Room with no view, but perfect for an office
When the strongest cellphone signal is in the smallest room, a strawberry colored tub becomes a desktop.
"Where's your office, amai (mother)?" the phone card vendor asks as I stride toward a shopping mall in eastern Zimbabwe, my laptop slung over my shoulder.
I stop to think for a second. Office? I don't have one.
The last time I worked in a real office was nearly 10 years ago at the headquarters of a news agency in Paris. Computers were sprinkled over desks like ungainly confetti, colleagues ordered "recasts" and "wraps" as coolly as if they were milkshakes, and the graceful Place de la Bourse floated several floors below.
Before that, my office was the dark newsroom of the International Herald Tribune in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where, fresh out of university, I distributed photocopies of that day's paper layout and dreamed of a swashbuckling future.
When in 2000 I met the man I'd marry just six months later, my life – and my subsequent offices – changed beyond recognition.
As freelancers in Southern Africa, we learned to set up makeshift workrooms, my beau and I, in many places. Like that dingy cafe on the Mozambican border. It had lurid flowery lampshades and greasy toast but – joy of joys! – a large flat-screen TV showing CNN.
Or the living room of a flat we rented once. It had posters of dolphins on the walls, which were cardboard-thin: When I washed our linen in the bathtub, I could hear the answering slap-slap of my neighbor doing her own laundry a few inches from my nose. We hung duvets round the stairwell to create a soundproof booth for my husband's radio recordings.
Living with a fellow writer has its advantages: As deadline approaches, you can fact-check in his (much more detailed) diary. He's also more likely to understand when you say: "Sorry, I didn't make dinner tonight: There was an election."
Often my husband worked in the car, notebook balanced on the dashboard. Once, in a particularly tense situation in a Southern African country, we approached a police roadblock. This was at a time when writers were viewed with distrust. With horror, I realized a scribbled radio script was in full view.
I ate it. It was a small piece of paper, not much bigger than a shopping receipt. I can now truthfully say I have swallowed the news whole.
Internet coverage is sporadic here in Zimbabwe. These days, broadband is gaining ground in the capital, Harare, but it can cost hundreds of dollars to install.
For some time, we relied on an antiquated connection through a phone line. Mostly it worked, except when marauding vervet monkeys disconnected the wires.
Fortunately, we had friends who put up with us appearing regularly with flash drives, dictaphones, and anguished cries of, "The Internet's not working!"
We signed up excitedly when wireless communication was finally introduced, but there was one problem: The only place with a strong cellphone signal in the tin-roofed cottage we lived in was the bathroom.
It's not easy to balance a laptop on the side of a strawberry-pink bathtub. Trust me though: It can be done.
This morning, I'm mulling plot points for a work of fiction. I need a place I can call my office for an hour or two.
"I'll be in the restaurant opposite the gift shop," I tell the phone card vendor. She's seen me buy the government-controlled newspaper so often that she's given me a nickname: Mai Herald (Mrs. Herald). Just like a real office colleague might. "You coming, too?"