On the 8th of March my mum passed onto higher glory after a long illness. My life has not been the same ever since. I have been in deep mourning since then and I keep on saying to myself surely, I am getting better but one memory jolt and tears come back uncontrollably. It’s been painful. I am not writing this as a form of closure- no I don’t want to close off memories of my mother. Instead I want to reflect on some life lessons that I have learnt ever since.
My mother belongs to that group of African women who sacrificed everything including their health just to ensure that their children went to school. She was only 36 when my father passed away and from that day in 1988 her responsibility was to look after 6 children- I was only in form one and my older sister was doing her form two. The rest were either in primary school or infants. I am not sure how Mama accomplished it but she pulled it off-we turned out ok I think.
Mama did not have any formal job training. She was mostly a cross-border trader selling whatever she could in Botswana to purchase small electronics such as radios and TVs (which were in high demand in Zimbabwe) and other household items for resale in the mining towns of Zimbabwe. It was not easy at times as customers, like in any other petty trade venture would not pay on time and it would adversely affect her plans. I remember that our home was nearly repossessed because of outstanding utility bills more than twice- but she soldiered on. There were countless times when I was behind on school fees but instead of removing me from the expensive school-she would say ‘it was your father’s wish for you to be there’ and as far as she was concerned that settled the matter. My siblings can tell a better story because being at boarding school I only saw bits of what was going on when I was home for holidays. But no doubt it wasn’t easy.
One thing I remember vividly though, was that my mother could conjure a meal literally out of nothing. You would have looked in the cupboard and found nothing but she would just come in and put together something (not necessarily nice) but it kept us going. Yes, there were days we wished for more but also understood that she was trying her level best. It was not just about meals- it also had to do with our clothing, school fees etc. For instance we never knew if we would get new clothes for Christmas, at times we did but most times we didn’t. But, we grew up and today, I have the luxury to reflect about her life through a blog- instead of being stuck in some rural village engaged in some physical work for survival-thanks to her tenacity.
Sacrificial Giving: Mama belonged to a school of thought that probably defines African philanthropy- you do not give because you have, but instead, you give because there is a need. She had the six of us to worry about- but I do not recall a time when it was just the six of us in our home. We always had other cousins, aunts and uncles living with us. It was part of her nature just to take on more responsibilities. Nowadays we worry about where people will sleep, eat, etc but back in the day I don’t think she worried much about that. I was moved at the funeral when I saw some of the cousins, uncles and aunts that I had last seen over a decade ago come and pay their last respects.
Some of the petty fights I had with my mother had to do with how she would quickly redistribute the few goodies/groceries that one would have brought her to her numbers and other relatives. It always seemed absurd at that time but now I have come full circle-my mother’s life was never just about her but it revolved around others. She also struggled when she saw how, as her children, we were failing to take care of each other. In as much as I tried to explain to her how my sisters were now married people my mother still felt that I was obliged to support-we differed in approach but now I realise her position/philosophy is much more superior. She was not consumed by things- she quickly shared whatever she had.
Faith– Mama was a woman of faith. No I am not just saying it because she went to church. She lived byfaith-how else could she have raised six and taken us out of the ghetto. Her dependence on God through a lifestyle of prayer, fasting, studying the word (she used to call it ‘soko’-the word) and being in different church services is legendary. In everything my mother either saw good or evil-and in her latter days was struggling with trusting anyone beyond her own children. Who is to fault her given the upbringing she had where all misfortune was explained through witchcraft. Back to her faith- she believed that her children would amount to something significant and invested time praying for each one of them. I am not surprised that 3 of my siblings are directly involved in pastoral work and church leadership-where else could they go?
My mother’s belief in God was not based on some notions of good but it was deep and practical. She read the Bible every morning and if there is anything to takeaway from this it was her devotion to scriptures and deep conviction about a God who can bless and turn around lives. She will always be credited for single-handedly raising six children but she always gave all the credit to God. I remember vividly when I traveled with her to Rhodes University for my graduation and my PhD supervisor was very excited to meet her and explain about my academic journey- to every positive remark he said about me, my mother would say ‘thank you Jesus’. It was a bit embarrassing but she saw the Lord in everything.
According to my sister she had asked God to spare her life until she sees my own children (faith again). When she was getting physically weak she confided that maybe she is dying because she asked God to allow her to see my kids and now that she had seen them maybe it was her time; very sad indeed but that was her faith. In her reasoning she was getting what she asked for.
Encourager– Mama was an encourager extraordinaire, she could zero into that one thing that is working in one’s life and edify it. I have gone through career upheavals like many others and at times talking to her without mentioning all the details helped a lot. In fact I missed her by a day- I had just returned from Dakar and was about to tell her about a major career decision (more of that in another blog post) but sadly I never got the chance to talk to her.
Fearless– my mother experienced hardship too early in her life to be intimidated. She taught us (not through speaking) but by being a role model on how to confront power be it in the form of tradition
(patriarchy) or modern day bureaucracy. I was always surprised by how she would challenge tradition especially when they sought to deploy it against her. Earlier on when our father had died-uncles and aunts just assumed that she would leave her Bulawayo home to go and live in the rural areas. That was not to be and many swore not to help her because of that decision and the same people today are celebrating the decision she took to educate her children. She negotiated herself out of many tough spots just because she could stand her ground.
Yes, I celebrate my mother’s life but I also have deep regrets. I keep on hearing compliments that we did well but I strongly believe that I could have done more. One of my deepest regrets is that I could have and I should have spent more quality time with her. I was just too busy attending to my work. Was it worth it then- all those long hours away from her bedside. To imagine that I even agreed to have a board meeting when she was due for a major operation, is painful. Had I not, I would have been able to accompany my mother on that fateful Tuesday when she went for the operation, from which she never returned to walk on this earth again. I have learnt a lot just about the decisions I made concerning that week and would need a fresh blog to elaborate them.
I cherish every moment I spent with her but I deeply regret the petty arguments that I had with her which honestly could have been resolved instead of having this as a cloud over my life. If only I could turn back the hands of time!