10 November 2011

The sound of our voices

When I was young, my most defining characteristic was that I was very quiet. My hand would remain in my lap in class even though I knew the answer to the question the teacher had just posed. I would look out the window of our car and watch the world roll by without letting any commentary pass through my lips. I would listen to people talk about something I found very interesting and leave the opportunity to put my two cents in.

Where did this reluctance come from? I hardly know? Most of it was rooted in fear that my thoughts weren't worth anything, afraid that maybe the answer in my mind was the wrong one and the class would laugh at me, a fear that nobody would listen. So I learned to observe the world passing by, passing my own silent judgement in my mind and quietly living with a whirlwind of thoughts caught up in my head. That is until I learnt the power of the pen.

Many do not realise that in order to be a good speaker one has to be a good listener, be able to catch the nuances of expression in the words of others, the slight gesture that betrays a carefully hidden emotion, the dramatic one that gives a grandeur to the spoken word and the tone of voice that belies depths of meaning. But beyond that, in order to be a good writer, one has to be a good reader as well. A reader of books, of people, of the world around one; an observer as it were. And thus began a life of observing, looking through the looking glass. Seeing the world sometimes as if one were not part of it. And sometimes feeling too much, as if the troubles and toils of the universe were laid at your door. I would scribble furiously in my little brown Marvo book and my classmates would wonder, or more usually laugh. My study periods at school were spent buried behind a book, transported to another time and another place, living the lives of heroes, speaking the words of kings and being lost to this world.

It is a pleasure I still enjoy immensely and in the past few years that has, to my great surprise, earned me some recognition. But beneath the escape from my prison of self imposed juvenile silence, I came to discover something else: the power of the written and spoken word. Words could change the world. Simple phrases put together could invoke feelings and passions that never existed in the heart before it was pierced by these seemingly harmless arrangement of letters. It changed my life and I began writing and speaking with a purpose beyond escapism. And as my country began its slow collapse, I found that it was the only weapon I could fight with. The reality of our situation threatened at all times to dam the spring of hope in my heart but in the written word I found an escape, a tunnel to Wonderland that no government propaganda could close off.

So reading Noviolet Bulawayo's (the winner of this years Caine Prize for African Writing) description of Bulawayo, my city of birth, as a place where...

"the purple flowers [of the Jacaranda's] argue with the cool blue of the sky. Failing to win, the flowers drop on the pavement where they are stomped to death,"

takes me back to a place beyond my present situation to a city that carries so many precious memories.

And maybe the rest of the world might be passing us by, caught up in the worries of the Arab Spring, or the Italian's latest political fiasco but it assures me that somewhere someone still remembers the rise and fall of our motherland. And if the pen really is mightier than the sword then it might rest on our shoulders as Zimbabweans to write, to read and preserve the history of our country, to transmit the burden of our legacy into the future. To know that the sound of our voices can indeed change our world.

"The drought that affects Bulawayo is a metaphor for the political drought in Zimbabwe. But even though the rain might be long on coming we know in our heart of hearts, that it is on its way. One day we will wake up to its fat drops exploding on our windows and the thunder chasing away the demons that lurk in the air, lightning flashing brightly like the eyes if God...But until then, we have only the jacaranda’s to console us and heal the wounds in our hearts. The beautiful purple blossoms floating gently to the ground, whispering so gently you might not hear it if you don’t listen hard enough, don’t open your heart to the beauty of this created world. They say, “He is there, He remembers you; always." ~ Bongani Ncube-Zikhali, Portrait of a Half Remembered City

Visit NoViolet's website here.


  1. You're one talented writer.
    I know what its like to be the silent child. Putting pen to paper is not my stronghold but I've learnt to appreciate it in others. Myself I can barely write, and when I do I write about sadness.

  2. " melancholy benefits the introspective work of the artist"; continue writing, it's your window on the world. Thank you :)