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December 04-11, 2003
poems by Julius Chingono
Julius Chingono works as a rock-blasting contractor in daily life
to support his family. He is also a Mufundisi pastor
in the Tsitsi dzaMwari Apostolic Church. On our request he has,
for the first time in his life, kept a diary. It is somewhat longer
than the diaries you are used to on PIW, but because of the unusual,
often humorous and unique glimpse it offers of daily life in Zimbabwe,
we are publishing it exactly as it is. "A small blasting job
is required in Bluff Hill, fix and supply: $4 million. I try to
get hold of the client, Mrs Shambare, over the phone for a quotation.
I spend two hours in the office. Waiting can be trying. I chat with
the receptionist. Mr Mukamba, the engineer for CPG, comes to inform
me that he can only manage to buy explosives next week. I walk out
I wake up 8.30
a.m. I am not going to work. The rock-blasting job at Ruwa is at a
standstill. There is no money to buy explosives. I take a bath. I
decide to accompany my wife to the funeral of a neighbour. We do not
know the time for the burial.
My wife, niece
Gamuchirai (10) and grandson Conwell (4) have a breakfast of mealie-meal
porridge and tea without milk. I cannot afford to buy them bread,
butter or eggs. I help myself with left-overs from yesterdays
supper, sadza, and vegetables. Bread is now $3,000 per loaf. I wash
the lot down my throat with a cup of tea. I cannot imagine affording
to buy butter or eggs for breakfast. My wife Juliet cannot decide
which dress to put on, she left some of her clothes at our rural
home 200 km away, Rusape. I wait while I read the Bible. I prepare
the sermon for the all-night prayer service to be held at my church
the next day. I belong to Tsitsi dzaMwari Apostolic Church.
At the funeral,
lunch is served. Sadza and cabbage. I do not eat. I do not know
most people, only the husband of the deceased. Word reaches me of
that the burial is going to be delayed for another hour. The time
is 2 p.m. The father of the deceased wants part of the lobola paid.
He refuses to allow the burial of his daughter to take place. Meetings
of in-laws take place in hushed voices. I wait for the outcome of
the talks. The mourners engage in conversations whilst they wait.
It is extremely
hot. Not unusual during summer but rains must fall soon. Someone
comments that the rains are engaged in politics of some sort. Another
drought is impending. The fast-track government agrarian reform
is in danger of collapsing. I imagine myself queuing to buy maize
meal. Long queue. Last years episodes.
We leave for
the cemetery at 4 p.m. The graveside speeches are long and boring.
I am back home at 6.30 p.m. Supper at 7.30 p.m. Sadza and beans.
Most members of the family retire to early bed except my wife Juliet,
she is at me again. She wants to go to our rural home to start preparing
for the ploughing season. The rains are late. They normally come
at the end of October. I use the most humble words to make her accept
our situation. I later try to write a poem but I fail, to go beyond
these lines "death is crisis/ that resolves itself/
it kills/ to reduce severity". I do not know when I will finish
writing this poem. Or it is complete?
Friday, December 5
I leave home at
6.30 a.m. without having breakfast. No left-overs from last nights
supper. I wait for transport to Harare 40 km away. I cannot afford
to pay the $2,500 omnibus fare to work. I commute to Harare from Norton
every day. I am a rock-blasting contractor. I hitchhike or travel
by private transport that charges $1,500. This time last year the
same journey cost $500.
In Harare I
visit my brother who works for Zimpost head office. They were on
strike. They have started work today, but their demand for more
pay is not met. I do not find him. I leave a message that I will
be coming back later. I go to the CPG & Associates office. A
small blasting job is required in Bluff Hill, fix and supply: $4
million. I try to get hold of the client, Mrs Shambare, over the
phone for a quotation. I spend two hours in the office. Waiting
can be trying. I chat with the receptionist. Mr Mukamba, the engineer
for CPG, comes to inform me that he can only manage to buy explosives
next week. I walk out resignedly.
At 2 p.m. I
am back at Harare Post Office. Simba, my brother, buys me lunch.
He seems to have read my lips. Sadza and meat. I go back home to
prepare for the all night service. At home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
I read the Bible. I plan and write notes for the sermon. The all-night
prayer service is at 9 p.m. I rewrite and make corrections to a
short story. This story has taken too long to complete. I really
do not like it. It is one of these pieces I lost interest in the
day I first wrote it. At supper Juliet starts on the issue of going
home again. I can see she is not serious. I promise that as soon
as I get enough money she will be homeward-bound. I hurry over my
supper, sadza and beef bones. The all night prayer starts at 9.15
p.m. It is held in the open. The weather is still quite warm. I
lead in the opening prayer, which dwelt on request for rains. I
preach about the parable of the Talents. I take fifteen minutes,
which seems like an hour because I am running out of words. Members
of the congregation also preach and witness what the good Lord has
done for them. The last prayer is at six in the morning. I leave
Saturday, December 6
The all-night prayer
meeting ends at 6 a.m. I am tired and full of sleep. On my way home
I pass through stand 12457. I bought this stand recently. I measure
the depth of the well I contracted Mr Hove to dig. It is four metres
deep. I am disappointed: Hove gave me the impression that he dug the
well down to seven metres. I have already paid him for the seven metres.
Today is Saturday.
I do not go to work. I go home to sleep until 12 noon. I am hungry.
It is extremely hot. I wait at the verandah while Juliet prepares
something to eat. The bathroom is occupied. I do not feel like reading
or writing. I see my neighbour and his brother push-starting his
VW motor car. I reluctantly give a push. The afternoon is hot. I
help in pushing 100 metres, 200 metres, 300 metres. The car wont
start. I wish they would abandon the whole exercise. The younger
brother to Rusere my neighbour urges us on. He tries all the tricks
he knows about mechanics.
I am exhausted.
Is it age? I think its the all-night service. We talk about
the issues that are being talked about by most people. The ZANU(PF)
conference and the Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria. ". . .
CHOGM is just a club. It is useless to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe threatens
to quit the Commonwealth. The issues being discussed at the ZANU(PF)
conference are more important than this CHOGM thing . . . "
I cannot believe my ears. In the heat and sweat I struggle to come
to terms with what I hear.
A young man
wearing party regalia walks over to us. He asks us if we knew that
there was a branch meeting of ZANU(PF) in the afternoon at the old
disused beerhall. "I know," I reply. The time is 1.20
p.m. We push the small car back to my neighbours yard. Back
in the house, I eat sadza and cooked rape. I bath and disappear
to the bedroom. Juliet volunteers to attend the ZANU(PF) meeting.
The wrath of party enthusiasts is not unleashed upon those who send
representatives to their meetings. I sleep. I am sure Juliet is
going to the meeting just to be counted: nothing else. I wake up
to find her asleep next to me. I take a bath. It is 6 p.m. I cook
supper. I am not sure whether the family will like what I am preparing.
I do not consult Juliet. I do not want to disturb her sleep. Boiled
okra, tomato and sadza.
At supper the
family eat quietly. They seem to be enjoying the meal. My anxiety
is relieved when Juliet finally makes some favourable comments about
my good cooking. I hope the issue of our rural home in Rusape does
not spoil my day. It is usually talked about after supper. I go
to bed whilst Juliet is watching TV.
Sunday, December 7
is at 11 a.m. I wake up to find Juliet ironing a dish full of clothes.
She is breaking one of the cardinal laws of the church. I will not
tolerate this. I am a Mufundisi in Tsitsi dzaMwari Apostolic Church
a pastor. The wife of a pastor breaking the law! It is unacceptable.
After reprimanding her I switch off the iron. She says no one has
ironed clothes to wear for the church service, not even my garments.
I fume. I cannot find the appropriate words to lash at her. I seethe.
Sunday is the Lords day. I do not have to be excessively angry.
I take my white garment and its belt from the dish. I inspect it.
It is creased all over. Juliet looks at me triumphantly. I take the
garment outside to the washing line. I stretch it and peg it
subject it to the early morning heat. I am convinced the creases will
Juliet and I avoid each other. Our grandson and niece eat in a hurry.
They disappear into the bathroom. Juliet summons the guts to explain
herself to me. I accept her excuse provided she promises that she
will not break this Sabbath law again.
Time is moving
fast. I bath, I put on the creased garment telling myself that by
the time I arrive at the place of worship the creases will have
The place where
we meet for prayers is a cleared piece of ground in the open
no buildings except two toilets for men and for women. At
the beginning of the church service I confess that I fumed at my
wife. I add that I should not have got angry. I ask for the Lords
rain clouds, are forming. The open-air service is being threatened.
I preach, John chapter 8 verses 1 to 11 the sermon about
a woman who was caught committing adultery. The congregations
attention is divided. I can see that they keep on looking up at
the sky. I emphasise that the rains will be most welcome after all
these days of waiting. The previous season was a drought. We are
blessed with some showers that do not take long or wet the ground.
I preach and lead in singing. At 3 p.m. I lead the congregation
in thanking the Lord for imminent rain. The meeting closes. I am
not involved in the healing session. I leave immediately. I do not
want to be caught in a heavy thunderstorm. I walk home with my better
half. The bruises of the morning seem to have vanished. At home
I write the story of a young man who leaves his rural home to look
for work in the city of Harare. He is caught in a frenzy of political
campaigning for a by-election. I like the story. I retire to bed
feeling so good.
Monday, December 8
I leave home at
6.30 a.m. for work at the office. Mrs Shambare of Bluff Hill makes
a written contract for us to blast rock at her stand. The deal is
worth four million now. A year ago it was worth 1.5 million. In Zimbabwe
most deals involved millions. We are talking of millions no
more thousands these days. Mrs Shambare gives us a cheque for $2.5
million for hire of drilling equipment, transport and purchase of
blasting materials, as a deposit.
Four hours later
at 2 p.m. I cant find a compressor for hire. They are hard
to come by. The earliest I can have one is four days from today.
I pay a deposit. I am getting used to these delays. Dyna Nobel is
the only company that sells explosives in Harare. I buy 50 kg emulite
and fifty capped fuses, enough explosives for the whole project.
It is 5 p.m. and I head home.
back to Norton. I find I have visitors. My daughter, Chido, and
her two children. Chido is now living in Botswana with her husband.
Visitors are welcome but are not manageable financially. With the
high cost of basic foodstuffs and perennial shortages I find myself
hoping they will leave soon. Yet I know that my daughters
family usually makes annual sojourn in Zimbabwe at the end of every
year. The visit will cover the whole festive season and the whole
of January. Later in the bedroom I tell my wife that we will have
to revise the family budget. I emphasise that she will have to sell
the carton of 24 bars of washing soap to supplement my finances.
She intended to sell them at our rural home in Rusape. Juliet refuses,
but she reveals that our daughter gave her ten thousand pula for
family upkeep while she is with us. I sigh a sigh of relief. I know
that this is a lot of money when changed to Zimbabwean currency
on the black market. I read a few verses of Musa Zimunya from Now
the Poets Speak, an anthology of Zimbabwean poetry. My attention
is divided. I am anxious to know what the visit to the black-market
deals will yield. I am glad, though, that the money is enough also
to cover Juliets expenses when she goes home. As I doze Juliet
says that she has also agreed with the daughter that they go to
Rusape together. I know why this decision was reached so early.
Labour and money are vital for the planting exercise at Rusape.
I sleep in peace.
Tuesday, December 9
At the office at
8.30 a.m. I find my partner Joseph Hlatywayo waiting for me. The engineer
for CPG Associated called before I arrived. I revise the quotation
of the cost of explosives that he wants. The new quotation is $2,306,058.20,
a rise of about $900 000 since October 2003. Words are forcing into
verses in mind. I feel I must give in to this, to write. Such visitations
I know never repeat themselves. I scribble in my notebook. "Give
me a chisel and hammer/ I want to engrave/ on granite/ names of unsung
heroes/ deleted in history books/ written on peoples lips/ names
whispered aloud." I do not finish. The CPG engineer is on the
line again. I fill him with the details of the revised quotation.
I am disappointed
he can only manage to buy explosives but he cannot make any further
payments for our drilling services. Another week of waiting for
payment. I resolve that I am not going to proceed with blasting.
I do not tell him over the phone. Joseph insists we collect the
cheque for the purchase of explosives. I do not want to leave right
away. I want to finish the poem. Joseph goes to collect the cheque
from the CPG offices. I remain, but the verses are fading fast.
I spend the next hour repeating the lines above. I resign myself.
I do not write while I am at work. Being creative whilst engaged
on a blasting job. "Blasting is usually associated with destruction
and demolition," I agree with myself. Joseph is back. He finds
me fidgeting with my pen, drawing triangles.
We buy explosives
for CPG 50 kg emulate, 2 x 350m reels of detonating fuse
and 150 capped fuses and 50 instantaneous electric detonators.
At home after
supper I cannot write or read so I join the rest of the family watching
TV. The conversation lays down the final arrangements for the festive
holiday celebrations, to be held in Rusape, our rural home, by the
whole family. The son-in-law will ferry us all in his Isuzu pick-up
truck. He volunteers to make it alone in as far as fuel is concerned.
I pledge $100,000 for the trip. The sky is black and some light
Wednesday, December 10
I arrive at CPG
& Associates offices at 8.30 a.m. I have not done the blasting
Mr Mukamba wants us to proceed with before he pays us. Mr Mukamba
is not aware that we have no intention of blasting without being paid
for drilling. I tell him that we want payment first. He is mad at
me. He queries why I was quiet about this. I point out to him that
he should be mindful of these money issues. I repeat that the Zimbabwean
dollar is fast losing value. He promises to give us a cheque in the
afternoon. I do not know how much he will give us. He is evasive.
The compressor for Mrs Shambare is not available till maybe tomorrow.
I go to Marlborough
Civic Centre where I meet Mr Chirenje who has a demolition job on
an old swimming pool in Mountbatten Way. Someone is using a 14 lb
hammer to break the walls of the pool. I suggest that the job requires
a mechanized hammer and chisel compressor driven. The 14
lb hammer will take too long. I give Chirenje my quotation. The
quotation is valid for seven days. He promises to contact me in
two days time to seal the deal. Back in town I phone Mukamba,
who tells me that my cheque is at the CPG offices. He does not tell
me how much it is. I become suspicious. I phone his receptionist
and I instruct her to open the envelope and tell me how much the
cheque is worth. It is a post-dated cheque for the 17th of December
2003, full payment for all the drilling I did for him $2.4
million. I collect the cheque although grudgingly because I normally
want payment to be done soon after the job is finished, as per the
I share a newspaper
with Joseph. I read the front page whilst he reads the business
section of The Zimbabwe Independent not a government-owned
newspaper. I cannot afford to buy a newspaper every day and I do
not read The Herald a pro-government newspaper. The TV and
radio fill me in with government gibberish.
We arrange that
Joseph handles the drilling at Bluff Hill tomorrow. I spent time
with my grandsons Brandon and Constance. I want them to know me.
I feel energetic but old as I play with them. I am grateful that
I am blessed to have seen my grandchildren at fifty-five.
At 7.30 p.m.
a heavy downpour. The rains are here. My wife can now go home and
start ploughing, no more waiting, I am blessed.
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