Letter from Zimbabwe: Conversation with an essayist

Kate Chambers grew up in an English village and went to Paris to work after receiving a college degree in languages. Three years ago, she met and fell in love with a Zimbabwean. They married and now live in Zimbabwe. Her essays about life there began to appear on The Home Forum in June 2002.

Not long after, we began receiving e-mails about Ms. Chambers's essays. Readers enjoyed her pieces, but they wondered: How was it that her essays did not seem to reflect the social turmoil there? Was she untouched by it? Was her experience an example of 'life goes on, even amid upheaval'?

We e-mailed Ms. Chambers about these concerns. Her response was revealing of her situation and of the role the Monitor plays. We thought you might enjoy her response, so we asked her permission to publish it:

Thanks for your e-mail. I'm glad you got in touch. No, my husband and I are not untouched by any means by what goes on here. My husband's parents are white farmers who lost their farm in 2001 and are still struggling to carry on, trapped by their lack of foreign currency (which they'd need in order to emigrate). My husband's brother and his family left for Australia, traumatized.... Like many people here, we live in fear of the knock on the door in the night. But not every day. And that is the key.

When I went back to England recently, I found myself trying to explain to many people how we carry on. It is possible to live here - as many town dwellers do - totally ignoring what goes on. If you do not listen to the government radio station, and if you shop in the South African Spar supermarkets and confine yourself to the upscale northern suburbs [of Harare, the capital], life here could be idyllic, and still is for many, both black and white. Goods in short supply are readily available on the black market.

My husband and I cannot live like that because we do not have a large amount of money at our disposal, and because we would not want to. Also, what we do is intimately connected with what is going on for the majority of the population.

In my first few months here in 2001 I found it hard to cope with the lack of so many things. But my family back in England reminded me that I had been brought up always to count my blessings.... I cannot live a day here, in this beautiful place, without being conscious of so much I have, and have been given.

What I try to do when I write for you is to explore that other side of my life here: the friends I have made and the friendliness I've found, the beauty of my surroundings which uplifts my spirit, the loving husband I met, and the devoted in-laws for whom this country is home.

As you know, most newspapers value "good news" much less than "bad." The Christian Science Monitor does not seem to be like that. For me, life here is a mixture of the good and the bad.... The bad just gets a lot more coverage internationally. I spend days here glued to the radio, listening to gloomy reports and scanning the papers. I also spend days sitting in my neighbor's tiny garden sewing and reading and listening to the birds and chatting.

Lack of gasoline means I can't go out, yes, but it also means I have the time and the opportunity to do those kinds of things....

I may go into town one day and see riot police put down a demonstration, but much more often than that I spend the morning wandering the streets, chatting with strangers, and finding out once again that state-sponsored attempts to drive a wedge between black and white just hasn't worked.

I hope that makes some kind of sense!

Best wishes, Kate Chambers

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