My supervisor, the principal of my primary school, is one of the kookiest in all the land…in all the lands of all the countries of all the eras that there have ever been. For this, I love her an inexplicable amount. If school is dragging by one week or I’m in a bad mood after disciplining learners or find myself really missing home, she is – without a doubt – the one thing I know will cheer me up instantly. My sweet little Ma’am Rejoice Siphiwe Khumalo is the exception to the rule; you never know what’s going to happen with her but you can be sure that it won’t be routine, practiced, or genuinely replicable.
When she’s excited, she goes into fits of screaming and quick-paced yoga; when she’s barely caught wind of a new idea, she gets crazy eyes and storms off to try to accomplish…something (I’m never sure what); when she – ever so sensitively – picks up on your sour mood, she calls you into her office just to give you an apple or orange. In this short Zulu lady I’ve discovered a great friend, mentor, survivor, person, and boss. The conversations we’ve had and connections we’ve stumbled upon make me so thankful that I get to work with her for two years. We both love physical labour and getting dirty, we both need personal time and are at peace with solitude, we both have an aversion for samp and beans (every Thursday at school), and we’re both Leos – something we bond about perhaps too much.
We have much in common, which is an obvious basis for people to jive with one another, but it’s what we don’t have in common that really summons my respect and leaves me in awe of this woman. She grew up in my impoverished village and attended the primary school that she now supervises. Since she was raised around the area, but now lives in the shopping town, she is well known within the rural community as well as the more developed community. Ma’am is a giver – one of those givers that doesn’t realize they’re giving because there is no prior thought about, or decision for, the act…it’s just something that they do; a reflex, almost. Being selfless is an integral part of her being. From a plethora of stories I could jot down, here are a couple that I find particularly amazing.
No one around me is rich. Most people live government grant to government grant, perhaps with some supplemental money funnelled in from a relative in a larger city. It always speaks volumes to me about how generous people are – with their time, spare food, companionship, and conversation. Only one of these things I’ve listed is material, mind you. Most people in the village are like this, but you rarely encounter someone who will add money to the list of things they’ll give. As stated, Ma’am is the exception to the rule. After his grade 12 matric, one of her three children, Lindokuhle, went on to university that had fees (registration, books, accommodation, etc.). One of his friends, Cebo, also qualified to attend but did not have the financial means to do so. Ma’am took this boy as her own and paid for everything so that he could also get a tertiary education. She said that his mom could not even voice her disbelief and gratitude for what she did. Rightfully stated, Ma’am says “investing is smart, even if you cannot see why from the start.”
Before her children finished high school, and before Lindokuhle and Cebo moved on to university, there was an incident that occurred at Ma’am’s house. She said that one evening, as she was in her sitting room knitting, three men came into her home with a gun. In typical Ma’am fashion, she asked, “Well, what are you doing?” As far as I can glean from her story, there was quite a bit of yelling (and Ma’am reprimanding them because not even she would lose her cool at gunpoint) and the noise brought Lindokuhle out of his room. He tried to take the gun that was pointed at his mom and was shot in the leg. This frightened the three men (Ma’am says she assumed they weren’t planning on actually using the gun) and they ran away. Within the week, Ma’am had visited many homes and, eventually at an educator workshop, she found one of the men. Instead of turning him in to the police or beating the shit out of him because he shot her son, she told him that he was worth more than how he was behaving and paid for him to finish school so that he could become an educator. I know, I know…I’m speechless, too. If that doesn’t display forgiveness, generosity, and believing in something, I don’t know what could.
Due to these stories, and a few more that are along the same vein, Ma’am has a nickname. It took me a while to pick up on it – I would hear these words and then she would randomly show up, but I finally put it together that it was her nickname. Everyone, even my five year-old brother, calls her Nkunzi Mdwayedwa – it means ‘victor’ or ‘brave one’. My Baba says that she is a heroine and I couldn’t agree more. Yes, she is perpetually off-balance, looks a little crazed, does snuff all day long, grabs the microphone at any public function and breaks into (loud, screechy) song and dance, or whips her top off during a staff meeting, but this Ma’am is one with whom I am psyched to be spending some time.