I rose up to the challenge of writing the great Zambian novel.
But then reality hit me in the face. How many Zambians have the time and luxury to read? We are so busy working our lives out to eke out a living we are too spent to pick up a book to read. And besides, a Zambian would rather buy food or airtime than buy a book.
I mean think about it. when you get paid, you have bills to pay, food to buy, rentals to settle (or else your landlord will kick you out), relatives to assist(or else they will think you don't care when in actual fact your landlord has taken all your cash) and a whole host of other money-consuming problems to sort out.
Life in Zambia is so hard that by the time you think of buying a book, you have no money left in your pockets. How much is your book?
I am asked.
70 Kwacha, I say. 70 Kwacha?!! Do you know what a Zambian can do with that amount? He can pay for electricity, buy mealie meal, buy some beans and kapenta for a whole month. Oh yes, and buy airtime. Yes, Zambians must always have air time for Facebook. Or whatsapp. Because these things are cheaper than other ways of communicating.
Don't get me wrong, Zambians can read, and they are so hardworking. Its just that they would rather spend a 70 Kwacha on other more important stuff than a book which they will struggle to find time to read.
A novel? That's a luxury in Zambia! I remember there was a time I wanted my dad to get me a novel. Eish
, did he give me an eye.I would rather buy a textbook
, he said.
You see, in Zambia, we have to do what we can to survive. We have to maximize the little opportunities and resources we have. Novels are a luxury we can't afford to pay for. They do not really add value to our lives in our own opinion. But textbooks on the other hand can help us with school and eventually get us a good job. Dad I want a novel.
A request that would pain a typical Zambian father, unless it is qualified by the statement: It's for my literature class.
Life in Zambia is so hard that writers are afraid to take their writing seriously. They have to pay the bills. Will writing the book pay their bills? Unless they can write in the dark. They know for a fact that no Zambian has the time to read their book. Because they are in the same shoes - in fact too broke to buy their own book.
So Zambians don't love to relax and unwind? They do. But their heads are always spinning from the hustle and bustle of trying to make a living they are afraid reading will drive them insane. so they do it only when it really matters and if they have no choice. Otherwise, they would rather watch a movie (mostly because they can access movies for free).
In Zambia, writing is not a big career. Not yet anyway. Unless it's for the papers you write. But I know someone who writes for the papers and gets not even a 1 Kwacha coin. Ahem. So what do you really want to do?
The question writers are so afraid of. Because they know that if they answer it truthfully, they will be advised to get a job. So they write in secret. Or post short excerpts on social media like Facebook because they know Zambians are all online spying on each other making sure their friends aren't happier than them. They cleverly disguise their writing in social commentaries. They are forced to go to extremes and talk about issues they are naturally afraid of so that Zambians can at least see how good they really are at writing.
So, the great Zambian novel? Gave up did I?
Despite all these findings, I still went ahead and wrote my first version, because like you and me, there are some Zambians who are in love with books. At least I can write for them, and I am. These are the very few who are not afraid to dig into their pocket, pull out a 70 and buy the great Zambian novel.
Get the Great Zambian Novel