didn’t see a bit of it.

What I did find though, was a brand new book shop. Full of brand new books. I haven’t seen such a shop here in years, so I wandered around like an utter dork, mouth hanging open and drooling for far too long. This was also the first time that I’ve been into a bookshop since I started writing, so knowing what I now know, it was the most amazing feeling to pick up an actual paper copy of Hugh Howey’s Wool and flick through the pages. I check out his blog, watch his trip, and read his advice and opinions. He is one of those guys that makes a real effort to answer comments, no matter how busy he really must be. It was sorely tempting to buy piles of paper books because to me they were reasonably priced at $12, but I showed great restraint for once. I wondered if these authors even knew that their books were being avidly read by so many people in Zimbabwe, for many of whom a $12 outlay would be quite a big deal. Here these books will be treasures to be read, re-read, and passed around to many others who can’t afford the outlay at all. The unfairness of it all kind of hit me right between the eyes then. Us indies frantically trying to give our books away for free to people who don’t really want them, and then all of the thousands of less fortunate people around the world with three or four treasured books to last them a lifetime of reading, who would really love to have our books, but never will.

This writing trip has kicked up a notch for me in the excitement department after that. Now I realise just how very fortunate us indies really are, to be given the opportunity to be part of this great game. The joyful side of publishing has suddenly became real to me, regardless of the actual work involved in getting to your destination. African Me will be available in paperback at the same time that it goes live on Amazon, with a bit of luck, the fates being what they are, and all that. The very possibility of some reader guy sitting on a park bench in London, or Tennessee, or any other spot in the world, holding something in his hands that I made, reading words that I wrote, just blows me away.

I’m not sure what the shopkeeper thought, having some odd woman fondling Hugh Howey’s book, drooling a bit, and staring off into space, but people here are mostly gentle, kind souls, so she left me to my epiphany. I have nothing to complain about being an indie writer. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to even access Amazon, and plonk any bit of writing I want to on there. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be able to market my book. Lucky to be able to even open Twitter – although that’s got more to do with the bastard internet signal. I’m lucky to have the time to write, without worrying about what I’ll eat for dinner. I’m lucky to have a computer to type my scribbles on. In the same vein, I’m lucky to be able to download hundreds of books, paid or free, and then leave them lounging unread, when so many would do so much to be able to read just one of them now and then, but will never have a chance to.

I won’t be complaining about any part of my trip. I now see it for the real gift that it is. Whether my book sells millions, or just one – to me, all the work getting it produced and marketed will be worth every minute spent. I will have published a book. And what a fantastic thing to have done that will be. Because somewhere, everywhere, there is another soul, more creative than me, sitting in some shabby, sad place, trying very hard to squish the silly dream he has of writing down the stories clamouring to get out of his head, because he knows that that’s a dream too high, and all that will ever be on his daily to do list will be survival. Gratitude, not whingeing, will be the order of my trip to the end. So indie guys, so.

Till next time friends. xxx

The Bad Old Days

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A few months ago we had a glut of radishes from the garden. Not being fond of waste, I peeled a pile and pickled them. This morning, after realising that I had run out of gherkin slices for my cheese pancake, I added several of these instead. I tell you this only to let you know that the pickling of radishes should never be contemplated, and if you are ever confronted with such a thing, don’t eat it. The problem is that they really are very nice. The larger problem is that they appear to be dangerous. I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse bellyache. These radishes have got me thinking though.
When Zimbabwe’s economy totally melted down a couple of years ago, the country got to the point where nothing was available to buy. People starved. We were a lot more fortunate than most. I’ve spoken about how horrible this was before, but this morning’s pickle peccadillo had me remembering how inventive we all got. Zimbabweans are an especially canny nation. They’re known not only for their friendliness, but also for their ability to generally make a plan. When we first realised that it was actually happening – we were living in the middle of an absolute economic collapse, we all dithered a little, and for quite a while went without most things that we generally now take for granted. Towards the end of the hard years, a group of us used to shop online from a South African supermarket, and everything would be trucked up once a month. Before that we had “runners”. These beloved intrepids would hop on board some fairly hazardous buses and taxis, zoom over the border to neighbouring South Africa, sleep on benches in parks, buy your groceries, pop them on top of more terrifying buses and taxis and deliver them right to your door. I remember my runner very fondly. We’re still firm friends, and she now has a thriving business from her personal shopping days. This didn’t work so well with things that had to be kept cold though. After several months without essentials such as cheese and bacon, experimentation begun in earnest. Life without cheese is no life at all.
Living in a farming community, milk and meat were a lot easier for us to get hold of than for those poor souls living in the bleak cities. Panir or soft cheese, made by stirring lemon juice into simmering milk and then straining, was learned first. Inserting a tablespoon of pepper and a triangle of processed cheese (if you could lay your hands on one) into the middle of it, then leaving it in the fridge to mature for a week produced a rather lovely result. Thinly sliced belly pork sprinkled with salt, brown sugar, allspice and cloves left to soak for a few days produces something that quite a few people still make, even though you can buy pretty much anything you like here now. My favourite fish shop has cheese and seafood flown in from all over the world every week, so I don’t often think about those crazy food experiments. A couple of people became totally self-sufficient, making everything themselves apart from loo rolls, and still pretty much are that way. We are so used to living with solar power and generators that we probably wouldn’t suffer too much if the zombie apocalypse really did happen. The zombies wouldn’t get to eat anyone here either before some clever Zimbo discovered the joy of undead pie, or something to that effect. I learnt a lot from those days though. I never waste anything if I can help it. Apart maybe from radishes from now on. I’ve learnt that people are much more resilient than they think they are. And also that amazing friends can be found in very unexpected places.
Tomorrow Zimbabweans vote for their new constitution, and I really hope that all goes well from there. It would be a fine thing indeed if this country could forget all about the terrible hardships they’ve endured, and move forward to happiness and health. They deserve it. One thing that stands out for me is that no matter how bad things got, I never came across many people here who lost their smiles. Thinking of those hungry days also got me thinking of how people banded together then. We helped each other in all sorts of ways, we got to know each other in ways that we never would have in times of plenty, and I for one, fell further in love with the people of this great continent. Here’s hoping for peace and prosperity for Zimbabwe from now on.

Till next time friends. xxx