Breaking Culture Norms
For most of her life, Noluthando (Nolly) Kwayimani (21), grew up in a home where she was told that housework was the only thing she was good at. She tells us her story of how she broke through what she was told and built a life that allowed her to have a closer relationship with those who hurt her.
Born and raised by her parents in Khayelitsha, Nolly was the second youngest in the family, she had twin older brothers (11) and an older sister (4). She tells us that she grew up in a traditional family.
“We are Christians but we have a cultural and traditional way of life. My family’s background is a mixture between family members who are Sangomas* to my father who was an Archbishop at a Zion church in Cape Town.”
Growing up, Nolly says that she really enjoyed helping her siblings around the house.
“When I was younger about five-years-old, I remember watching my siblings clean the house, they would do all the chores. My mom enjoyed doing the laundry so that’s what she did.”
“I started helping from age eight, I was mopping the floor, dusting and sweeping. At this time I also started making porridge, my older brother would give me advice on how to make the food, but I always told him I knew how to make it. Helping them with the house chores made me feel as if I was a grown up.”
At the age of 12, Nolly’s mother divided the house work between Nolly and her older sister (16).
“I was okay with doing the chores, because my brothers had always been helping and traditionally I understood that in our culture, girls do housework and boys would play outside. It was like that in all of my friend’s houses, so I never saw anything wrong with it.”
Nolly says that when she was 13 everything started to change and she felt an added pressure at home.
“I would come home early from school and I would clean from the minute I put my bag down. At first I enjoyed it but my willingness turned against me. My sister and I were meant to split the work but she would be lazy and I would end up doing her work. I never thought to complain about it because I didn’t have the confidence, and the few times I did complain my family would make a joke of the situation.”
Nolly’s family soon became accustomed to having her do all the house work. At the age of 14, Nolly got the nickname – Kroestie (a domestic worker that has been working in someone’s house for a long time).
“When I first heard my family calling me Kroestie I just laughed about it and would often call myself Kroestie as well. At that time I thought the only thing I was good at was cleaning at home. I would have other interests like dancing and modelling but my family always told me to stick with what I was good at – cleaning.”
Being the cleaner at home had an effect on Nolly’s life.
“I would spend all my time after school cleaning and cooking for my family. I would arrive home at 15.00 and start washing school shirts so that they would be ready for the following day. Then I would clean the house and the yard. I would finish with cooking dinner, dishing for everyone and cleaning afterwards. When everyone was in front of the TV in the evenings, it was the only time I had to do my homework. Sometimes I was so tired, I would fall asleep and do my homework the following day during breaks at school.”
“Even on days where I felt sick or I had to study for my exams I would still not be excused. I would ask my mom if I could be excused from doing my chores for the day, she would always say no. She would reply by saying, ‘do you think you are the first person feeling sick or in need of studying. Stop complaining and just clean the house’.”
Nolly says only her father made her feel like she was part of the family.
“My father treated everyone equally, he would come home from work at 19.30 pm and we would sit around his bed and we would be laughing as one. Just my father’s presence made me feel loved.”
When her father died in a car accident, Nolly then 14, says that it was one of the hardest times in her life.
“I was broken and felt like I was alone. It seemed like the only people who were given the space to feel pain was my mom and sister. I felt I needed to be close to my mom. I would try and sit by my mom and sister, but people would tell me to get my sister and mom some water or to assist hosting everyone that was visiting. Culturally the eldest daughter sits beside the mother, but I wanted to be there too.”
A month passed and Nolly says that the pain of losing her father was getting worse.
“I took the news very hard, I was feeling worthless. A month after the funeral I had my lowest moment. I was missing my father and was not feeling like I belonged at home – I felt alone and thought that I would be better with him wherever he was. I wanted to go to him.”
“My father had medication for gout and diabetes and I took all the pills. I also took panados. I didn’t think about it, all I knew was that I wanted to get away. I remember falling asleep for hours because I woke up the following day. When I woke up, my stomach was cramping and I was feeling nauseous. I knew I had to do something about it, so instead of going to school I went alone to the day hospital and told them that I took the wrong medication. They gave me medication to take for the next four weeks. I hid it from my family and never told anyone.”
For the following two years, life carried on as normal for Nolly, she continued to clean at home, arguing with her sister and not feeling welcomed.
“Even though my mom tried, I still didn’t feel accepted at home. I looked for love and found it with an older man – 6 years her senior – that really showed interest in me. I met him at church when I was in matric. I had never dated before, for the first time someone was making me feel special beyond my father. He encouraged me to study and treated me like I had value and potential to do anything in my life. He thought I was beautiful and slowly I made up excuses at home in order to spend more time with him.”
By the end of that year, Nolly (16) fell pregnant and came to a life changing realisation.
“I hid the pregnancy from my family until one day my mother told me that something was different with me and asked me what was going on. I remember I told her that I was seven months pregnant. She told me that I was a disgrace to the family and that I was stupid to let it happen. But I could stay at home.”
“I had been accepted to study in CPUT but my family told me I couldn’t do it because I was pregnant. I needed to stay at home and care for my child.”
It was during this time that Nolly began to think about her life and wondered about her role at home.
“I kept thinking to myself that I didn’t want my son growing up seeing his mother being a maid at home, so I decided to start changing my situation. Culturally, children are not allowed to talk to their parents about their personal matters like boyfriends, but I decided to start talking to my mother about my life and how I was feeling. She resisted at first but in the long run this really made a difference in our relationship.”
Nolly says that after her son was born, life was different.
“When my son was born he brought the family together through love. In our culture when you have a child and you are not married the child becomes your mother’s child and I really felt like she loved him as her own.”
“The day I knew things had changed was when I came home from work and I told my mom I was feeling tired. She told me that I must make a sandwich and go to my room to rest.”
Besides working, Nolly has started to study through UNISA, “I want to be a high school Educator. I love to work with children, unfortunately I can’t study full time as I need to provide for my child. But with the right mindset and with perseverance I will be able to achieve my dream.”
In conclusion Nolly says: “Culture has good things but there are a lot of things that we should be challenging. I knew if I did not break culture norms, I would have never had a proper relationship with my mom. Times are changing and culture will needs to adapt. It is up to each of us to decide how we want our culture to evolve. ”
Nolly is a Life Choices saff member
Sangomas*: A traditional healer