In conversation with Esther Mubawa

Our readers would like to know your inspiration (or story, if any) behind Doctor Dungu.

I was walking along the street and saw a poster for a traditional healer and invented a story. They’re often cheats. I just created a story about his hypocrisy and rival and it became a crime story, to my surprise. Writing is discovery. I have an idea, but when I write the story takes control and I don’t want to put controls on the story. 

Tell us more about your creative process in general.

This is difficult. I don’t really know myself. I often think of a personal experience or see something or somebody who is interesting and imagine a story. A story I’m thinking about now is of a street child in Harare who directs traffic when the signals are down. Some drivers give him tips. He’s providing a service but had a hard life. I don’t exactly know the story. A story is more than a description of him. I have stories about friends and relatives these are so complicated I don’t know how to simplify them to the length of a story. 

Do you have any creative influences? What do you like the most about their work? Does it have a discernible effect on your writing?

I studied Dickens and Jane Eyre in school and later started reading more modern stories. I worked for an American couple and read Hemingway. I couldn’t understand how his simple way of writing was meaningful. Then I discovered it. But then I had to develop my own style. It sounds odd, but Dickens and Hemingway. I don’t like stories about drunks and drug addicts. I don’t mind them being in the story but they rarely reflect on their lives. I want a story about life. Doctor Dungu came as a surprise to me. He’s a cheat and liar. But the ending was positive even if he was dying. 

Are there any creative genres, forms, themes, techniques etc. you wish you could employ in your writing which you haven’t yet?

Stream of consciousness.  I feel it is a contrived technique. The elements that are in monologues aren’t really random thoughts at all. They’re selected by the writer to advance the story. A narrator who tells a story in a way that is complicated I wish I could do. I would like to write stories which are not chronologically ordered. We don’t think that way. So a different method than stream of consciousness that isn’t so obviously contrived.  

What are you looking forward to in your creative career?

To write about ten stories for a collection. But my stories about Shona culture often have similar themes. Adultery. Sexual abuse. Male dominated society. Jealousy. Cheats. I would like to write about people who made sacrifices for others. That’s part of my culture too. Then I want to write a novel, maybe historical set in Rhodesia. Zimbabwe is so complicated and changing that I can’t focus on a plot. People are leaving the country. Maybe a novel about being forced to leave Zimbabwe because of financial hardships. That’s me. Mothers have to leave their children behind. 

Esther Mubawa is the pen name for a Zimbabwe woman who works as a maid in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a single mother who writes about the lives of Shona women like her who have had to leave the country in order to make a living or those who have chosen to remain in Zimbabwe. She looks forward to writing more stories about the struggles of her sisters and the complexities of their lives both in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The portrait is a sketch by her daughter.