Uncertainty of Hope, published in 2006 by Weaver Press, is Valerie Tagwira’s only novel. It’s a complex story set in a difficult time and packed with characters that, if you live in Harare, you are sure to know. Sara Davies sat down with Valerie one Tuesday morning for a coffee and a chat.
What’s your background?
My background is health. I am a specialist obstetrician-gynecologist by profession but I also like to read and write.
Uncertainty of Hope is your only novel?
It is my only novel but I have had a few short stories published.
You spent some time away from Harare?
Yes, from 2002 to 2010, studying and working in London
So where did you write Uncertainty?
I was actually in England when I wrote it. I have been making this joke that the moment I came [home] I couldn’t write at all. I think it is to do with work commitments because the work that I used to do there was different to what I do here. Here you have to juggle all sorts of things in order to survive. I was just in the one job in the UK.
You wrote Uncertainty in London but it is set in Zimbabwe. Was this difficult?
I used to travel home a lot, at least twice a year, so I was very much in touch with the things that were going on. I felt that it was the right thing to write about, if I was going to embark on any writing venture.
Uncertainty is all about the day-to-day nitty-gritty during the hard times of 2005.
It was an interesting era, the Zim dollar era: inflation, queues, food shortages, fuel shortages, all of that, everything was happening.
And your connection with Mbare? Did you grow up there?
No, it was just an interesting venue. I knew a bit about Mbare by passing through there on my way to high school. I grew up in Midlands, Rutende, a small town in Redcliff, but I was a student in Monte Casino, Macheke. So when we went back to school, you would be on the overnight train into Harare. Arrive around 6am, then go to Mbare to wait for the buses. You would be there for 4–5 hours and during that time, other than just roaming around the market, I had a friend who’s aunt lived in Mbare and she had a market stall. I used to find the market fascinating. Where I grew up was nowhere near as interesting, so if I wanted to choose a high-density setting, Mbare was it.
It is a hive of activity!
Yes, lots of things happening. And then years later, when I was an adult, I had qualified and was living at Pari, I would go to Mbare every weekend, or at least twice a month to buy fruit and veg and just walk around.
Are there any characters in your book that you particularly relate to?
Yes, loosely the characters from the medical profession. Emily was modelled on one of my friends. Their experiences are something that, especially our junior doctors in the government hospitals can relate to.
Uncertainty is your only book. Have you enjoyed the experience of being a writer?
I have. I am so sad that I just don’t have the time to write. I mean, [laughs] being a writer opened up so many opportunities for me. I was able to travel, to meet up with other writers from other countries. I attended the Caine Workshop in Kenya in 2010, and the Time of the Writer festival in South Africa that same year. Last year I was in Canada for the Toronto Festival of the Arts. I also had a book reading in London in 2009. It has opened up all sorts of experiences that as a medical professional I would have never experienced. The sad thing for me is that while I am physically here I just don’t have the time for it any more.
Do we have anything more to look forward to from you on the literary front?
Definitely. The irony is that I took leave to finish off a manuscript that I have been working on. It started out as one thing, now it is several stories intertwined. What I am working on at the moment is greatly influenced by being a health professional in Zimbabwe. I have had a very interesting experience as a medical professional since I came back, it is vastly different from my experiences in England and also very different to when I first graduated and worked here as a junior doctor.