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Inside/Out with Tendai R Mwanaka writer, mischief-maker and believer in love
June 10, 2013

Read full interview with Tendai Mwanaka

Describe yourself in five words?
I live to love, laugh.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
From a relative, Petros Matimba, I think he embraced it because he was dealing with failure, at O level English. He used to say, “Falling is not a failure but failing to rise is a failure.” I adopted it as I dealt with the same situation . . . and I think it still guides me, somehow.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done?
Too many. . . especially when I was still school going. . . there is this girl I had a crush on and one day I managed to gather courage to talk to her. She stayed in the same village with me and she loved me too. When I was talking to her, I couldn’t just say the words, and stuttered and so she helped me. She told me I was in love with her and I admitted, yes I was. She said she had feelings for me, too. So we became lovers . . . and that was easy! Somewhere, half way on our journey, we were walking on a small village path, such that I was walking off the edge of this lane, where there were thorns. A thorn bored into my shoe’s soles, getting into my tender foot’s flesh, and it was painful like hell, but I couldn’t tell her I was hurting. I was ashamed, so I endured it until I reached home, where I later removed it. My family laughed at me, but I was happy I didn’t show her that I was a weakling, but from that day onwards I avoided her. I just didn’t know how to go about it, to love a girl, so I avoided her until she gave up on us. It was really silly. Up to now she doesn’t know about this!

What is your most treasured possession?
The ability to deal with hurtful situations and get over them, and still keep my general positive disposition about things.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When I don’t have hope. . . and I really do want the thing. It’s difficult to accept I can’t have it.

Do you have any strange hobbies?
Oh, so many but some of them, I just can’t tell them. . . sorry. Experimental cooking - I love cooking because I know after doing that; I’ll eat the food! But I experiment too much. . . there is this day I decided to cook coffee beans, thinking I could substitute them for beans. I ate just a bit and they were tasteless. Afterwards they burned me with so much heat, all over my body. I sweated a lot and I thought I was going to die. I have never been that hot. . . it took me over six hours to wear off the effects.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My nose. . . it is too big. . . it’s a case of love-hate with it. I breathe better with it, but people make fun of it. . . it used to hurt a lot.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Not many. I am frugal, I am a closet communist, and my girl calls me an economist. But food maybe, living, loving and laughing. . .

What have you got in your fridge?
Not a lot. . . leftover cooked chicken, water and there is Matohwe (is there an English word for them. . . ”African chin gum”, I don’t know) that I got last year, I think in December. They are so soft from staying in the fridge; sometimes I take one and enjoy the syrupy taste. I have been doing that for over 6 months. I don’t stock my fridge. . . I usually buy to cook and eat.

What is your greatest fear?
Dying. I don’t really want to die. . . I wish they (God, the scientists. . . .) would discover a formula not for me to die but if I die, I hope things will be more interesting than they are here.

What have you got in your pockets right now?
My cell phone, diary, money and keys when I am travelling, but when I am home they are always empty.

What is your favourite journey?
I don’t like travelling, especially in diesel vehicles. If I don’t travel regularly, which I usually don’t do, when I travel in these vehicles I retch a lot and I don’t enjoy the experience but I enjoyed flying from Harare to Cape Town last year.

Who are your heroes in real life?
God, my father and mother. . . I like Desmond Tutu. . . but I also like people who are a bit crazy, like writers, rock musicians, artists, thinkers, comedians . . . people who try, sometimes misguidedly, to push the boundaries and laugh at themselves, especially when they have failed.

When and where were you happiest?
When I am very close to God, when I am writing and writing and I feel I won’t stop. When I am reading a really good book, watching a great movie, eating delicious meals, listening to beautiful music, talking to interesting people, and being quiet to myself, and I am so at peace with myself.

What’s your biggest vice?
Thinking too much about things that I should just do.

What were you like at school?
Mischievous, mischievous and mischievous! A bit intelligent as well, but it was a kind of unfocussed intelligence that I had back then, thus I couldn’t really achieve on my potential when I was at school. I was simply anti establishment, anti rules. There is this time when our headmaster introduced English speaking at school. The head boy created some pieces of paper that were written “I am a Shona speaker”, so what one had to do with the papers was give them to the next person they find speaking Shona. Those who would be left with the papers by Friday would stay at school, over the weekends doing punishment. I and a couple of my friends collected all these papers and destroyed them before the end of that first week . . . it was difficult for the head boy to figure out who was the last with the papers because they had exchanged a lot of hands before they got to us, and other students protected us, thus the idea was scrapped, and I was happy, so were a lot of people. I didn’t like English, back then.

What are you doing next?
Living. . . writing some more, travelling, marrying. . . I have had to hold back on this for too long. . . and I now want to do it. Scary? Yes!

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