A delightful visitor – the best of my readers and reviewers
I had an unexpected and delightful visit yesterday from Trinity. She arrived holding my book Dust and Rain. She is busy reading it and wanted to ask me some questions. Let me tell you that this is one of the best things that can happen to a writer. We need our readers and reviewers and we depend on them to say what they think about our stories.
If they enjoy them we hope that they will tell other people about them. If they don’t like them we need to know so that we can write a better story next time.
Trinity’s sensible parents have asked that I don’t use a photo of her but she is talking to me in this picture and I hope you can see I’m listening.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was banned in Zambia
In Zambia, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was a lump hidden under a towel in my bedside cupboard. It wasn’t a very effective hiding place. I knew that.
I was afraid and angry every time I opened the cupboard door. I was afraid one of my house staff would see it and report me to the police, but I wasn’t going to destroy that book.
I was angry because I was afraid. I was angry that President Kenneth Kaunda had banned it.
Banning books is something that is done by totalitarian regimes that operate as police states to suppress opinion and thought. I know. I had lived in South Africa in the sixties in a constant state of anger and fear.
KK knew better than to ban books, but, like all leaders, he had to kowtow to some other dreadful leader who provided oil to his country.
“Disgusting chongololos!” Auntie Stella said crossly. “Naughty children!”
We loved our chongololos – the Chewa name for millipedes. As children, we played with them in the rainy season.
I quote from Wikipedia that “Millipedes are a group of arthropods that are characterised by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments; they are known scientifically as the classDiplopoda, the name derived from this feature.”
Chongololos curled up in tight spirals when we picked them up. They were harmless creatures, occasionally staining our fingers a yucky yellow in an attempt to make us leave them alone. My cousin Robert tucked his Chongololo pets into his shorts pockets and then forgot about them until, to the fury of his mother, they made a horrible mess when squeezed through our old-fashioned washing machine mangle.
I went to Zambia in 1972. I was happy to return to Africa where I was born. This gave me the pleasure of showing my children their first chongololos. I ensured they did not collect and crush them by mistake as Robert and I had done! They saw them as an introduction to the wonders of insects, arthropods, arachnids and animals. They understood them as creatures to respect, along with antlions, flying ants, crickets, beetles, moths and butterflies.
Life in Zambia gave us our love of nature and the environment. Because chongololos are harmless, prolific and loved by children, they became an ideal symbol for an education club about wildlife conservation and the environment,
Last night I took part in the online book launch of Tina Beattie’s novel Between Two Rivers, a book I did enjoy reading. Among the panellists were Chiedza Musengezi,Kay Powell and Godess Bvukutwa. I knew some of the participants but I wish I had known everyone as the discussion was interesting and relevant not only to African women writers but to writers from every diaspora.
The discussion raised a conflict central to myself and my writing.
Who am I? What am I? Where do I belong? If I’m not African am I British? If I have a French passport but I’m not a native French speaker am I truly French? Will I always be a migrant and exile? Once I was a refugee and a criminal – am I still in what I write because of my heritage and my skin? My mother’s family went to South Africa 200 years ago as poor migrants. My father’s family planned a comfortable life as settlers and farmers in Rhodesia 100 years ago and failed because of the Great Depression. I was happy in the cosmopolitan metropole of London for 6 years. My heart will always belong to Zambia and my 22 years there during the liberation wars. I do, however, love my French rural life even while climate change and drought burn up my potager.