Friday, 12 December 2008

Saru, Jeff and I

A few months ago, I saw a column on the in which the author wrote about the issue of correlation, or lack thereof, between academic astuteness, examplified by holding a Ph.D. , and sound political judgement and an insatiable quest for publicity. The author was brave enough to post contact details. I responded to demur. The author was very cordial and we exchanged a few correspondences. That is how I met Mrs Sarudzayi Chifamba-Barnes, for she was the author of the article that had piqued my interest.

Somewhere along the way, Sarudzayi mentioned her recently published book, The Village Storyteller. Saru graciously sent me a copy. She published it herself after running into scalpers with her first book. Well, I received the book and was pleasantly surprised by the book.

My son and wife loved the book. An elderly white lady saw me reading the book and looked at it with curiosity. She only wanted to look at the illustrations but ended up reading a few stories. "It is as if I am in the village hut with Mrs Rwizi and all the children," said the elderly lady. "It is very interesting. Do you mind if I take it home to read it?" I could not say no because her eyes were glistening with excitement.

From that moment, I knew Saru had written an incredible book. I went home and wrote a review, the first time I had ever done this outside of scientific papers I had peer reviewed in my days in American academia. The review has been published in The Zimbabwean newspaper. Every word I wrote is true. The book is worth every penny spent purchasing it.

Not only did I get a very good book but Saru offered to publish my book after I told her I had a collection of short stories but I had no idea what to do with them. She warned me to watch out for scalpers. She even put me in touch with a wonderful illustrator, Jeffrey Milanzi. Brother Jeff, as I like to call him, is a genius. Through illustrations, he has captured the essence of every story I gave him. Needless to say that I consider Saru and Jeff my newly found good friends. Without these two, my mountain of material would always be just that, a mountain of material. Claude and my wife would always tell me to get on with it.

For years, some have said I am a lucky man. I used to object to this because I felt the effort I put in trying to make things work was being overlooked. One day, out of the blue Mississippi sky, a fellow scientist from India said I was lucky. He asked me to show him my palm and he said the palm lines were ample proof I was a lucky person. I laughed at him. A very brilliant chemist had read my palm and told me I was lucky but I dismissed him off.

Looking back, I would have to say I have been very lucky when it comes to the friends. Luck is when Divine providence smiles upon a person and the person recognizes the heavenly gift and makes the most out of it. I did not meet Saru, Jeff, Claude and the eclectic friends fortuitously.

The Mysterious Ways of The Mosquitoes of Brazoria County

It Is A Good Friend Who Brings Out The Best In A Man's Character
One of my best friends pretty much upbraided me, as any good friend ought to do, for sitting on a pile of good short stories I have been writing since I was putting together my Ph.D. dissertation more than a decade ago. He knows the volume of the work I am sitting on since he used to reading my manuscripts. He and my wife are the must pushy people I know, and I say it in a very complimentary way. Just like my wife does all the time, he keeps on telling me others are putting comparatively weaker material out while I sit and let dust gather on what he and my wife call literary gems. Doc C. M., your point is taken to heart. You never flagged in your effort to spur me on, which is why you are a good businessman.

The Genesis
Well, it all started as a way of winding down. I did not want to think about chemistry all the time and I figured out that the best way to clean the dizzying equations and the theories of finding systematic order in natural chaos out of my system was to grab a Mark Twain book and read till the donkeys brayed. The trick worked for a while but sooner than later, I would start scribbling the fangled equations in the novel I was reading. “I could start writing short stories,” I thought to myself. That is how it started. Fortunately, I have always been fond of writing and so I decided to scribble a few stories just for the heck of it.

Appalachia and Beyond
One of the best things about going to school in Appalachia is the ordinary people you meet, the kind that is often portrayed in Hollywood movies as gun-totting and lynch-happy poor whites. Before leaving Zimbabwe, I had been sternly warned to stay within city limits if I did not want to end as a strange fruit hanging on an oak tree. As soon as I was in Appalachia, what do you know, I went looking for the gun-totting, tobacco-chewing and lynch happy poor whites of Appalachia. I did this for one very simple reason; I am a sceptic by nature. Someone had tried to paint a terrifying image of the poor whites of the USA as dangerous and uncultured but I wanted to find out for myself.

What I found was the diametric opposite of what I had been made to belief. Belief or faith without facts and my personality are like water and oil, they do not mix. That is what opened my eyes. As soon as I could pick their drawl and they could understand my heavy pronunciation of words, the poor whites of the Appalachia wilderness and this black village schoolboy from Deep Africa had a whale of a time.

The poor whites in the remote sections of the USA are some of the most hospitable people walking the face of this planet. When they invite you to their homes, which they do, go on an empty stomach because they will feed you till kingdom comes. They may love their guns and their tobacco but, contrary to Hollywood tall tales, they are very cultured and protective of their families and friends. As a black and a foreigner, I knew I was safe amongst these unfairly demonized good people. Believe it or not, they are also very educated, not the book-wise education. About the penchant for lynching! What lynching?

The Works
I sorted the short stories based on how closely related they are. All the folk stories are collected in the book pending publication. The next book contains stories based on my youth and a few interesting incidents that happened while I was in the USA, all the stories have a heavy fictional flavour.

In a collection of ten short stories I try to capture the wonderful times I had with the good people of Appalachia hills, the pinewoods of the Deep South and the Coastal Plains of south-eastern Texas. The story entitled The Mysterious Ways of The Mosquitoes of Brazoria County is a spoof based on an old friend I met in Texas. I have taken the project very seriously. The illustration below bears testimony to that. The other stories will be in another book that I will work on as soon as time permits.

Rough Illustration for The Day The Sun Rotted short story.

My good friend will keep on prodding me to get on with it. He is a good man.