As I am writing this, it is exactly ten days since the passing of the Tanzanian veteran journalist Gabriel Pereira Mgaya, known as Gabby Mgaya. I was recently in Tanzania, an exciting time, to see my family after two years. I would have called Mr. Mgaya (in Tanzania, we do not address our elders by first name) once in the country, but I kept my distance and now regret it. He died on 6 January 2022, a day before I traveled back to Germany, and I was not aware. Today, my father sent me a message that Mr. Mgaya passed about a week ago.
In February 2021, after a long time I wrote him to ask how he was doing. He responded by admitting he was not the same after the passing of his wife. My subsequent attempts to contact him were met with silence. I learned to respect his grieving space and hoped I would again be allowed to be his daughter in writing one day.
Our first encounter was through Facebook. Mr. Mgaya contacted me in October 2013. He asked me to write an author profile article for the Tanzanian national newspaper, the Daily News. My reaction was disbelief and gratitude, and I agreed. I was not aware he was one of my followers, and it was an honor to be recognized by a veteran like him. Like Archangel Gabriel, the patron saint of those who work in communication careers, such as journalists and writers, he appeared in my writing life as my guardian angel. Perhaps he was unaware of this, but he lived up to the reputation of his archangel namesake.
That first article he asked for appeared with an error in the title, with my surname appearing as Gonzalvez, not Gonsalves. He was disappointed at whoever made that mistake. I saw a committed professional, and careless mistakes had no room in his work.
One time, I was visiting my native country Tanzania. While I was in Zanzibar, he wrote me, “Can you do a story on the charms of buibui (the Islamic veil) for us?” My immediate reaction was, “How could I do that as a Catholic?” But in Tanzanian culture, we respect and obey our elders. Born and raised in Tanzania, I knew the country is rich in religious diversity, where Muslims and Christians co-exist peacefully. I respected his request and wrote an article after seeking information from a local guide. It was an enriching and learning experience. Mr. Mgaya knew very well that his trust would propel me to write. He was at my disposal to teach me how to write eloquent newspaper articles. I would not have considered the subject, but he ably guided me there.
Through more article requests, Mr. Mgaya continued to unleash my writing potential. He encouraged me to submit articles for the Daily News’ specialized pull-out “Woman Magazine.” I wrote on varied subjects: women’s health, education, beauty, fashion, and culture. As a diasporan, I gained a new perspective and knowledge about my native country and refined my writing skill. Looking back, he was a father keeping his daughter close at home through written stories.
From a stranger I met on Facebook to “Daddy,” who cheered on my writing, our relationship grew with mutual respect and care. He would read my submissions and write back short and sweet lines:
“Thanks, Gloria. I just finished reading the article. I find it a good piece. Daddy.”
“Thanks, dear daughter. I have received the article and pictures.”
“I might have copied to you twice or thrice; forgive this computer-illiterate ‘mzee’ if that has been the case.”
“I have received your good article — and photos. Thank you and keep the home fires burning. Baba”
In 2013, he retired from the national newspaper, the Daily News. We still kept in touch.
In 2018, Mr. Mgaya contacted me again for articles. He was back in the media industry as Managing Editor of Business Times Tanzania. I recall telling him that I was not qualified to write for them, and he encouraged me to try. One November issue, I was introduced as a writer for the column WOMAN UNLIMITED, highlighting women’s entrepreneurship opportunities and skills.
The sweet and short lines continued:
“I appreciate your contribution to Daddy’s newspaper.”
Thanks, my dear daughter. I have received your piece — in one piece!
“Stay blessed with hubby and our little one.”
After three months of writing for the Business Times column, I couldn’t keep up due to childcare responsibilities. I stopped submitting, but we stayed in touch. Then parenting took over, and I remained silent for a long time. Last year, I had a gut feeling something was not right. I contacted Mr. Mgaya and learned that his wife had passed away. He admitted to keeping a low profile since losing his beloved and found himself in isolation. However, his children (he referred to them as my siblings) helped him get through, and he was back to work. That was our last communication. To learn now that he was in his final days of life while I was recently in the country is painful and regretful.
Thank you, Daddy dearest. I have not had a family member who cheered and prompted me through my calling as a writer like you did. We never met in person, but we did in writing. I hope this final submission meets your approval, and I promise to keep writing and make you proud.
Daddy, our veteran journalist, rest in the abundance of beautiful written and verbal blessings.
Asante sana. Pumzika kwa amani Baba.