Whoa-Maan! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called Woman. That is the reason why man cannot be separated from woman because she was taken out of man. Our entrance into this world is inseparably tied to a woman hence our mothers will always hold a special place in our hearts especially if our introduction to this world was followed by a loving relationship with them. It is the 9th of August 2019 which is also known as Woman’s Day in South Africa so I would like to honour some of the women who’ve given of themselves to make me the man that I am today.
The first lady I would like to honour is my grandmother who I affectionately called uMama until the day of her passing in July 2009. She lived such a large life, full of love and dedicated to serving others that her life lived before my eyes became my definition of leadership. She loved people and she served them mainly through her teaching. She was a teacher by profession but her teaching was not limited to the school curriculum.
I spent many Saturdays with her seated on the floor at the living room coffee table while she was preparing for her upcoming classes for the following week simultaneously teaching me how to read, write and to use a pair of scissors. As a result of this experience with her, I now do the same thing with my sons. When I was in grade 4 she taught me how to study. When there was a test due, she would make me study in one of the bedrooms while she, my granddad and the rest of the family were seated in the living room watching TV. In order to ensure I was studying in the room and not playing, she made me read the material out loud so she could hear me from the living room. My first test result after using this method was 84% at which she quipped – “uyabo’, indlela opasa ngayo xa ufundiswa ndim” (loosely translated, you see how well you do when you study my way). So it was settled, I would read aloud every time I studied until I finished matric. When I went to boarding school in grade 8 the volume became a whisper so that I could still hear my voice and not disturb the other students in prep too much. 4 years ago I discovered that reading out loud was a good way of practicing public speaking so I appreciated my gran’s approach even more because I realized I had been developing the skill of public speaking since grade 4.
As I grew older, there’s nothing I loved more than listening to my gran. From the moment I would walk in and greet her, she would start talking and I would listen for hours on end. I miss our conversations the most. Another thing l loved about her was her hustle and grind. One of the many things she said to me in my adult life that stuck with me was – “nimathile! ukuba bendina lamathuba ninawo, ngedi kude” (loosely translated, if I had the opportunities you guys have…….). This was coming from a woman who was a founding member of two junior secondary schools (one in Welkom and the other eMthatha) and a pre-school eMthata!
On the 14th of February 2009 I got engaged to my wife and in April my gran visited our place for the first time as she had come up to Joburg for my uncles 50th birthday celebrations. After I showed her around the place, we shared a cup of coffee. As she reflected on mine and one of my cousins (eldest granddaughter) achievements at that point (careers, homes, spouses and my cousins children), she then asked “Ndisaphilela ntoni” (loosely translated, “What more does one have to live for”? )I was silent as I realized my gran was ready to meet her creator and as much as I wanted to tell her that we needed her and we were not ready to let her go, I couldn’t bring that up and ruin the peace she had as she shared that thought. That was the last time I would see her alive. All in all, I am grateful that I had her as my grandmother and the pattern she laid now continues with my sons and their grandmother.
The second lady on the list is my mother, who affectionately calls me uToto (her little one). She’s been very intentional about my transition from being her ‘little one’ to becoming someone’s husband. For example, when my sister was moving to Johannesburg she was adamant about my sister getting her own place so that my wife and I would not have somebody else living with us as we adapted to living together. She welcomed my wife with an open heart into her family. When she is asked how many children she has, my wife and my sister-in-law are included in the count. When I was 14 she noticed I had an interest in girls so she told me two things, one – don’t ever date an older woman because she’ll try to mold you into the man who wouldn’t have broken her heart. Second, the only girlfriend of mine she would meet is the one I was going to marry because meeting any other girl other than the one I was going to marry would open the door of comparison which will not be good for the woman that I do marry. I took her advice and never dated an older woman and only introduced her to my wife.
I have always loved the fact that I have a young mom – she’s only 20 years older than me but now I realize what has made her young is that she has a young heart and a great passion and love for people. She knew at an early age that she would grow up to be a social worker when she realized at the age of 9 how a different type of shoe can enable a person who’s handicapped to gain their personal power back and greater independence. In her teens she used every opportunity she had where she could help someone who was in need. For example when a friend of hers was going through a very rough patch with her abusive father she organized for her friend to stay with her and my grandparents as things cooled over or when she organized for my granddad to buy a classmate a pair of school shoes every year in high school until they matriculated rather than have a friend go to school barefoot. An eye for spotting people in need and finding a way to meet that need is something she started in her teens and now has continued into her sixties.
My mom was very good at re-affirming my good behaviour and when she affirmed something I wasn’t aware of that helped me develop a great sense of self awareness at a very young age. One such occasion is when she was in conversation with her friends and my brother and I were playing within hearing distance of their conversation and she mentioned that my brother and I had no comparison or competitive issues between us and I enjoyed something bought for my brother as if it was bought for me.
I also learnt from her that a detailed response is required whenever I’m in conversation with a woman. The incident that etched this in my mind is when my dad and I drove to Qumbu to go tow a car back to eMthatha. So naturally when we got back my mom asked my dad how the trip was and my dad responded- akhonto ibitheni (loosely translated, uneventful). Since I was right there, my mom turned to me and asked – Toto, belunjani uhambo lwenu? And I didn’t waste anytime getting into my field report- on our way there, we were stopped by the traffic cops because dad was speeding and this made him furious, we eventually got the car and the guy who was helping dad tow the car kept on slamming the breaks too hard which broke the rope a couple of times which infuriated my dad even further but they eventually figured it out and here we are. And my mom turned to my dad and said now that’s an appropriate answer to the question how was your trip. But now that I am a husband and a father, I totally get why at times the best answer is the shortest and I imagine my dad was thinking to himself as I rambled on – ‘you’ll get it one day’.
Up next is my nanny who arrived at my grandparents place when I was 6 months old and would spend the next 32 years with us. She was part of the family. She was not just my nanny- she was a playmate and a friend, a confidant. When I grew up I didn’t have a nursery but I shared a room with my nanny and she would read the Xhosa bible to me before I went to sleep most nights. I remember the first time I attended her church on one Sunday morning. It was eventful- there was singing, dancing in a circle to the beat of the drums and everybody wore the same outfit. So when I got back to my grandparents place everyone was interested in how I had found church that morning. My simple answer was – ndinesiyezi (I’m dizzy) and I slept for most of the afternoon exhausted from the dancing. Towards the tail end of 2010 shortly after she had witnessed the start of my marriage she became very ill so when she was hospitalized in early January 2011 I flew from Joburg to eMthatha to see her. I arrived late on Friday so on Saturday morning my mom, her two sisters and I went to the hospital to pay my nanny a visit. She was visibly excited when she saw us walk into the ward but that moment could not hide the pain and suffering she was going through. It was hardly an hour after we had left the hospital that my mom received the call to inform her that she had passed on. I am grateful to God for giving me one last moment to see her before He ended her pain and suffering.
When my wife was pregnant with our first born we started thinking about the kind of nanny we required to help us raise our son. My wife also had a very similar experience with her nanny as I had with mine so we were clear that we were looking for someone who would create that kind of a relationship with our son. We were in agreement of the kind of person we were looking for so my wife had the honour of doing the interviews and selecting a nanny for our son.
She started 6 weeks after our son was born and I got to meet her that evening after I got home from work. It was apparent very early on that she was good with children and that she was developing a deep affection for our son. One of the first things that amazed me about her was that she spoke non-stop whenever she was with our son except when he was sleeping. My wife and I were taking bets with each other about how soon our son would start talking as a result of his interaction with her.
It is now six years later and she has become a member of our family. Now she’s the nanny to our two boys and they’re both besotted with her (our sons are 3 years and 5 days apart) and they affectionately call her Lolo. Recently our nanny took a 2 week break and my wife and sons went to go drop her off at Park Station and it was very tough for my oldest son saying goodbye to her for a whole two weeks that he cried all the way home that day. So when her break was over and I went to go pick her up at Park Station while my wife took our boys to school, our youngest says to his older brother, ‘Lolo is back but no crying when you see her okay’. One of the best things about Lolo is that she said she would only accept her job as our nanny only if we would give her Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. She is devoted to the Methodist church and her Saturday afternoons and Sundays are dedicated to the Lord and His church. I say this is the best thing about her because firstly, she is serving the Lord and secondly, her condition of employment created the right environment for us to grow into our roles as new parents by spending time with our son and start building a family culture that is suitable for raising young and maturing souls. By the time our second son came along, spending the amount of time we spend together was second nature. Without the environment created by her condition of employment, we wouldn’t be calling our family the Awesome Foursome (and when Lolo is around, it’s the Fantastic Five). It’s an amazing blessing having Lolo as part of our family because she loves our boys as her own and she gives my wife and I priceless support as we continue to build our young family.
A woman gives life and colour to everything she touches – buy a house together and she makes it a home, buy some groceries and she makes a meal, tell her an idea and she transforms it into a vibrant and elaborate vision. What is your favorite memory about a woman who’s played or is currently playing a pivotal role in your life?