My Rosa Parks

If you’ve ever met my mother, then you already know just how incredibly powerful, true, hilarious, resilient, generous and how oh so lucky my brothers and I are to call her mother. Mom has always been a maven. That woman who beats to the beat of her own drum.

I used to wish there were more stories of my people in my textbooks in school… but then I realized how fortunate I am to be part of an oral story sharing culture. My mom has stories for days from all the lives she’s lived. She quite frankly is the best storyteller I have ever listened to – ever. Storytelling really is a superpower. Depending on the genre I feel like that day, I just ask her to tell me a story. She can engage you in funny and captivating story about a 2 minutes at the checkout line in the supermarket, a story that if narrated by anyone else would simply be a drowsy sentence or two. Mom’s always been an outgoing and vivacious character, also cheeky. One time while visiting Zimbabwe as a teen in the mid 90s, my cousin, Chenge who was a couple of years older than me, took me to the mall.  While goofing around with her, an older woman (or at least older to a teenager), waltzed up to me and stared then said,

“Your face looks very familiar… You look like a student of mine…”

“I don’t think so ma’am.” I awkwardly responded ” I don’t live here, so I’m afraid you might be confusing me with someone else.”

“Are you sure you don’t know Dorothee?”

“Oh my gosh!” I was stunned. “That’s my mom!” It turns out she was my mom’s grade 7 teacher.

“You are so beautiful like your mom… inga ato yarutsa. Tell her headmistress says hello and is proud of her.”

Being a third culture kid, I couldn’t stop grinning from the way I felt so intimately connected to my mom’s stories in that moment. After we started walking away, I whispered in Chenge’s ear,

“What did she mean by that last part?”

She laughed and said “It sort of means she’s proud of aunty for raising a good daughter like you… It’s difficult to translate.”

In hindsight, I think this was the first time I consciously realized I was my mother’s daughter.

All the people I’ve met who grew up with my mom always talked about how from an early age she was never a pushover. Because she was a last born (twin) and a girl in a Zimbabwean family of the 60s and 70s, you’d assume she would have a certain set of behavioural traits. For example, in the a typical Zimbabwean family, hierarchies are taken seriously. More than anything else, age is the ultimate determinator of ranking in the family and society as a whole. For example, if your older sibling tells you to do your homework, you must receive this directive as if it was coming from your parent. Same thing applies to your elders in general even when they aren’t your family. As there are other social privileges that come with age, there are of course of course burdens of responsibility, but that’s for another day…

Growing up, mom was definitely the person who wouldn’t just simply comply to rules, and would use her own discretion and sometimes mood to determine her response, which meant getting into trouble for disobedience. By the time she was a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, she had already well articulated the ground on which she wanted to stand on. She even got involved in the liberation movement and sang Chimurenga songs through to independence and beyond.

My parents divorced when I was a little girl and so I grew up with my mother. If you know anything about being a woman choosing divorce and divorcing amidst the socio-economic backdrop of Zimbabwe in the 80s, then I need not tell you how extremely socially and economically devastating it was for women. Like most if not all countries around the world, women have equally sacrificed their lives and served their people only to be ignored once the battle is won. She had to navigate the negative, primitive and condescending cultural attitudes the society had on single mothers, never the men which shamefully still exist everywhere in the world today. She also had to deal with the archaic laws at the time such as the law’s classification of divorced women as minors, or that children belong to their father vs their parents. Like many other nations, the women of Zimbabwe have since pushed out many of these out dated laws and continue to challenge others.

In spite of all this, she always hustled and kept conquering those unchartered galaxies while slaying the dragons along the way.

Prior to 1998 (a.k.a Google), the world was really small. Yes, Zimbabweans travelled, but pretty much only to neighbouring countries or to Harare North aka England. Zimbabwe’s Commonwealth status, which has since been revoked, meant most people travelling abroad, would be travelling to England. Mom tells me the story of how she saw an ad in the job classifieds section of the newspaper. It was looking an admin job for an international development bank that had set up offices in Bujumbura. She decided to go to the library, grabbed an atlas and looked for this place.

“I have no idea where that is, but the job looks good so I’m going to apply…” she thought.

And she did.

Weeks later she received a letter in the mail inviting her an in-person interview. She went to work the next day and told them she needed to take time of because of a family situation and off she went for her interview. She didn’t tell anyone about any of this, not even her family.

A few weeks after she returned, she received the job offer, quit her job in Harare and then told her family. Everyone tried to talk her out of this decision,

“Where is this country?”

“You don’t even have family there…”

“You can’t take the kids to a place like that…”

Being the defiant one, she still moved forward with her game plan. I’ve asked her about what on earth gave her that courage to go to such an unfamiliar place so far away from everything she’s ever known and she said “It’s because of you, my babies….I just knew I could provide you a better life this way…”. To her, providing the best life and experiences and protecting them from any harm for her was the driving force. She was also tired of being in a situation that wasn’t working for her.

Remember what I told you about some of those Zimbabwean laws in the 80s? At the time, only fathers could apply for passports for their children. Even though he wasn’t taking care of us, my father was refusing to sign those passport forms so mom had to go off to Burundi without us since she was starting her new job. Some time passed and through the most unbelievable way imaginable (which I’ll skip for now), she got us passports and out of the country!

Those my friends, are some of Dorothee’s superpowers. Of course there’s always to the story it’s not a book I’m writing here, it’s a blog post.

In her autobiography, My Story, Ms. Rosa Parks said:

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

Whenever I sit back and reflect, I’m always in awe of my mother’s undying ability to keep going against all odds… How she refuses to just sit and let life happen to her but stares it right in it’s crusty, moldy, greasy looking eyes and says “TRY ME.”

This woman continues to defy gravity by living life and on her own terms. She gave me life and gifted me the opportunities to learn, grow and play – a life that many children don’t get to have.

Our generation often gets blinkered by the present and forgets that once upon a time, there were no roads to even whine about traveling on. That multiple generations and worlds of our ancestral dynasties lived, dreamed and died for us to be able to have our today – we are their wildest dreams. My mom, like her mom, and her mom’s mom all paved, built and tested so many roads that I will never need to do worry about. They’re so cerebral that I sometimes don’t even notice them. Today she continues to inspire me every single day to dare to live whatever life I want to, because I can. So I try.

My mom is my Rosa Parks,
my Mbuya Nehanda,
my Funmilayo Ransome Kuti,
my Yaa Asantewa,
my Queen Nzinga,
My mom is #goals.

live and love,
ti.

PS: Who are your everyday female heroes? #MyRosaParks

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