Although I am the kind of person who wouldn’t mind beer by the bucketful, the title of this post references two different experiences that I enjoy sharing with my host mama – one refers to the work we do together and the other to our bubbly, barley-inspired reward. Within the first dispatch from my humble abode back in September 2012, I alluded to my new host mama as a ‘maternal war eagle’ and, a year and a half later, that description still reigns true. Mama Ndlovu is one of those women at whom you can simply glance and see that she’s been through a lot in her life – but you’ll also intuitively note that she’s at peace with those things because they’re what help to define her. She has a strong body built by manual labour and a surplus of starch, animated eyes etched with laughter creases, and, due to the culture of a married Zulu woman, it’s rare to find her not under a fisherman’s cap or warm beanie. Yes, this is Virginia Sebenzile Zungu Ndlovu, and she is one of the pillars of my Peace Corps service.
We hit it off right from the start in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed each other during 2013, but something about our times together during 2014 has really forged a bond between us. Perhaps it’s because we both know I have to leave the village this September, or perhaps it’s because solid relationships take time to build love and trust – whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter; I’m just happy that we have this connection. I call her Mama, My Lady, or Mama Wami (my mother), and she calls me Baby Girl, My Really Daughter, or Mfishane Wami (my shorty). Over the months I’ve spent at this homestead, it’s been fun to watch barriers slowly decompose, yielding my unhurried integration into the family. I rarely used to join them in household projects because we all respected each others’ space so much that we scarcely crossed borders, but now we call each other to help with chores (sweeping, mopping, polishing, washing, sawing wood, burning rubbish, etc.) I never used be invited into Mama and Baba’s bedroom but now that is where I spend a large amount of time with them. I remember what a big day it was when they asked me to sit on their bed and not on the floor anymore.
Of course I enjoy the meaningful time and deeply-English conversations I have with my Baba, but there’s something unique and special about the moments I spend just
with Mama. We’ve both silently come to the conclusion that we are from different places but, in the end, we’re both women trying to make it in the world – and, boy girl, does that give us a lot to talk about. She’s confided in me family secrets and I in her things that make us more alike than different. We walk up our hill to twala 20L buckets of water, bathe the children, chitchat, and secretly purchase beer to sip together (and sometimes straight from the bottle, too! – a big no-no for Zulu women). I’ve learned much about unconditional love and a tough work ethic from watching Mama’s sure hands complete the same arduous tasks day after day. I couldn’t tell you what she’s learned from me but, if it ends up being only that she realizes people from varying backgrounds are still equal and can still happily spend time together, then that’s perfect.
Once before a phone call back to the States, Mama told me, “Tell your parents I love them! You know why? Because they born my daughter.” So…that’s simply adorable. I’m currently reading an intense book (Half the Sky) and it has several thought-provoking quotes about women, one of them being a Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.” On this upcoming Mother’s Day, make sure to tell all the mamas and gogos in your life just how much they mean to you because, let’s be honest, you’re in this world because of them. I love you and thank you, Mama, Mom, and Momé!