Catharine Withenay is a recent Twitter friend. We linked up when she used a conversation I was having with someone else as the basis of a very clever blog post. So when The PINK SOFA heard that her memoirs of her life in Zambia: In The Shade Of The Mulberry Tree was to be published, an invitation was soon winging its way. In honour of Catharine's visit, there is chikanda, nshima and sadza on the coffee table for everybody to try. Don't know what it is? As Catharine, she'll tell you all about it. So, without further ado, it's over to my guest:
''How wonderful to sit on your squishy PINK SOFA! ... all I need is glorious sunshine and I'm sorted for the day. A sofa was something that I missed when we first arrived in Zambia. It was about four months before we got one. Until then we had some cheap plastic garden chairs that slid over the concrete floor and one uncomfortable wooden chair with a foam cushion that might have well not existed. Somehow I still managed to breastfeed my daughter in that time.
So let me tell you a little about why and what I write. Moving to Zambia in 2003 was a life-changing experience. I never wanted to go, but my husband is a paediatrician, had done a Diploma in Hygeine and Tropical Medicine and the PhD was his next step. At the time we moved, my son was 2.5 years old, my daughter just over 7 months. I was petrified as to what would happen!
I ended up staying there four years and when I got back to the UK my book almost wrote itself. By then the children were at school and since I was living in a new part of the UK (new to me) I had no friends and plenty of time to write. So why so long to publish? Well, partly because writing isn't simply sitting in front of a computer screen and typing. The first draft is easy, the difficult bit is editing. After trying a few agents, I decided to self-publish.
Memoir is a difficult genre to sell to agents and publishers. It is neither fact nor fiction and in general their memoir budget is taken up by celebrities. (Boring. They all end up in Oxfam Book shops.) But I find other people's lives are interesting: even seemingly 'normal' lives have a tale to tell. My life is not really different from thousands of others, bringing up children and trailing their spouses where the jobs go. But, in fairness, most people don't find themselves trying to emigrate having lost their passports ...
|Catharine's memoirs of Zambia
My husband's medical research was into malnutrition and the immune system. Malnutrition is a big issue in developing countries, as there are many people with little or no money and who scrape around for food. Throw in the spectre of HIV/AIDS which is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa and there are many many children who have slim chances in life. I met and worked with international aid workers and it is shocking to know that so many children remain without food and education. I was delighted to witness a rural project that tried to deal with both: feeding lunch to every child that came to school. Unsurprisingly, their education, health and weight improved!''
In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree : Organising a husband, toddler and babe in arms, three suitcases, two rucksacks, a pram and a travel cot onto a plane ready for a new life in Zambia is complicated enough. Given Catharine's fear of malaria and tropical diseases and the anxieties of moving beyond the reach of friends and family, she wonders how she was persuaded to move at all. The, just as they approach the airport, it appears that they don't have their passports.
In her debut book, Catharine chronicles her first year living abroad as an expat wife. Nothing is simple, from buying furniture to getting a haircut. As she copes with motherhood and the injustices of poverty and healthcare in Zambia, she wonders: could she ever come to call this pace home?
In the Shade Of The Mulberry Tree is available on Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com
Follow Catherine on : Twitter @c_withenay, www.facebook.com/CatharineWithenayWriter, www.catharinewithenay.com
Whoah - what an amazing adventure! Thanks Catharine, the PINK SOFA has really enjoyed hearing about your book ... and is looking forward to trying the Zambian food. Tuck in people... Catharine will be staying around to chat.