The freedom to dream

Blessing Musariri Shelling The Nuts
When I was a child, I did everything with a book in one hand. I would sit in the tub until my skin wrinkled, I was last at table and at night, the battle between sleep and the written word was epic.

In concession, I would sleep with a book under my pillow, just in case.

I never wanted to risk being caught in a situation on a journey where I would find myself without a book to read because I would surely die of boredom if the car broke down or if a visit went on longer than I could bear.

A book was everything.

When I was not reading, I was out creating games for my friends and siblings.

I designed lavish adventure laden worlds in which I made the rules.

I created wild lands and monstrous creatures.

In these worlds, we grew wings when needed and we swam with a raining sky as our upside-down pool.

There was quicksand and mountains in the garden, and granadilla bushes were hanging vines in the jungle. And when these worlds ended at four-thirty for bath-time, new ones were at hand.

I believed with all my heart that everything was possible, that even if I made it up.

It was not beyond the realm of what could be, because there were other more amazing and fantastic things in the books I read, and a book was real.

Books made a dreamer out of me.

Dreamers believe.

They expect big things out of life, they seldom quit.

In Africa, more than any other place, we need more dreamers.

We need to be able to believe in what lies beyond the basic obstacles we face everyday.

We need belief in ourselves greater than the entire world’s interpretation of blackness in all its forms.

It frustrates me to end to keep hearing that: “There is no reading culture in Zimbabwe”.

How can this possibly be true?

As early on as my kindergarten days, my mother would drop us off at the Queen Victoria library while she ran her errands in town and, let me tell you, these were some of the best days of my life.

We all grew to love books in this manner.

I would like to meet the parent who has never encouraged their child to read.

In my family and most likely in most other families, books, or high regard for books is a mainstay.

The reading culture is there, it is possibly the money to buy books that is not readily available and this is understandable, considering the lack of liquidity being experienced in the country at the moment.

A person who wakes up everyday to go to work considers themselves lucky to actually get paid at the end of the month.

As I am writing this, I am hoping I am mistaken that since the days when going to work and not getting paid was the norm, things have changed.

The only thing that could be worse than wanting a job and not having one is having a job and still not being paid.

How does one explain such a thing except to say that, we live in hope.

But back to the business of books.

I cannot tell you the number of times I am asked by friends, relatives and acquaintances for a copy of something I have written.

My author’s copies of everything disappear before I have time to really even look at them myself.

Herein lies the rock and the hard place — the life and times of a writer in her locality.

Our writing becomes, not a career, but a public service — which, funny enough, takes me back to the issue of having a job and not being paid.

It appears we are all in the same boat, just on different decks.

Not only are people highly literate and interested in the work of a writer they know or have just met, but they actually want to own books.

They even want to pay for them, as experienced during the time I was selling books. The trouble is that they cannot always pay the asking price.

I was about to bring in copies of some of my books which I had been offered at warehouse prices when a 40 percent duty was announced, along with other various taxes.

As if books were not already expensive enough!

The reason given for this was that it was a move meant to protect the local publishing industry.

I find this a very difficult concept to grasp.

Is there not enough room for both local and international publications?

Should people not have options?

The publications are very different and there is no way local publications could meet the needs of everyone in the country.

As a matter of fact, when I tried to sell one of my locally-published children’s books in a local bookstore, I was informed that the bookstore did not sell local publication because there was no market for such.

Instead, they preferred instead to stock international titles because they had a niche market.

If these international titles are hideously expensive or if they are no longer stocked, will this make people turn to local titles out of desperation for something to read?

Something tells me this would not be the case.

Those people who buy the books for which there is a niche market will simply buy their books when they travel or get them some other way.

A good question to ask would be: What publications are available locally?

As a creative writer, I can tell you with authority that this is mainly text books.

If you are in the business of writing text books then you have won the goose that lays golden eggs.

Most publishers will tell you there is no money to publish creative fiction and when they do publish it, it is rarely and underwhelmingly received.

I don’t think the majority of Zimbabweans even know that there are fiction titles published occasionally in the country so what is being protected by the overbearing taxation?

Some people choose to self-publish.

This is an avenue that is littered with too many controversies to explore any further at this juncture.

While I have seen it work for a few people, the less said about it, the better.

What I will say at this point, simply because I may never get around to speaking of it again, is that when self-publishing, do not skimp on the services of a good editor — my one and only plea in the interests of sanity.

The simple truth is that books are a luxury and they should not be.

Perhaps we did not necessarily always buy books when I was growing up but libraries were well stocked.

If there was anything my parents would part with money for without hesitation, it was books.

There is no child born hating a book.

Children learn as they grow. As they say, if you encourage your children to read from a young age, the habit will stay with them for life.

If there is no reading culture in a country, who is to blame?

Most parents want the best for their children and if a book is what is best, why would they not give it to them?

My parents were hard working people and during those days they were just managing to provide a decent middle class kind of life. This was before the height of urban migration, when amenities were still equal to the task.

In terms of libraries, what has changed since the eighties?

Urban populations have far outstripped what is publicly available and accessible.

Since Government is making books inaccessible, what kind of innovations are feeding our children’s imaginations?

Learning how to conjugate a sentence is all very well but how will our children learn the freedom to break boundaries and dream up the seemingly impossible?

As Albert Einstein said, logic will get you from A to Z but imagination will get you everywhere.

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