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It Is Never Too Late to Pivot: Meet Angela Rugara, A Former Health Worker Who Became a Poet at 67 Years of Age

Angela Rugara holding one of her books 'Emotional Evolution'. Photo : Tafadzwa Rugari

Angela Rugara aka “Pikitayi the Poet” is a 70-year-old former health worker taking the poetry world by storm.

By Mandy Kanyemba, bird Story Agency

If 70 is an age at which one can really slow down and look back on a life well-lived, someone forgot to inform Angela Chirenda Rugara.

After a long career in health, as a nurse, midwife, and psychiatrist, she is about to launch her third anthology of poems, after publishing her first in 2019. A compilation of short stories is next on her list.

“Age is just but a number. The sky should not limit anyone. One needs to be ambitious,” said the woman who has managed to rise to the top in everything she has chosen to pursue in life and is now known as “Pikitayi the Poet”.

“I was a leader in top management in all my jobs. Every job I held was challenging. I needed to juggle many things, including resource mobilisation, managing people, finances, and property,” said Rugara, from her home in the small town of Norton, some 50km from Harare.

The modern house in a quiet neighbourhood of the town has expansive grounds with a rock garden and a beautifully manicured green lawn. This is clearly a woman who ploughs passion and determination into all she does.

Having turned 70 in January 2022, Rugara shows no sign of slowing down, despite working since she was 19 and starting as a nurse in 1971 before advancing to midwifery. During this time, she delivered over 350 babies.

A newfound passion

Now, after a successful stint as a humanitarian, her newfound passion has meant she has had to start again from scratch and time it is she who is regarded as a “baby” in her newfound vocation.

“At 67, I was motivated by Takudzwa Chikepe aka VaChikepe, the poet who shared his poetry with me. This encouraged me to start writing; I had always loved poetry and quotations but never dreamt of writing my pieces until then,” Rugara said, referring to the Zimbabwean poet who in 2021, became the first African to win the Mutabaruka Award in the International Reggae & Word Music Awards (IRAWMA) in Jamaica.

Chikepe is perhaps best known as the founder of the reggae group VaChikepe The Poet and The 100 Sailors. He is also the founder of VaChikepe and The International Sailors Affiliate, a movement grooming more than 200 inspiring artists and poets around the world.

“She is a ‘unique baby’ who matured faster than the grown-ups already in the Big Ship,” said Dr Thembie Tanya, secretary and content production director of The Sailors Review Newsletter.

Starting out as a writer

In June 2019, Rugara started writing. She wrote a couple of poems and sent them to Chikepe.

“His comments were extremely encouraging, and that was the beginning. I haven’t stopped since,” Rugara recalled.

“I was so engrossed in poetry and with VaChikepe’s help as my publisher, determined to publish a book a year later,” she added.

According to Chikepe, working with Rugara has been a fantastic journey; a blessing.

“She teaches you life as you teach her art and poetry,” he said.

“I added her to my poetry groups, taught her what poetry is and the poetry in her came out,” Chikepe adds.

“In art, age doesn’t matter. We want more adult artists who sing Hip Hop, Reggae, and R &B; similarly, we want many young people who can sing Chimurenga music and country music. Now that is art,” he continued.

Her published works

Her first book, Emotional Revolution, published in June 2020 is a collection of poems that seeks to show emotional growth experienced not only by Rugara but by a stranger walking alone, a friend who misses a loved one, a mother who believes in internalising emotions. They are “true-life stories which I turn into poetry,” Rugara explained.

“As people read the anthology, they find themselves and learn to express their feelings civilly. Most of the poems are akin to advise from our traditional best ‘aunt/uncle’ we all yearn for in our African society,” she continued, speaking with a passion and demeanour that belied her age. She is also not daunted by technology.

“When I do my poetry work, I write on my phone from everywhere and anywhere, but I am inspired when at home relaxing.”

“ I love it here because it gives me the quietness and serenity I need to think, create and write my poems,” she said.

Her work on different platforms

Her second anthology, Sahara Rose, published in July 2021, is about strength, joy, anger, and peace.  The same year, the Bridgewater Poetry Festival, a USA-based YouTube platform for poets, featured Rugara in its International Spoken Word Poet category, where her work attracted the highest number of reads. She also featured on a Jamaican YouTube podcast, the Real Stuff Caribbean Podcast.

“That was a nerve-wracking opportunity, but I am glad it came when it did. I was pushed to learn spoken poetry which VaChikepe took me through. I was grilled like a piece of tough rump steak—which I am, I guess. My confidence was in just writing, so I had to learn fast, and I am still learning,” she added with a laugh.

During a recent appearance as a special guest in an online event hosted by Mwana Events in April 2022, Rugara was again able to showcase her talent. Among the performers was internationally renowned dub poet, Ras Takura. He was amazed at how much Rugara had “grown”, in such a short space of time.

Rugara’s ambition is to have her poetry embraced by the Zimbabwean education system and used in the country’s English curriculum.

“She is an amazing short story writer, somebody who is willing to learn and never shies away from art, as long as she feels up to it. She makes us at VaChikepe and the 100 Sailors proud. Indeed, we are blessed to have ‘Pikitayi: The Poet’ sailing with us in the Big Ship,” Tanya said.

Angela Rugara’s advice to other would-be poets and writers?

“Be original and speak your heart. Read other people’s writings and write your thoughts.”

Also read: ‘You’re Never Too Old, Never Too Late and Never Too Broken to Do Whatever It Is That You Want to Do’, Captain Nyambura Gathuru on Self-Reinvention

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