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When hope becomes an uncertain dream

When everything is skewed in favour of the powerful, well-oiled and silver spooned, the feeble and vulnerable place their hopes on the likelihood of picking up crumbs from the feet of the largass of opulent tables.

With hope written on the demeanour of expectation, the wretched ones open their hard done souls to the satiation of alms dropped at the altar of expediency.

Theirs is a gamble where dreams are never short of frustrated expectation because to them hope wears so many shades that it is ever easy to miss it in the maze of colour blindness. Nonetheless, they are never short of hope, for without it the only certainty out of their mundane and squalid condition is death; death the elixir, death the leveller. How cruel can life sometimes be? There is always so much to fight for when one is conscious of the fact that death is never the end to life, but the beginning of everything; for in life we live with death.

Indeed, gentle reader, hope is what those who have only known suffering feed on, for as the sun sets, it certainly rises, with its promises of a new dawn. But what happens then, dear reader if hope wears so many faces that missing it causes much crestfallenness as does picking a wrong shade of grey out of 50 possibilities?

What then becomes of the downtrodden if hope keeps on receding to the horizon, leaving in its wake fear, despondency, alarm, pessimism and uncertainty?

There is always a dark side to life as there is always another shade to it; the brighter one, that one is all too aware exists some other where.

There is so much suffering, so much poverty in the middle of plenty. The glaringly poor ever exist in juxtaposition with the indecently rich, who twitch their noses if reminded of the other side to life, yet mourn over their losses if such people threaten not to be part of their schemes.

United in their suffering, the dejected and wretched trudge on to Utopia, but will they ever arrive?

Wondering about the condition of lack, the unity of purpose and the uncertainty of outcomes in the gamble known as life, I bumped into Valerie Tagwira’s “The Uncertainty of Hope” (2006), and the word reading was given a new meaning. Reading is a reflection of one’s own experiences, as an old story told with finesse of detail, as only a storyteller par excellence can do, has a way of consuming the reader and hoisting him or her to another level in both place and time where only he or she alone feels has ever been to.

In the book Tagwira stitches up the different episodes of frustrated hope as individuals weighed down by suffering scrounge for non-existent morsels of the national cake, which remains in the hands of the corrupt elite, who are able to tilt the desperate situation to their favour.

Using realistic traits of modernism, Tagwira purveys the nature of suffering in the absence of hope and the power of love in the face of lack and adversity.

Set in Harare, predominantly the high-density suburb of Mbare and Chiwundura in 2005 “The Uncertainty of Hope” visits the all familiar terrain of lack, frustration and the meandering queues of the hyper-inflationary period between 2002 and 2008, when darkness blighted the motherland’s prospects.

The use of realistic setting, fractured plot and apt characterisation takes the reader aback, as the story transcends individual travails to give meaning to shared experiences where hope becomes an imperative ingredient in the recipe for change.

The frustration is so real, so thick you can touch it; the characters are your neighbours, children, sisters, brothers and parents united in their travails, where shortages of basic consumer goods, fuel, medicines, stationery and just about anything, is the order of the day.

Like what Chenjerai Hove intimated in “Palaver Finish” (2002), fiction is not fiction, but a collection of historical events that shape a people’s destiny. There is no better way of capturing a people’s culture, history and all than literature, because a writer functions as a recorder of the mores and values of his or her people.

Through chronicling events using her experiences, Tagwira highlights the state of affairs that place the individual at odds with expectation. She pursues the story of Onai, a 36-year-old mother of three; 16-year-old Ruva, 15-year-old Rita and Fari, who is 10. Like many in their Mbare neighbourhood, Onai’s family is poverty-stricken, not much because her husband is unemployed, like hordes of others in the ‘hood, but because Gari, who is a section manager at Cola Drinks, is as gadabout as he is irresponsible, violent and callous. His womanising disposition alienates him from his family much to the glee of the gloating Maya, and the chagrin of Onai’s bosom friend Katy.

Hardened by poverty, cheered on by suffering and chequered by hope, the protagonist provides for her family through vending at Mbare Musika. She refuses to buckle to her friend’s exhortation that she should leave Gari and start a new life without him. She rather prefers her mother’s advice that, culturally, a woman should remain in support of her husband, regardless of his foibles.

Like Shimmer Chinodya’s “Queues” (2003), “The Uncertainity of Hope” captures the neurosis, malaise and paralysis at the centre of the familial, communal and national platforms, as the individual suffers the bane of societal expectation in face of metaphorical and literal starvation. However, unlike Chinodya, Tagwira uses the third person narrative technique which gives the story a universal appeal. Though she explores the nature of Man from the point of view of the marginalised, who are in the majority, notwithstanding the fact that she is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, to be precise, she is able to give snippets into the life of affluence through Faith’s (24) relationship with the affable prominent businessman and farmer, Tom, who is 35.

Also unlike Chinodya, Tagwira examines the condition of womanhood, not through the eyes of an artiste or a man, neither does she limits herself to the queues that permeate the lives of the realistic characters. Like Chinodya, however, she is all too aware of the claustrophobic nature of marriage, the burdensome nature of cultural expectation, the hypocritical inclinations of the rich and powerful, and “the bring her down syndrome” that impedes women’s progress.

The resilient, forgiving, hardworking, loving and rather naïve Onai believes that her husband Gari would miraculously change his spots and come back to his senses. Knowing the reality of HIV/AIDS she refuses to engage in sexual intercourse with her husband without condoms; and Gari, who is usually stoned, snores the moment he hits the sheets. As conversation eludes them, intimacy and peace desert them in equal measure.

The love that seems to be taboo in Onai’s marriage, finds shelter in her friend Katy and John’s abode. Like two peas the friends are always at each other’s side, despite the setbacks.

Onai’s family remains the definition of poverty, and her struggle out of it remains a losing battle.

With her ego battered at the home-front though violence, the protagonist’s inner turmoil reaches a tipping point as she learns of her husband’s affair with Gloria, a beautiful woman of loose morals, who is believed to be HIV positive.

As the gods of hope conspire against her and the lot of her ilk, Operation Murambatsvina cleans out the scum meant to be their livelihood. Illegal shacks, market stalls, buildings and flea markets are razed to the ground, so were their dreams sutured.

Tagwira adeptly depicts the political, social and economic landscapes that in most cases bear a brunt on vulnerable women and children. Sex becomes a tool of oppression and a means to an end, or an end in itself; and death becomes an alter ego. As individuals seek vents of escape through sex, death, alcohol and insanity the pervading hopelessness on the national psyche becomes heartrending.

As the HIV/AIDS pandemic takes root, the gloomy picture that ensues leaves a trail of hopelessness and despondency.

Reduced to meandering queues – queues for everything and anything, through a combination of sanctions, plunder, avarice and corruption, the motherland drops on its fours, and hopelessly hopes for change.

Gari’s death compounds Onai’s predicament as his brother Toro chases her and her children from their inherited home. Homeless, defeated and deflated the heroine takes trail into the unknown, with her womanly pride high, she still believes that her dressmaking skills, her friend Katy, the recently graduated lawyer, Faith, her mother, the Kushinga Project championed by progressive women like Dr Emily Sibanda, who is ironically Tom’s sister, would catapult her to the shimmering glow of hope etched somewhere at the periphery of her dreams. Operation Garikai, she hopes, would pedal her to sheltered hope.

Onai, like multitudes in her flock, is conscious of the symbolic importance of hope in life, even though she seems to be convinced that, “Hers was a life of guaranteed misfortune” that even if she were to be offered something on a platter “something was sure to happen that would wrench the opportunity away from her”.

Such is the nature of suffering when hope is emasculated. But is death the only certainty in life? Is hope really a mirage that remains etched on the horizon?

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