Zimbabwe: “When I was a young girl…” wisdom from our grannies

Harare, March, 2012: Grannies shared their humble yesteryear lifestyles and gave advice to young girls on Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy’s weekly Food for Thought discussion for Women’s History Month (March).

From right - Chihota and Nyangani with Stuart Moyo of DefZee

From right - Chihota and Nyangani with Stuart Moyo of DefZee

“Have respect for your bodies and your elders.  Go to school and love your country and its resources.  Respect and follow traditional practices.  Be polite and don’t answer back when you are being given advice….  And always smile,” 72-year-old Isabel Chihota told an enthusiastic audience at the session facilitated by DefZee in the Embassy’s Eastgate Mall offices.

Chihota and Forence Nyangani (52) were the featured speakers at the event, part of a series of Women’s History Month celebrations organized by the U.S. Embassy.  The two grannies shared the same perspective about the role of technological developments in influencing the behavior of young girls.

“Those days, we were much protected because there were no cellphones, there were few houses with televisions, no refrigerator, no food outlets like Chicken Inn, and we used to respect our parents so much,” said Ms Nyangani.

Both women work with orphaned and vulnerable children at a local NGO, Chiedza Child Care Centre, based in Mbare, Harare. The two described the simpler lifestyles of their younger years, drawing laughter from the audience with some routines many would consider taboo today.

“We used to go to the pools in our rural areas during those days.  There were no swimming costumes and we swam together nicely and nothing happened,” recalled Nyangani, who said she grew up in a family of four boys and two girls. “We used to sleep together in the same room.  There were no beds those days and nothing used to happen those days….  I grew up in Mbare and went to school on barefeet , my satchel was (one of) those mealie-meal 10 kg bags, and we didn’t mind,” she said.

“We were not allowed to do anything on a Wednesday.  Chaive chisi chekuera.  When I was 17, I used to visit my parents in Mbare and we watched movies at mai Musodzi Hall in the afternoons.  We walked in groups,” narrated Chihota, who said she lost all her three of her children to HIV and AIDS.

“While in Epworth, we used to go to fetch firewood as far as Ruwa and collect water for everyday uses,” said Chihota, who is taking care of four grandchildren.

“When…a girl, you are now mature, we were not supposed to stand near boys.  You stand afar.  We didn’t communicate by mouth.  Those boys used to write letters for proposals.  We were not allowed to hold hands,” said Nyangani.

The reality for the two grannies is now different. “The new generation thinks they know everything.  They are calling us “old model” and “P.O. box,” yet they call themselves “.coms,”  said Nyangani. “Many of the girls are being spoiled by their parents because they hire maids.  As a result, you find a 16-year-old girl who cannot cook or do their laundry or make their beds, which is not good.”

However, the two grannies gave advice to young girls. “They are following what they see in western movies,” cautioned Nyangani. “Stop following those movies and stick to your culture.” She noted that child abuse was different from building the character of your child.

“Parents expect good things from their children….  If you try to discipline them, they run to the police and report us…that we are being abused.  And then you find the parents arrested.  But they will be trying to build you up so that you have a better future,” said Nyangani- ZimPAS© March 29, 2012