When Kay and Thandie first asked me to write about Zimbabwe, I was excited, proud even, to share my love for my country and my people. Though my excitement soon turned to dread as I thought, “how can I do justice to a country that I had not lived in for fifteen years?”.
Similarly to Thandie, my father’s job took our family away from Zimbabwe when I was young. We lived in Botswana, Nigeria and eventually settled in South Africa. I have lived most of my life outside of Zimbabwe yet have never felt that Zimbabwe was too far from me. My mother, my aunts and the women in my life passed down Zimbabwe through practice and creed. My identity as a Zimbabwean woman is a reflection of these women, who represented to me an ideal of exceptional Zimbabwean womanhood.
In the Shona language, the words we have for ‘aunt directly translate as ‘older mother’ or ‘younger mother’, depending on their relation to your parents. In many senses, besides etymology, they are an extension of your mother. The English word ‘aunt’ does not truly reflect the deepness of the connection.
And it is from all my mothers that I learnt what it is to be a successful woman.
They set an inspiring example as entrepreneurs, distinguished intellectuals, and pillars of their respective communities. More than anything, however, their love for each other proves that an African woman can have it all- without tearing down other women or compromising her integrity- we all could benefit from learning that.
My mother was an actress, teacher, pastor, and scholar. She particularly was responsible for teaching me what it meant to take pride in where I came from. She read me stories of great Zimbabwean activists before bedtime, and told me to be myself, that for my ‘Zimbabweaness’ alone I was already unique. She encouraged me to express my heritage in my writing, art, style, and even in my research-to become a walking articulation of where I come from.
My ‘grandmothers’ are also to me more than what this term denotes. As with ‘aunts’, your grandparents’ siblings are also your grandparents, extending you familial system to your great-aunts and great-uncles and beyond and my grandmothers played a practical role in teaching me what it means to be a Shona woman. Gogo Wazara, my father’s mother, handed down to me a proficiency in sweeping and bed making and the gift of storytelling. My maternal grandmother, Gogo Esther, taught me the skill of conversation and the integral art of tea making.
I was fortunate enough to know all four of my great grandmothers and I know what I mean when I say that there is wealth in knowledge. Their collective life experience is a rich volume of Zimbabwean history including a tumultuous civil war and the story of our liberation. While their struggle may always remain a mystery to me, that they were able to see generations of their family, the fruit of their labour for freedom, makes my heart swell with love and humility.
There is a temptation to be insecure about the fact that I have been so long away from Zimbabwe but I was brought up to know that Zimbabweans carry our country with us and we share it with others. I am Zimbabwean because of the instruction, guidance and nurturing of those who call me their own and who I call mine.