Thank God it's Friday

1st December 2000 at 00:00
Sunday I arrive in Harare for a booking by the British Council and the Horizon Trust which is running a conference with Zimcare, a Zimbabwean charity for people with learning disabilities. The jacaranda trees are in bloom; smoky clouds of lilac line the streets. The parks and squares are vibrant with colour, but I'm warned not to go out with a camera or handbag because of muggers. Inflation is 70 per cent; people are desperate.

Monday A sudden surge of song in the afternoon alerts me that something is going on in the square opposite. It is a group of opposition supporters. They set off at a trot, their voices distinct above the traffic. I'm warned to stay in the hotel. In the evening I share a reading with three Zimbabwean writers, but the satirical references are wasted on me: it's all in Shona. My readings are received with good-natured barracking, which is a compliment; a silent reception signals apathy.

Tuesday My workshop is well attended, the standard of writing excellent. Two of the writers lost their parents during "the struggle"; they want to develop their ability to tell their stories. Two arrive late: a boy, arely 17, who works with abused children (his turns out to be the most amusing piece of the day); and a girl, who collapsed that morning and was taken to hospital. She was told to rest but didn't want to miss the workshop.

Wednesday I give an after-dinner reading and choose three linked extracts, giving the perspectives of characters in my second novel - one who has Asperger's syndrome, his family, and a police inspector.

Thursday I visit the Zimbabwean Women Writers. They advise, organise workshops, and have produced several anthologies. They plan to commission full-length fiction but are strapped for cash.

Friday The UK delegates visit Zimcare schools. It's difficult to convince people in the villages that disabilities are not caused by evil spirits. The task is made more difficult by poor funding and huge classes of more than 50 children. It's hard to convince the government that more should be spent on children whose progress may be small and difficult to measure.

Margaret Murphy tutors dyslexic children and writes crime fiction. Her novels Dying Embers and Past Reason are published by Macmillan

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