As I sit in my office with the door slightly open, my eyes wander and then stop at a name shield on the door with my name on it. The name shield had of course been there for some time, but is always almost unnoticed. Somehow, this time around, it really did catch my attention. I gazed at it. As if I was being sacked into a time capsule, my mind went straight to one question. “Where could I have been without her?” Just as Bob Dylan would say, “The answer is blowing in the wind”. This is a story about a woman who led a remarkable life and inspired me.
I know I am not the first one to sit here reminiscing about some woman. But then this is not just about some woman. It is about a woman who loved me unconditionally from birth, the one who put me before herself and the one who I could always count on above everyone else. Just telling her my problems made me feel better because she always knew how to make it all go away. Even if we had our arguments, I knew that she was just looking out for my best interests.
She would have been 78 years old this October. But then, stars always tend to gravitate to where other stars are— heaven.
Although she is no longer here, there isn’t a day that goes by without thinking about her. I celebrate her life. Lestina Lapiwe Chagunda, my mother.
In her younger days, years before I was born, she was a primary school teacher. After having five children, she gave up a professional career to dedicate her time and energy to raising her children. And boy! Didn’t she do it well! It is as if she listened to Martin Luther King Jr when he said: “And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it”.
In her life, she had 10 children and I was the seventh. But this was a woman who treated each one of us as if you were the first and only one. We all felt special! She taught me about life. She made me realise the importance of strength of mind, wisdom, patience, faith, loyalty and unconditional love.
My mother was a Zambian from Chimate Village, Chief Kanaisi in Chadidza District in the Eastern Province. She left her family behind and followed my father to Malawi.
My father was a civil servant and we lived in different towns and districts of Malawi. I believe it was not easy for my mother to communicate with her siblings. There was no Skype, Facebook, Facetime or WhatsApp in those days. The only mode of communication was either letter writing or telegram in case of emergencies.
This did not deter my mother from making sure that her children were happy, well looked after, well nourished and that they never missed school. Every time we were going to school, she would say, “Go and work hard because that is the type of treasure no one can steal from you”.
My mother was a real supporter of education. In fact, she was a teacher herself. When I was young, my mother used to wake up early, prepare breakfast and ensure that we were ready in time for school.
Due to shortage of classroom space, our school used to run a shift system. There was the morning and afternoon shifts. Standards Two to Standard 4 used to attend the afternoon shift which started at 11am and finished at 3pm. This made me miss out on a warm meal for lunch and family pictures.
For some reason, photographers used to make their rounds exactly the time that I was away in school. Obviously that was my concern. Remember this was the time when the word selfie was not even in the dictionary. My mother, being who she was, was more concerned with the food situation. For the love of her daughter, she inquired about my break time at school and she started sending me warm meals. During every break time at 1pm, I was assured that “Anaphiri” was behind my classroom block with a food container. This was my mother’s version of a food delivery service.
This sense of pastoral care was not only reserved for the young ones. One of my brothers got a sweet surprise when he was studying for his doctorate degree overseas when he received a letter from our mother. Being far from home, such letters would always be looked at as bearers of some serious messages. My mother’s letter was only a sweet and simple enquiry of, “Achimwene, sukulu ikuyenda bwanji? We wish you all the best!” What a caring mother!
She also had her own ways of empowering and mentoring young ones. When my father was about to retire and in the process of building a family home in the village, who did mother suggest to be the future owner of the house? Her own then 19- year-old son who was still a student at the University of Malawi. Her philosophy was, “Give them wings and they will fly.” No wonder his guy has gone on to design and supervise the construction of even bigger structures of national importance in the country.
Ealier in life, I benefitted from this mentoring generosity. Although not in the best situation, the kindness from my mother left a strong impression on me so much that it ended up being my passion and career. This is when my maternal grandmother came to stay with us. I was nine years old and in primary school. Regrettably, this time, my grandmother came when she (mother) was ill and needed care. She became her full-time carer while also caring for her own family. My mother gave me the opportunity to help her in whatever little way I could in taking care of my grandmother. She (grandmother), just like her daughter (my mother) was a lovely woman. Even the time she was ill, every time she felt better, she would sit-up and tell old stories to the grandchildren. This showed me the impact of good care on the sick.
Unfortunately, this illness was terminal. But it was all the selfless caring that my mother gave her that generated something in me. Any wonder that I ended up studying nursing? And it is that initial training that led to the other opportunities in my life. The name shield on the door has the caption, “Head of Social Work Department”.
Thomas Campbell, a Scottish poet chiefly remembered for his sentimental poetry dealing with human affairs, wrote in 1888: “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
Mama Lestina Lapiwe Chagunda was an amazing mother and grandmother and her legacy now lives on through her family. Certainly, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it were not for you.
So, thank you for absolutely everything. You’re my hero.