I am indebted to a lot of women (for instance, the contributors to Her Zimbabwe who do this voluntarily and with so much inspiring energy) but I am also extremely grateful to some very big male cheerleaders; the type of men who I can think aloud with and who have never, as long as I have known them, condescended towards me, or tried to limit my capabilities by virtue of my sex.
The beginnings of a life-changing experience
In 2005, I had the honour to be selected out of hundreds of applicants as one of the 12 participants in the Crossing Borders creative writing programme. It is there that I met two men who have profoundly influenced my life and the professional path that I have taken; Fungai Tichawangana and Masimba Biriwasha.
Being 20 (going on 21) at the time, and having no published creative writing work to my name, it was a daunting experience to be counted among such an esteemed group of artists. At that time, Masimba had recently won a National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) and Fungai was fresh out of a writers’ residency in Europe.
In fact, all the other participants - including Batsirai Chigama, Raisedon Baya, Nevanji Madanhire, Ethel Kabwato, Bryony Rheam and Chris Mlalazi - came with some serious creative clout; all I had was my passion and a few collections of poetry hand-written into my journal.
But amazingly, I never got the feeling that I was out of my depths; in fact, I always felt welcomed and appreciated.
I recall when Fungai set up a website called Writers of Zimbabwe and asked that I submit content for it. I will never forget how awed I felt when he recited back a line from one of my poems one day at our Crossing Borders meetings. I had already had my ‘wow’ moment in being invited to contribute to the website; so that was a super ‘wow’ moment!
Something I learnt quickly about Fungai is that he is an encourager; once I wrote a poem which he praised highly. Being too much of a self-doubter at the time, I reluctantly accepted his good words. But he picked up on my lack of confidence and immediately told me that talking down my talent was not really a sign of humility and that I had to ‘own my brilliance’.
This is the same sort of encouragement that I have received from Masimba over the years. A memory that stands out in my head dates back to 2006 when I bumped into Masimba in town during a phase of deflation. I told him I wasn’t writing so much anymore because I had no motivation for it.
But instead of commiserating, he told me to never stop; to attack the blank page with anything, any words that came to mind and to keep going. I still carry that advice with me whenever I feel unable to write. Attack that blank page!
New Media and Blogging: The Epiphany
My interest in new media was piqued in 2009 when I had the great fortune to attend an information activism seminar in India. But I would never have gone had it not been for constant urging from Masimba that I apply for a scholarship for the event. He kept telling me that it could open up doors for me in ways that I couldn’t quite yet understand.
And he was right.
It was in India that I met some of the world’s most passionate bloggers and technologists, and realised the great potential of new media and social media for change.
Upon my return to Zimbabwe I shared my ideas with Fungai who gave me the opportunity to write for his many online platforms; first Zimbablogs and then Zimbo Jam; spaces where I was able to master the art of blogging while preparing myself for the big time.
When I finally began to contemplate starting my own blog, Fungai Neni, it was Fungai whom I first consulted for advice; advice which he gave freely and honestly. Being a blogger himself then (at Unofungei Fungai), he told me that blogging wasn’t easy but that in the end, if I kept at it, I would reap the benefits. Thus far, my blog has won two international awards and Fungai has always been ready to publicise and celebrate these feats.
Left: Something said here which I obviously didn’t find as funny as Masimba did! Right: Workaholics Anonymous: a camera slung over the shoulder of one Fungai and a file of work in the hands of the other Fungai. To think this was actually a social function!
But none of my achievements in new media would have been possible if I didn’t have the tools of the trade. And I must tell you that the first laptop I ever bought was thanks to Masimba. It was 2007 and I was still at university. I had been saving all year towards buying a laptop, but somehow I hadn’t been able to get sufficient funds together.
Knowing my plight, as well as how desperately I needed a laptop to expand visibility for my writing, Masimba lent me the lion’s share of the money needed. I remember that Friday afternoon when he gave me a loan of USD 400 telling me that he could get the money back at a later time but that my need for a laptop was more urgent for my writing.
Later on, he would give me my first ever Dictaphone telling me that any journalist and writer worth their salt needed somewhere where they could record their thoughts and professional interviews.
The Birth of Her Zimbabwe
When the idea of Her Zimbabwe began to form in my mind, it was with Masimba and Fungai that I shared initial thoughts. They instantly told me that it sounded like a great idea and that they would support it in whatever way they could. I soon realised that in order to make the project work, I would need to return to Zimbabwe (I was studying in the UK at the time).
I sent an SOS email to Fungai asking to meet so that we could discuss this idea once I was back in Zimbabwe. He agreed and with just a few days rest upon my return, I visited Fungai’s offices and told him about what sounded like a shapeless dream.
But he saw potential in it and immediately registered his excitement. And thus began the ritual of weekly meetings and panel beating of the idea; the shaping of the dream.
We wouldn’t have this lovely website were it not for Fungai’s tireless work to get all the procedures done; registering the domain name, hosting the site on Zimbo Jam’s server, and designing all the site’s features, including the mobile phone version.
I really do wonder how on earth this dream would have turned into reality otherwise.
Thank you is not enough
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with both Fungai and Masimba. Our common interests in social media and creative arts always make our conversations thought-provoking and stimulating. One thing I kept thinking as we talked was how empowering it is to be able to sit in a room with men who listen to your ideas, value your suggestions and respect your opinion; men who don’t demean you or brush you aside.
Few Zimbabwean women have the opportunity to experience such life-affirming moments, let alone a constant flow of encouragement, inspiration and self-actualisation. It really is something I hold dear.
For what you stand for – inspiration, encouragement, respect and friendship – I thank you Fungai and Masimba from the bottom of my heart for everything that you have done to bring me to where I am, and where I am going.
And so I put up the challenge to other men out there; how can you help a woman today to reach her fullest potential?