I am writing to you from Zimbabwe via ‘poached’ cellular signals, WhatsApp, and paper.

By Progress Mwareya

Growing up, I would have never thought my writering’s life would change from paper to electronic screen and then back to paper. I am a Progressed Mwareya. I live in Chimanimani, Rusitu district in Vhumisai Village under Chief Ngorima in east Zimbabwe, right on the border with the republic of Mozambique.

I am a writer without a laptop and have never owned one. I write on paper, on WhatsApp and use ‘poached’ mobile broadband signals. I pass the draft to an editor in the city with instructions to contact editors who are located tens thousands of miles away from Europe or the US – like RAEs in Goat Pol.

I have written for the Reuters using my very ‘traditional’ way that perhaps a writer in Seoul, Johannesburg or Berlin with a Dell or IBM laptop might think it’s ‘ineffective, outdated or unthinkable in 2022’.                         Before you feel pity for my situation – I don’t feel poor, I feel like a writer.

In this modern world, which we are living, technology is being upgraded accordingly. If you’re in London, Tokyo, Paris and you are a writer, I am sure you would assume that ICT gadgets are making work and life easy everywhere – desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets.

That’s an inaccurate assumption to make as my unlikely journey as a writer shall tell you. I have been a ‘serious’ writer since 2017, but I have never been able to afford a computer and so I started by writing professionally with pen and paper in Chimanimani, east Zimbabwe. Did I feel inferior, that I was doing it on pen and paper in 2018, while much of the writing world was hooked on laptops? Not at all.

Then came Chinese made cheap smartphones (the Gtels), which became popular here in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, then finally writers like me could afford a $50 China-made Gtel smartphone (not really ‘smart’) but almost ‘smartphone anyway”.

At last, too, I moved from the generation of writing exclusively using papers and pen, to storing information on digital servers. But again, to fully adopt digital writing, email was needed.

I did not know how to open or use email in my life, I must admit. Until an uncle abroad in 2018 showed me instructions on how to open a Gmail account, insisting “it’s going to be the most important account of your life.”

Again, I didn’t feel bad by being a 32-year-old writer, but yet unable to use an email in 2018 or now. I remember at a writer’s retreat sponsored by Thomson Reuters Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was my first time in Africa’s most glittering city, Johannesburg, it was my first time in an airplane, it was my first time sleeping in a hotel – and it was my first time to use Gmail.

I was in the midst of writers from all over Africa, journalists who had contributed to publications like Newsweek and they were hunched on their laptops taking notes from facilitators. I was typing on my $50 Chinese-made ‘’but I felt at home as a fellow writer from a prestigious publication, who properly showed me how to hook onto Wi-fi and open and interact with Gmail. I loved Gmail so much and got hooked on its features. I know this is laughable to some writers elsewhere because – well – Gmail is ‘just a goddamn email’.

Chimanimani, where I live, is one of Zimbabwe’s most underdeveloped rural districts. For broadband internet ‘3G’ via mobile cellphone towers, we rely on signals from Netone, Zimbabwe’s state cellphone agency. But our country’s mobile signals are so weak that we ‘poach’ signals from Mozambique, a neighboring country, whose cell phone towers relay faster LTE networks. Thus, I am a writer with no laptop and writing on ‘poached’ foreign cell phone signals to contact editors.

However, although I have moved my writing to cellular phone, I still heavily use pen and paper to draft ideas, write the meat of stories, send by WhatsApp to a mentor in the city and get them to edit my draft and properly format for an editor and get them to send my writing via my Gmail account. I have tried to download Office Word on my $50 ‘smartphone’ but the software is weighty and wobbles on my limited ‘smartphone’, so typing by WhatsApp and sending it to an editor in the city, who then transmits my work to an editor via Gmail is super-helpful for me.

I wonder what will happen to me one day when I have saved enough to buy a laptop that can host a full range of software like Word and web Gmail. I don’t think I’d like a laptop as a writer one day because I’m so used to that romantic situation of being one of the diminishing writers who use WhatsApp, pen and paper to write stories and connect with editors via a $50 ‘smartphone’. A laptop will take away the ‘romanticism’ of this from me. I don’t want a laptop – but I may want a writer’s laptop someday.

24 October, 2022