Hakuna Kama Mama

While Mother’s Day is a time to give thanks to my own mother for the influence she’s had on my life, it’s also a day for me to celebrate the mothers I’ve met on my journey… those that remind me what  constitutes a strong woman, a fearless leader, and a pillar in the community. I am reminded to be humble, to be thankful, and to do what is right, not what is popular. I want to celebrate their achievements and share in their hardships. I have seen bits of my own mother in each of these women and I found characteristics that I hoped would rub off on me, even if the time I spent with them was brief. My sister just gave birth to her first child in February, and I have seen just how hard it is to care for an infant. I have no idea how people do it. But then I have met plenty of mothers who have had to raise their kids without diapers, who have had a baby on the floor of their home and then were busy with housework hours later. This world isn’t always so kind, and it makes me even more appreciative of just how important mothers are in this world.

My Kokwana:

I lived with kokwana (Shangaan word for grandmother) when I was working in South Africa last summer. And she is AMAZING. Moving into someone’s home when you don’t speak each other’s languages is extremely difficult. It was awkward at first- I wanted to ask if it was okay to use something, but of course I had to find someone to translate. Or mime it. We fell into a routine and as family members came to visit our home, I learned more about this woman who I called Essi, and eventually called kokwana. Even though she lives in a poor village, she housed refugees when she was younger. She has raised independent, strong daughters who have gone on to college- one even lived in London for five years. Her oldest granddaughter is on her way to study at the University of Cape Town this year, hoping to become a doctor. She is a pastor and highly respected in her community. And she’s stern. She doesn’t crack a smile often but when she does and she lets out that deep-bellied laugh, it makes it all the more sweet. She loves watching WWE wrestling and says the funniest things. She raises two of her granddaughters and it is easy to see why her kids have been so successful. Though she runs a tight ship at her house (seriously- she’s stern), the warmth and love that emanates from her home is pure joy.

Meet Virginia:

First meeting Virginia in 2008, with her grandmother

Virginia is a completely different situation. She is a 17 year old mother that had big dreams, high hopes to finish school, and is a beautiful girl inside and out who has survived unthinkable hardships (ie kidnapping, physical abuse, abandonment, and most likely sexual abuse). She is now married to a man who is part of a gang and has a baby. And though she is lucky that the local hospital could perform a C-section on her tiny frame, she was still having trouble doing housework two months after giving birth due to a slow recovery. She has given up on trying to go to high school and is focusing on being a wife and a mother. I first met her in 2008 when a friend of mine in the village told me that her friend had a bright granddaughter who had come to live with her and wasn’t in school. Going in search of her on this last trip (it took three days to find her) led me to her beautiful smile and warm hugs. And of course, tales of her recent situation. Even with her sad eyes, she beamed every time she looked at her beautiful baby and I will never forget that smile. And her strength.

Virginia this past December. Isn't she beautiful?



Nomonde lived through apartheid. She met her husband while visiting her cousin in prison. He was jailed for protesting. She not only survived apartheid, but threw her efforts into developing a restaurant in her home. It took years, but she finally got it up and running and now can send her youngest son to a better school. I still will never forget her telling me, that even if she had $1 million, she would never move from her township. She is so proud and a lovely woman to spend a day with in Cape Town.


Hakuna kama mama is a Swahili saying that means “There is no one like a mother.” It’s true. And it’s just fun to say :)

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