Nurturing her writing Leeside

A Cork-based author from Zimbabwe tells COLETTE SHERIDAN about her writing, standing up to oppressive marriage, life in Direct Provision and her struggles to find alternative accommodation COLETTE SHERIDAN
Nurturing her writing Leeside

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Nqobizitha Vella, who would love to be a writer full time. Picture: Denis Minihane

A Zimbabwean mother-of-one, Nqobizitha Vella, who lives in direct provision in Glounthane with her ten year-old son, recalls the day that she “cried and cried” when she received the gift of a laptop from some Facebook friends. It was a complete surprise.

“I was crying because of the kindness and the love. My son laughed at me for crying saying ‘you got something nice, why are you crying?’ I couldn’t control it.”

The Facebook friends formed a secret group and raised money for the laptop. It was handed over to Nqobizitha by a man who was visiting Cork from England.

“I thought he was giving me porridge which I had asked for. When he was approaching me, he was carrying a bag with clothes and a box with a laptop in it. I got so emotional. I was extremely shocked.”

The gift is to allow Nqobizitha to continue writing books which she had started doing on a Tablet. When that crashed, she had to write on her phone, clocking up 1,500 words a day. A friend gave her a Bluetooth keyboard which she attached to her phone. But the laptop is much needed for Nqobizitha who recently published her first book, called ‘Marriage Mysteries.’ It is volume one in a series of books that she is writing, using a mix of both English and her native language, Ndebele.

Nqobizitha’s writing also features in a newly published book, ‘A Journey Called Home: Poems and Stories of the new Corkonians.’ This book, published by Cork City Libraries, consists of impressions of Cork by immigrants. In her contribution, Nqobizitha compares Dublin — where she first landed when she came to Ireland — with Cork, where she has been living since 2015. Recently she was granted leave to stay here for another three years and was due to move out of Direct Provision in January — but is struggling to find somewhere else to live, so remains there until she does.

Dublin, says 38-year-old old Nqobizitha, “is too busy. People are always in a rush. I’ve never been lucky when I asked people for directions in Dublin. They told me to try Google maps.

“In Cork, people are so amazing. Some people offered to take me to the place I was going to which is quite amazing. You would think Cork and Dublin are in two different countries.”

Nqobizitha, a former school administrator, can’t talk about why she left Zimbabwe.

“I had to leave and look for asylum.”

Unlike most immigrants, Nqobizita doesn’t mind living in direct provision.

“My only problem with it is the amount of time you have to stay in direct provision.”

And finding somewhere to go outside of Direct Provision is proving a real struggle.

“Accommodation is so expensive. I will struggle to get a house. The rent allowance won’t be enough. It’s €750 a month which maybe would get you a one bed place but me and my son need two bedrooms.”

Trying to get by in Direct Provision, on about €20 a week was also very difficult.

“We are provided with meals and toiletries. But with a child at school, he hears the kids talking about stuff they own and he wants it too. I tell him he has to be patient as I’m not in a job yet.”

Her son attends a local primary school. He struggled initially as he had only been to school in Zimbabwe for a few months.

“Basically, he only knew how to write his name. He had to repeat a year and he has vastly improved. In my country, we are not allowed to speak in our own language. We have to speak in English.”

This has obviously been beneficial for her son.

Nqobizitha’s main gripe about direct provision is the food.

“I grew up eating maize and vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as meat. I ate maize for lunch and dinner and I ate porridge made out of maize in the morning. In Ireland, you’re told to eat potatoes. You can enjoy that for a week or two. After that, you start missing your food. Here, you get pizza, lasagne, potatoes and rice. In my country, rice is maybe eaten on Christmas day. I cannot eat rice every day. Potatoes are a delicacy in my country and are expensive.”

How did Nqobizitha start writing?

“I had come from an interview with the justice department and I was kind of stressed. I couldn’t sleep or eat. So one night at midnight, I got out my Tablet and started writing a story and posted it on Facebook, using a mixture of English and Ndebele. People are not sleeping because a lot of people read the story. I didn’t complete it, thinking I’d finish it the next day.

“One lady in Dublin, from Zimbabwe, called Charity, asked me if she could share my story on Facebook. I said ‘yes’ and the next thing, my inbox was abuzz. They asked me if the story was true. I told them it wasn’t. People were pressurising me into writing more. When I killed off the main character, they were saying ‘no, you can’t.’”

To appease her fans, Nqobizitha, resurrected the main character through a case of mistaken identity regarding his supposed death. The story became a novel. All this started back in February, with Nqobizitha writing seven days a week. The laptop made her work a lot easier and she is now on volume 6.

Through her writing, Nqobzitha says she is telling women to stand up for themselves. She left her oppressive marriage and she is highly critical of the institution of marriage in her country.

“In an African home, when a woman gets married, it’s kind of an achievement. If you’re not married by 21 or 22, you’re a disaster. If you’re 25 or 26 and not married, people will ask what is wrong with you. Then when you do get married, you adopt the values and principles of the family you marry into. You live with them.

“Things are better now. But you work and toil. You’re a ‘yes person.’ Also, in an African home, if something happens after you get married with maybe the man beating you up or abusing you in some form, and you go back to your own home, your family will return you. They’ll tell you ‘that’s marriage. Go back.’

“Some of these things have changed but there are places where you get married to the whole village. The old mindset does not change. You have to kneel down when you serve food to your husband.”

A Facebook friend, who is an author, helped Nqobizitha to self-publish her book.

“This man, Mbonisi read my story and edited it.”

The book was printed in South Africa. A Zimbabwean community group in Ireland contributed towards the printing costs — another example of luck and good fortune directed at Nqobizitha.

She was also given the gift of creative writing classes at the Cork College of Commerce by another supportive well-wisher who doesn’t want to be named.

Nqobizitha would love to be a full-time writer. Her book has touched a chord with Zimbabweans around the world. And her son is very proud of his mother. The pair are happy in Cork, looking forward to independent living.

As Nqobizitha writes in ‘A Journey Called Home’: “One day I came across a subject on the internet that said ‘Cork is one of the friendliest cities in the world.’ I quickly agreed with no hesitation.”

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