First published in 2000 by Heinmann, Binwell Sinyangwe’s A Cowrie of Hope tells the story of Nasula and her daughter Sula. Having been treated like dirt by her husband and his relatives, the only thing Nasula craves is proper education for her daughter. This she believes would give her freedom, emancipation, and independence from men.
Widowed not long after marrying, Nasula is kicked out by her husband’s relatives and left to fend for herself and her daughter. But throughout her troubles, she never gives up her dreams for her daughter. Nonetheless, these are difficult times, as Nasula observes:
‘These were the nineties. The late nineties. They were lean years. They were the years of each person for himself and hope only under the shadow of the gods.’
At one point, Nasula suffers a major setback that threatens to crush her dream, when the rains fail and, as a result, she cannot plant crops. Even the odd jobs she takes on fail to generate enough money. Thus, in a dilemma, she decides to approach her dead husband’s relatives, reasoning that they would help since, at least, the child was theirs. On getting there she finds them in a position worse than her own. However, help comes in the form of a friend, Nalukwi, who encourages her to go to the city to sell her last bag of beans at the market.
As fate would have it, Nasula’s hopes are dashed yet again, when a conman, posing as a buyer, robs her of the beans. Pretending to be a buyer, and after asking her to place the beans in his car, the man escapes without paying her. After futile attempts to find the conman, whose name she has found out, Nafula decides to head back home – dejected beyond measure at what she describes as ‘the death of hope’.
On the way though, she changes her mind and returns to the city to find Gode Silavwe, the thief who stole her bag of beans. And, after spending a week sleeping in market stalls, eating once a day and not bathing, she finally finds him. But Silavwe denies ever having met Nafula.
The two end up at a police station, where Silavwe is able to bribe his way out. Undaunted, Nafula finds her way to the head of the station and reports the incident, leading to a dramatic turn of events.
A Cowrie of Hope is a good book which talks about the pains, trials, and sacrifices a mother makes to ensure that her children succeed, and do not make the same mistakes or poor choices she made. It is a story of courage, resilience, hope, and an undying faith that no matter what hardships one faces, a way out almost always presents itself.