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Poets’ diaries:
Julius Chingono

December 04-11, 2003

Read poems by Julius Chingono

Zimbabwean poet 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 resignedly."

Thursday, 4 December
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 yesterday’s 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 year’s 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 night’s 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 for home.

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 won’t 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 it’s 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 neighbour’s 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

Sunday. Church 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 Lord’s 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 disappear.

At breakfast 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 disappeared.

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 Lord’s forgiveness.

Clouds, black 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 congregation’s 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 can’t 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.

I hitchhike 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 daughter’s 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 Juliet’s 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 people’s 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 showers.

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 contract.

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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