Fungai Tichawangana

Fungai Tichawangana

Fungai is a media entrepreneur with a passion for documentation and online technologies. He is the founding editor of and was recently a Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University and a Nieman-Berkman Fellow for Journalism Innovation at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah has two books on 2016 Guardian best books list & you can party with her this weekend

It’s been an awesome year for Petina Gappah. The Zimbabwean writer, who made international headlines when she won the Guardian First Book Award in 2009, has two new books and both are receiving rip-roaring reviews and massive global attention.

Zimbabwean readers of her work can not only see her this weekend, but party with her as well. Gappah will be in conversation with another Zimbabwean-born writer, Paula Hawkins, who, in just under two years, has sold over 15 million copies of her now globally famous 2015 novel, The Girl on the Train. To top that off, the book has been made into a hollywood blockbuster which grossed over US$156 million at the box office.Rotten Row by Petina Gappah

The event, organised by Creative Zimbabwe Trust as the Zimbabwean launch of Rotten Row and as a way of celebrating Hawkins’’ success, takes place at Reps Theatre on Saturday, December 3. There will also be a dramatic reading of work by the two authors hosted by Chipo Chung and directed by Zane Lucas.

The authors will then mingle with guests at an after-party at Gava’s Restaurant.

Gappah has been invited to numerous literary festivals this year, including the Sydney Writers’ Festival (Australia), the Writers Unlimited Festival (The Hague), the Cúirt International Festival of Literature (Ireland) and the Auckland Writers’ Festival (New Zealand).

Her long-awaited novel (we started waiting when she told us in 2009 that it was coming soon), The Book of Memory, hit the bookstores in 2015 and started receiving accolades shortly  afterwards. named it one of Africa’s top fictional books last year. Early this year it was long-listed, along with 19 other books, for the £30,000 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the short-list, but it continued making waves in other oceans.

It has been reviewed and discussed by numerous publications, from NPR to the LA Times to the New York Times. Nichole Perkins, writing for The LA Times, said it was “a vivid and powerful debut novel.”

Writing in What’s On Africa, Desne Masie, says, “Indeed, Gappah’s prowess as a writer brings the inside of Zimbabwe’s notorious Chikurubi Maximum Prison vividly to life from the novel’s pages.”

Audio: Gappah speaking at the Auckland Writers’ Festival earlier this year.

The New York Times was less excited about the book than others. Becca Rothfeld said of it, The Book of Memory contains all the elements of made-to-order profundity, copied from the familiar templates… Its characters, a motley crew who practically scream “troubled,” are themes unconvincingly personified… Gappah describes rather than animates, dragging her ensemble from chapter to chapter without allowing its players to move of its own accord.”

As I said before, waves in other oceans – and there are many oceans. The Book of Memory was recently listed by The Guardian, along with Gappah’s second collection of short stories, Rotten Row, as one of the best books of 2016.

And that brings us to her second new book, Rotten Row.The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Michelle Johnson summarises it thus in her review for World Literature Today, “Petina Gappah’s new collection of stories is named after the street where the criminal courts in Harare sit: Rotten Row, where the powerful avoid punishment with a bribe and if the mob mentality doesn’t get you, a pothole probably will.”

“A distinctive quality of Gappah’s fiction is that, while the events she depicts are invariably tragic, the writing itself feels upbeat, excited, writes William Skidelsky in his review of the book for the Financial Times.

Gappah, who is obviously excited about Saturday’s event, wrote recently on h
er Facebook profile, “Honestly, the news of the event on Saturday spread like makuhwa in a farm compound 🙂 It spread faster than the fires on the hilltops that announced the first Chimurenga… Whatever our success on Saturday, you are a part of it. You make castle GREAT! Now, let’s get those last tickets selling!”

One was selling Buddie, the other was selling her body

Our naked skin lines Harare’s Avenues

You can always tell how hungry Harare is by the amount of skin on display at street corners in the Avenues.

Someone must be hungry tonight because there is so much skin for sale lining these streets. Someone else must be hungry because there are so many headlights zooming up and down these roads looking for satisfaction.

There is much more skin here than I remember ever seeing before. Unabashed, unapologetic, omnipresent.

This is the skin of our hard won freedom. You choose the one you want. But this progress. Before independence, we did this in Mbare. Now we’ve moved up to the Avenues.

Someone must be hungry tonight because there is so much skin for sale lining these streets

Freedom. Progress.

And it is the men doing all the choosing from their heated cars, gleaming in each other’s headlights. The women stand out in the July cold; waiting, hoping.

This is the skin of our hard won freedom and it flows from houses all over the city and all over the country. Devour me so I can eat. Devour me so my children can eat.

No one will pay for my brains. No one will pay for my skills. No one will pay for my 5 O’levels or university degree. So I’ll give them what they want in the way that they want it.

How much? $20 for a good time.
If you don’t have that, give me $10.
Ok, $5 but for a very short time. Really.
Horight my brother, $3. But very very very short time.

How much? $20 for a good time...
This is the skin of our hard won freedom. It’s illegal to do this, but nobody cares anymore. As with so many disallowed things, it proliferates. Survival is a higher calling than uprightness.

A Toyota truck stops next to a group of street kids and security guards warming themselves around a fire.
An airtime vendor in a cap that says ‘Sisonke’ steps forward. He is selling Buddie.

A young woman in short dress that says what those in charge want it to say steps forward too. She is selling her body.

Another young woman walks over to warm herself at the fire before disappearing down a dark street.

Headlights - always on beam so they can shine upon skin and judge it...
A policeman cycles past on his bicycle. I’m expecting to see another one come by. Nothing. He is alone. Strange. He rides past the street children and figures of scantily covered skin and does not say a word.

And headlights. Headlights – always on beam so they can shine upon skin and judge it. Too fat. Too thin. Too much fake hair. Ah, that one. I’ll take that one. Brakes. Negotiation. Pick up. Acceleration.

And all this skin used to hide in the shadows, afraid of arrest. But now there is no hiding. No shy. No slipping away into dark corners. Now it stands brazenly out in the open. There are loud yells across the block from one corner to another. “Do you have a cigarette? Mine are finished.”

A car turns off 5th Street onto Herbert Chitepo Avenue. It slows down and a woman screams from within, “Whores! Leave our men alone!”

They recede into the bushes

Skin responds viciously, “You’re the whore! If you kept your man happy he wouldn’t be coming to us!” Then a barrage of expletives as if from a machine gun.

Missing the point.

As they scream at each other, horny headlights keep swinging into the road.

A kombi slows down, speeds up, flies into the intersection and does a U-turn then stops. There is a murmur of negotiations. The door slides open. Skin steps in and they’re off.

It’s a busy night. Five outlines in one corner. Two across from them. And three others about half a block down.

It is the end of the month. A good time for business. Those who got paid have money.

Scenes from the Avenues - FungaiFoto 03

A Mercedes sedan comes flying round the corner and screeches to a halt, almost running into targeted skin. Skin leaps out of the way.

The door flings open and a man staggers out, bottle in hand. They recede into the bushes and have a chat or something. I cannot tell.

This is the skin of our hard won freedom. Spoils for those with money to spend. We don’t see them as women anymore. That would be too hard. It’s skin for our pleasure. We use as we are used.

In the greater scheme of things, we’ve all been reduced to skin, standing at some corner. And we’re begging someone for dollars, but we’ll take whatever we’re given – even the bond notes when they come.

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