I MET DAMBUDZO FOR THE FIRST time on a hot October morning in Charles Mungoshi's office. They were drinking vodka. Mungoshi worked as an editor at Zimbabwe Publishing House at the time. I wanted to speak to him about the literary scene in Zimbabwe.
For a moment I felt blinded, stepping into the squat bungalow from the dazzling colours in the streets, the purple of the jacarandas lining the west-east and the bright red flamboyants on the north-south axis of the grid. Like many of the newly founded NGOs, aid organisations, news agencies and the like, ZPH had opened their offices in one of the town houses in The Avenues, hastily deserted by their white owners when Mugabe came to power.
‘Hi there. Is it you, our German book lover?’
The cheerful greeting came from Phyllis Johnson, whom I could barely make out in the dimly lit reception area, but recognising her clenched-teeth North American accent.
‘It is so bright outside,’ I told her. ‘I am overwhelmed by the light and those colours – but it is also really hot.’
Phyllis grimaced. ‘Yes, that's our Zimbabwean spring,’ she said. ‘The land is dry, even drier this year with that odious drought, but bang – out of nothing these trees explode into orgies of colour. What brings you here?’
I explained my mission and the interview I was hoping to have with Charles Mungoshi.
‘Charles? Yes, of course – his office is down there. I am sure he’ll be happy to speak to you.’
My knocking sounded hollow on the thin plywood door. ‘
‘Come in,’ someone called, rather flatly.
Would I be regarded as an intruder, I suddenly wondered. What right did I have to come here and ask an eminent writer questions about literature in his country? I had no credentials.
Yet once inside the room I felt at ease. Mungoshi was sitting behind his desk, a pile of folders and papers in front of him. When I introduced myself and explained my endeavour, it was he who seemed rather timid. But he did not have to worry.
‘What a gorgeous visitor you have, Charles,’ I heard a booming voice behind my back. ‘Please, young lady, do sit down.’