Batsirai CHIGAMA

All Rise!

Zimbabwean poet and story writer Batsirai CHIGAMA has been a teacher of performance and creative writing workshops for over two decades. Her first poetry collection, Gather the Children, won the 2019 Outstanding First Creative Published Work from the National Arts Merits Awards in Zimbabwe.


It's the eve of the 30th of March, 2020 and I start to feel my breath leave.  In my head I am back in Washington, trying to leave The Hilton to get  breakfast.  I press L on the 8th floor and the elevator shifts downwards just a little and stops.  In that moment I don't know where I am.  To die not knowing your location.  To hang in between floors.  Classic.  

I panic.  I press the emergency button.  It makes the most deafening noise, I am sure whoever is at the other end heard it.  I wait.  No response.  I press the button again.  I wait.  Again no response.  My body feels light as if I have already started shedding the 76kg of mass that is me, it's floating as if I have suddenly become a feather.  My heart is galloping, I hold it, perhaps, with the intention to quieten or calm it, I hear it loud as if it's in my ears.

Breathe.  Count to 5.  Breathe.  Count.  This time I find my finger on the emergency button and I press hard and I can't let go. I take my hand off the button.  Wait a little.  No response.  I am reminded of Judy Chicago's painting I had viewed the day before at The National Museum of Women in the Arts. The End. A Meditation on Death and Extinction.  Ways to die.  In my head I am saying to myself, this is how I die in between floors, slowly running out of air, the world becoming a blur in a hotel in a land too far from home.

March, 2020, I have been home for almost four months.  The feeling returns to me in this vast room.  My breath is slowly leaving.  I am scared but I am telling myself to calm down.  It's only 21 days I say.  My mind is afraid of the beyond beyond the beyond.  My breath holds itself, until I am out of it and it starts to feel like non-existent symptoms are already full blown.  It’s the eve before the beginning of the national lockdown and my thoughts are nowhere near orderly.

I must find something to arrest my restlessness.  I rummage through memories trying to find ways to fill this vast space, I can’t call it time, it is this huge seemingly endless, never-ending thing. It’s almost midnight and I am staring back into the past and it’s refusing to relinquish memories on how to survive this.  Perhaps none of my ancestors have answers to this too.

There are no family recipe books passed from that one great grandmother for me to revisit.  Facebook is the village where I find the great grandmother on the group Cooking with Zim Celebrity Chef.  I scroll down the page.  Up and down until I come across a recipe for Zim buns.  I choose this particular recipe because I have all the ingredients required and it looks easy enough not to add another headache to the already existing one.  I feel accomplished as if I have discovered a grand way to shrink the seemingly endless, vast thing.

Day 1
I bury myself in the recipe.  I gather my wits together as I gather the ingredients, it seems.  I lose the clutter of thoughts and what ifs and my anxiety starts to dissipate.   Before I have finished making the dough I know I need to tweak the recipe for better results. The language of yeast is an encouraging one.  That of patience.  Wet or dry, given enough time, all rise, so does my spirits.  The end result makes me feel like I have created lives.  Twenty golden lives on a tray, what magic.  I manage to distract, not only myself but a considerable number of followers on social media.  The mini kitchen I have hated all the years as a tenant here has suddenly become a sanctuary.  I look at the buns, all golden, and they bring my breath to a steady rhythm.  They are the huge gulp of air I took in the elevator to calm myself.  I pressed the button to open the elevator and realised I was on the 7th Floor. I walked out shaking and took the stairs all the way down.

Reception said they did not receive any emergency alarm.  The world is like that too.  Too busy to hear you calling out for help.  Too busy to notice the fear in your eyes.  Breathe.  Count to 5.  Press the alarm button.  Wait for a response. If the response doesn’t come, get ready to do CPR on yourself.  Bake buns.