Priscilla first travelled to Sweden from Zimbabwe to visit her daughter, and after cases of Covid-19 began rising during the second wave in October 2020, she decided to extend her trip, with one of the main draws being the chance to spend more time with her grandchildren.
“I thought it was better to be locked down together than to be locked down apart,” she says.
While in Sweden, she took the children to school each day and went sledding with them in winter. But the more time she spent with them, and saw them interacting with their peers, the more she noticed the lack of representation of African culture available to them here.
“You look at them and you look at the environment, and you realise that these children are growing up in a multicultural society. It has its challenges. One of those challenges is identity, ‘who am I?’” Priscilla says.
So she began telling her grandchildren stories based on African proverbs, hoping to pass on some of the values they taught her when she was growing up and give the children a closer connection to their own heritage.
“I realised that when I interacted with them through folklore, telling them the kind of stories that my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little girl, they became so excited,” Priscilla recalls.
A wider audience
It was her daughter who encouraged her to record the stories and put them on YouTube. The videos quickly grew popular among her grandchildren but also among their friends from school. Seeing the universal appeal of the proverbs drew Priscilla, who has a long career as an educator behind her, towards putting them into a book.
“I don’t think it was really an individual decision. I think it was more of a family decision. They told me that maybe I should put this into a book,” she says with a chuckle, adjusting the sleeves of her blue blazer.
After working with illustrator Badrus Soleh, Priscilla’s daughter managed the publication through Amazon’s self-publishing service. This made it possible to circumvent Swedish bureaucracy, although the book is now also available through the online retailer bookshop.org.
“Fortunately, because I am a writer, I can write from anywhere. As long as you give me my brains and you give me a laptop, I’m good to go,” Priscilla says with a laugh.
Her first book, Sticky Fingers in the African Forest, tells the story of a hare and a baboon who learn a lesson about why stealing is never a good idea, and is based on the Shona African proverb Kukurukura hunge wapotswa, meaning roughly “you can only tell the tale once you have survived it”.
The book is written in both English and Priscilla’s native Shona, a way to offer another language to her grandchildren.
Sticky fingers in the African forest: Hare and Baboon learn a lesson about stealing. Photo: Isabella Anderson
Changing the narrative
Priscilla’s daughters helped to organise a virtual book tour across Sweden, Canada and South Africa, which gathered interest for her to come speak at schools around Stockholm. This new opportunity has allowed Priscilla to see first hand how children engage with the material.
A touching moment for Priscilla was when a boy in one of the classes later confessed to her that he had stolen something and, after reading her story, felt bad about it.
Other emotional moments for her have been seeing the pride in students of their own African heritage upon hearing the stories.
“I don’t think there were many times, many moments in their lives where they could sit in a room with different nationalities and talk about Africa with pride and joy. And to me, that really warmed my heart as well. Every child is seeing a part of yourselves in this simple story. And to me, that is all that matters.”
She places heavy importance on changing the narrative when speaking about Africa in the West.
“A lot of people in the West, when they hear about Africa … they see poverty, they see corruption, they see guns … they see all these things. And it is very easy to believe that that is all what Africa is about,” Priscilla says. Her books instead show the values she wants her grandchildren and others to associate with the region.
Priscilla has recently published her second book Bullfrog Outwits Sneaky Hare, and is also translating her first book to Swedish. More information about Priscilla can be found through her website and instagram @gogodiariessweden.
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