Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day: Honoring African Women

One of my favorite childhood memories is that of a commercial for Geisha a popular bath soap in Zimbabwe. The spot was based on portraits of different scenes from a day in the life of a Zimbabwean mother. It showed her jubilantly waking her kids, preparing them for school, and sending them off on their way in the morning. Then as the day progressed the mother was shown going to the shops to pick up groceries for the evening meal and going to the well to replenish the family's water supply. As the day came to a close, the children are seen coming back home followed by their father. And like the dutiful mother she is, the mother serves a sumptous meal to her appreciative family. All this while the mother's face is brightened by a smile stretching from ear to ear. The commercial ended with a voice over done by a man saying, "Geisha, it lasts and lasts like a mothers smile."

In my older years as I've remnisced on this commercial and the many fond memories I have of my mother from my childhood, the mother's smile has taken on a special meaning to me. It has become a symbol of the Zimbabwean mother's unmatched and joyful commitment to her family. There are no better mothers than Zimbabwean women who will gladly do anything they can to provide the best for their families often at steep costs to themselves.

Growing up at a mission hospital in the outskirts of the country, I have watched many women chart their way through their own miraculous odysseys in my short life time. I think of stories like that of Ambuya vaSekai (Sekai's Grandma), an old lady in her sixties whom I met well past her prime but with a heart and resolve bigger than the realities of her fragile body.

Ambuya vaSekai, or "Gogo" as she's affectionately known, had her children a long time ago. So it was no small surprise when I discovered not one, not two, but five young children grappling for Gogo's attention when I arrived at her humble homestead several days ago. Of the five, Sekai, the oldest was only six. That's the oldest! One can be forgiven for thinking Gogo lived with at least two other people to take care of her and the young children I she apparently lived with. Alas, I learned there was no such thing; this homestead consisted of one grandma and her five grandchildren. That's it. With her husband long dead, this elderly woman is performing extraordinarily well at the task of raising her grandchildren.

Like you, I too wondered what became of the children's parents or Gogo's children.
"Mzukuru (grandson)," ambuya intoned, her voice breaking up as the emotion welled up inside of her, "upenyu hwakaoma (life is hard). Vaurikuona ava ndivo vatova vana vangu (the infants you're looking at now my children). Vangu vekuzvara vasopera kare, amai vaChipo kadikidiki aka karimumaoko angu takavaviga pasina kana negore rese (All my offspring have long since died, you see Chipo over here, we buried her mom less than a year ago)."
Chipo was no more than ten months old and Gogo was all the mother she seemed to recognize. Sure enough, twice during the four hours I sat there listening to Gogo recounting to me how all her children had succumbed to AIDS leaving her with the mammoth task of becoming an infant parent again, she suckled Chipo on her long dry breast. It seemed to work, the little girl seemed to be content at to have this close an imitation of her mother's milk.

I asked Gogo if it was hard for to go back to washing nappies (daipers) and she answered in the affirmative. When I queried whether she ever was bitter about having to raise two sets of children, she quickly cut me off proclaiming, "Nzou hairemerwi nenyanga dzayo (an elephant is burdened by it's own tusks)." She was more than happy to do it.

Then there's twelve year old Stella one of the youngest among the ranks of the Zimbabwe's many heroic women. Stella has had to grow up much faster than most of her agemates around the world. Both her parents were died of AIDS leaving behind Stella and her two sibblings. With Zimbabwe's economy failing as it has for most of Stella's life, none of her parents relatives have been keen on takingthe responsibility of providing a home for Stella and her two brothers. Left with no other choice but to either grow up or perish, Stella has become the head of her reconstituted family. Wrong as it maybe, she's doing it happily.

I could tell countless stories of many Zimbabwean women who have been the backbones of their families often staying at home in the rural areas to raise the children and manage the family's subsitence farming while the men go off to the cities to seek employment. It's not easy to juggle the tasks of being a part time single parent, part time household head, full time mother, and on demand lover.

Worst of all is how many of these loyal hardworking heroines are paid back by the very same men who are supposed to protecting and nurting them: infidelity, beatings, sexual abuse and many an infection with the deadly HIV virus.

On this day as the world takes time to commemorate invaluable virtue and contributions of women to humanity I just want to publicly salute my Zimbabwean and African grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters. Without your patient, steadfast and unending love, I don't know where we would be as a nation and a people.

Thank you all. Here's hoping someone lets you know how much they appreciate all you do on this Women's Day.

To all fellow men now is the time to rally by our women. In the words of Jonah K. Gokova the founder and chairperson of Padare Zimbabwe's men's forum on gender equality:

Men of Quality are Not Afraid of Equality! — Real Men Do Not Abuse Women!
**Other bloggers honoring African Women today include: AfroMusing; Uaridi ; Rombo ; Mshairi ; Harare Diary; This is Zimbabwe; 007 in Africa; Adefunke ; Pilgrimage to Self; Ore ; Soul on Ice; ET! Weichegud; Black Looks; Au Lait; Nyakehu; Sisioge; Guessaurus; Feminist African Sisters; and Jangbalajugbu Homeland Stories.**

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