The writer as a vessel

The writer as a vessel

When a revered colleague of mine recently told me in clear terms that, “There are two kinds of people that you don’t mess around with . . . and these two are the handyman and the plumber.
“One is there to deal with most of your everyday household problems, and the other is there to save your day when the sewerage system is acting up.
“Make sure to be on good terms with these two if you want to have a pleasant life free of the worries that come with living in the city, a reality which is quite hard to deal with on a regular day.”
I pondered with this analysis for a long while and at the end of the day concluded that he was indeed right: who can live without a proper backup plan in terms of comfortable living?

The two figures carry quite a huge amount of clout in terms of the literal significance their professions mean for a lot of individuals living in the congested spaces of the concrete jungle where burst sewerage pipes and faulty electrical connections, leaking roofs and broken windows, loose tiles and weather-beaten doors and a thousand other maintenance-related house and home issues and matters pop up at the most awkward of moments (as in the middle of the month when the money is low and the month is standing there with arms akimbo like a scorned mistress).
The two will come and sort out the problem and be patient enough to give you until the end of the month when you can pay for their services from your meagre salary.

In the early days around 2011/12, the reality that I would never be employed for a salary in the public service (or anywhere else for that matter) due to the simple fact I studied the “wrong” course and followed a useless programme at varsity stung me on my self-pitying bottom and had me move from yard to yard in search of “any kind” of employment.
From thereon, I did gardens (or plots as we call them up here), became a concrete/mortar mixer (taka boy), went on to lay bricks (following the builder’s line or “fish-line” from brick to brick) until a wall is built and finished.

This was followed by a stint plastering, mounting ceilings, laying ceramic and PVC tiles, and in between dabbling into roofing and other construction related jobs. At the end of 2015, I could confidently declare myself a construction man, well-versed in the art of reading house-plans, outlining foundations, calculating the cost of construction material and quantities, surveying the soil type at the construction site.

All this education was gotten at the cost of me getting paid whilst I learnt under the supervision of different “uneducated” men and women who had not walked down the hallowed corridors of Moshoeshoe, Murtala Mohammed, or Chancellor Hall at the National University of Lesotho.
The honours degree certificate in Literature in English or the Masters I pursued afterwards became forgotten pieces of paper only good to hang and view on the wall.
I honestly wouldn’t give a rat’s bosom if some call came beckoning me to languish in some government office.

The truth is I am a man made by the hands of the people I met in the life out of public service most of us went to university to get employed in, but the people I met in the life after university actually went a long way towards inculcating a clear sense of what my position as a writer in society is.
The first point is that one as an individual meets other individuals that have stories to tell that are more often than rarely speaking actually prove more interesting than one’s own stories as a writer.

Most of these people are actually masters in the craft of arranging themes and plots and words and sentences: the basic tools of the craft of writing or story-telling.
If one is humble enough to learn to listen to them as they tell their different stories, then the craft is simply assimilated into the psyche of one as a writer in a manner similar to water or other molecules diffusing from a place of high concentration to that of low concentration until equality (stability) as it is in the process of osmosis.
The writer therefore, becomes some kind of sponge that absorbs first the tales of the people in the immediate environment and the people in the regions outside of the immediate environment within which one as a writer lives.

One such example is the beginning of the story I was once told by a late friend I met on one of the many construction sites I got to labour on in the early days.
He began his tale with the line, “I travelled until I reached a place I had never been to…” and of course, this is where the writer comes in to fill the gap by posing questions as to what exactly went on to unfold when the teller got to such a place.

The gist of the tale is summarised in the events that occurred and sometimes, the creativity of the writer has to kick in to make the tale interesting to the reader that may come upon it.
Oftentimes, one just has to take the tale as it is and tell the world because the author (the verbal storyteller) told it so well that it needs no other form of addendum to make it readable to the reading audience.

Sometimes, the writer just has to be the vessel through which the story has to pass through before it is consumed by the reading masses.
I chose to be the writer that tells the tale of the people I have met up the long road to the writing heaven I hope to one day reach, and of course, some of the tales will pan out to sound like they were told by the original authors that told them.

Upon my first reading Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road, it was quite easy for me to understand that Ben Wachira was actually Meja’s self-implantation into the novel that recounts a story he had actually lived with his comically funny friend Ochola.
The hilarious statements and antics of Ochola are in actual reality what one sees on the various construction sites across Africa.

There is always that one individual that stands out as the leading character on the stages of construction sites where dagga joints are passed from man to man, where cigarettes are shared from lip to lip, and where month-ends mean different activities for the different labourers and supervisors.
While some go back home to distant villages to send their salaries to families that need them, there are those common ones that spend their earnings in the different makeshift plastic sheeting shebeens and mkhukhus at the bus-stop area with the ladies of the night and free-spirits that walk the streets of city where there is no night.

The position of the writer living in the city is that of the teller of the goings-on to reveal some kind of common or peculiar theme and to expose the conditions within which a certain sector of society actually lives under on a regular or specific day.
Literally or metaphorically, the story that the writer tells captures the essence of the lives of the ordinary people and in a manner becomes a point of analysis of the state of affairs in the different communities on the continent.

One cannot write in a vacuum, there actually has to be some kind of stimulus that triggers the writing nerve in the writer to the point where they feel the need to cover the events in the lives of the different people they come across in their daily lives.
The benefit of experience is read in the stories of the writer that actually lived the story they pen in the real and is felt tepidly in the words of the writer that actually relies more on imagination to create a story.

The world and the lives that are lived on the usual day is not a comic phenomenon, and the writer who does not understand this fact actually stands to err because they mislead the audience into a nonexistent sphere of life whose substance cannot actually be felt in the real.
Personally speaking, I do not think it is right to spend most of the actual process of writing imagining without first having experienced what the gist of the story actually covers.
It first has to be felt before it can clearly be described to the audience, and if it cannot be felt due to its alien nature or distance from the author, adequate research and reading of relevant material should be carried out first before even attempting to cover it in the story, otherwise it exposes the writer as a fraud which renders the story as either irrelevant or unsubstantial in terms of its educating purpose to the audience.

One does not write only for the sake of writing, but one writes to inform (educate), to entertain, and to update (reveal changes in existing trends) the society.
If writing was done merely for the sake of putting words into sentences and combining sentences into paragraphs that in turn form chapters, then the whole exercise would be reminiscent to an infant’s babbling, that is, it would be without form and shape and would therefore serve no purpose in shaping the ideas that mould the essence of societal living.
There are repeated themes in the stories one comes across in the stories one reads, and such themes are repeated largely due to their recurring nature or that they are related to issues society finds hard to deal with and solve.

One as a writer actually has to put in their weight in helping the society to progress, and this is done by addressing what nags the writer as an individual through the words that they pen.
Having been a progress aficionado from early on has seen me question such issues as poverty, underdevelopment, poor social management systems, and other malaises that hamper the development of African societies.
My position as a writer has me confidently proclaim that we are a continent that shall find progress hard to attain because we are a bunch of beggars that do not believe that their own story can serve to emancipate the continent.
The different writers and their works are only acknowledged if some overseas authority deems them as worthy enough of mention, and the poets of the continent cannot make a living from their verses because their verses are stolen to be sold for trinkets on some overseas platform. What we consume as readers on the continent actually comes from a somewhere most of us shall never even get to reach.

There are more copies of Ludlum’s works sold than those of Ngugi, and a child grows up showered with the Cinderella story than Litšomo and this means that we are a people who always look to the outside to understand what is within their midst.
This is in reality and frank terms delusion at its most viscous, a spider’s web of fabricated deceit we shall take very long to untangle ourselves from until we bother to understand the role the simple writer in our society actually plays in the addressing of subtle and prevalent social problems.

I believe not that we regress because of a lack in funds, but I know as a fact that we fail to acknowledge the simple people living in our midst.
Most have stories that are solutions to the problems that we face as a society and we lose out by dismissing them as unimportant. I have been a handyman for some long while now, and this means that I have come across individuals living in varying conditions of poverty and wealth.

All of these people throw in a penny or two into ensuring that I live well enough to see the end of the month without worrying about hunger pangs and therefore, their story is my story, for we share the same basic spaces on several occasions, if we were to tell the story as is and not as we deem it to be, the gaps in terms of wealth and poverty, development and underdevelopment, crime and punishment, they would all be solved for then we would find common points of understanding in the stories shared.

Acknowledged and unacknowledged do not mean that the reality of the story or the position of the writer in society changes.
It just means that one side chooses to bury their heads in sands of pretence like ostriches do when desert storms beckon.
Acknowledge those people you meet, listen to them speak, and you shall understand not only the story of their lives but yours as well.

BY: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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