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A Reflection of Zimbabwe in Gather the Children by Batsirai Chigama

How do you write about political turmoil that has wreaked havoc not only in your life but has spanned across generations? How do you plan for the future in a country with vacillating policies, laws and governance? The reflection of Zimbabwe is always hard to look at yet poets, writers, singers, actors and painters have constantly shown us that the truth cannot be hidden and the best way is to let the language, voice and paint brushes flow as they please. It will always be hard to introspect and realize new anguishing from the reminders that art evokes within us. But time and the pain felt dictate that we face our truths and deal with them in the best ways possible. Among the wins of a nation lies the undeniable losses of its citizens. I read this anthology in one sitting and that was time put into good use!



Gather the Children is an anthology of fifty poems written by Batsirai E. Chigama. It appears that the poems are divided into three by blank pages denoting the next set of poems. The poems in this collection explore the political turmoil of a nation chronicling displacement, loss and despair. The general tone of the book is somber and it reminded me of how people either gather to celebrate or to mourn. Chigama celebrates life and she also questions it. Gather the Children is a heavy text but so is the truth of the state of the nation. The truth lies heavy on our backs ultimately becoming the weight that we carry around everywhere we go. So here’s what Chigama does; she says gather all the children of Zimbabwe and Africa so that we can have a family meeting where we confront the slippery truths and the lies that hover around us, where we remember that which we have been asked to forget despite the great price attached to that forgetfulness and where we tend to the pain of displacement. Gather the children far and wide so that we can change what needs to be changed and heal ourselves too as we swim through the tide of life.


In a language so raw and transparent Batsirai voices her pain and displeasure by addressing corruption, xenophobia, dysfunctional families, love lost, unfulfilled dreams, political abuse and a longing for better times. She also pays tribute to Julius Chingono, a renowned Zimbabwean poet and writer. As Tinashe Mushakavanhu rightly notes in the foreword, Chigama’s honesty is great but it is her piercing vulnerability and unrestricted tongue that makes this anthology a solid collection. In ‘Of Days Uncertain,’ one is reminded to hold on to the little or big pockets of joy that we experience in life because tomorrow may be of a different colour or it may not come at all. The sun rises and sets and so do the seasons of life. In other lessons of life Chigama explores the nature of love relationships in ‘Mother’s Laughing Eyes’ which really is a picture of young women being asked by their mothers to see beyond the facades of the lies told by men who seek their companionship, a poem of guidance and warning that really says, you think you know men? Think again. In ‘I Do Not Want To Be Forgotten,’ one waves in the longing for a legacy. That longing is also visible in ‘Abandoned,’ but of a different nature in a cry for help of forgotten children who bemoan a mother who buried them along with their father’s exit. The visual skill shown by Chigama in these poems is evidence of the power of her pen.


There are a lot of poems that address the political turmoil of Zimbabwe but ‘Dear Dad’has to be one of the poems that vividly explores this in the anthology. A child asks a father what happened to the love that he once had for his children, what made him force his children to pack their bags and cross borders and fly over seas just to escape from him? True to the reality on the ground, the poem highlights that the escape is half fulfilling because of the hostility that these children face in distant lands. Is this not true of the life of African immigrants across the world? While I liked the poem, it had me thinking about how I sometimes grapple with the way we ‘father’ national leaders and ‘mother’ their wives. This gives them the illusion of having a certain power to go about whipping citizens into line as if they were children (only because that is how children are treated not because this is right) and inflicting their authoritarian tendencies upon them. This gives them the muscle to act like rogue parents who treat citizens as infants who cannot say what they want. Yet when it’s time to vote, suddenly citizens are adults who should know what they want without their votes translating into them being treated as people deserving of visibility, equality, equity and that elusive chance at life. ‘Independence Avenue,’ is a gut wrenching poem that questions the ‘gains of freedom’ and how we are still finding the roads that lead to that Avenue, regardless of what is on paper with ‘Democracy’ being the word mostly tossed about but not actually realized. This is true of most, if not all African nations and Chigama rightfully uses her words to call out the damaging politics of the day that has had tremendous negative impacts on African people.


Here are some quotes from the book:


1. ‘I do not want to be forgotten. I want to rise each morning with the certainty of the sun that between seasons carefully chooses when the world should glow…’ page 19

2. ‘Between yesterday and today the soul of earth brutalized, burns at her crying children.’ page 26

3. ‘I crawled from death wrenching my intestines down the latrine. I called mother’s mother’s mother from her grave. Rapturing, tearing, burning’. page 31

4. ‘Claim your children Africa, claim them today in their sorrow, in their loss, amidst the wailing and burning tyres on flesh, claim them.’ page 42

5. ‘This is how we do it: We chop tongues for a living of the ones who speak truth of the ones brave enough to rise each morning fighting the setting sun in their eyes.’ page 45

This anthology is like taking a cup of espresso, awakening and real on the tongue. That is the truth that Chigama hands over to us; real and awakening. There is not one poem out of the fifty that did not have me asking questions about the state of the nation, of the continent and myself. Knowing your truth is power and these poems are dynamite. There is so much to reflect on and so many dreams yet to be fulfilled. I highly recommend this anthology.

 

Author’s Profile


Batsirai E. Chigama is a Zimbabwean spoken word poet, a short story writer and a socio-political gender activist. Her work has been featured in over fifteen anthologies. She is passionate about providing alternative narratives to those featured in mainstream media. Gather the Children is her debut collection and it won the 2019 NAMA (National Arts Merit Awards) award for Outstanding First Creative Published Work.

 

Book Details

Title: Gather the Children

Author: Batsirai E Chigama

Genre: Poetry

Pages: 68

Publisher: Batsirai E Chigama; 1st edition (2018)

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