Morning light trickles softly through the window bathing the kitchen in a warm, orange glow…everything comes alive as the night disappears into a beautiful new day. This room is my sanctuary. There is an incredible sense of peace and serenity that fills me when I step onto the linoleum floor and hear the therapeutic whirring of the electric freezer. Strange, I know.
The kitchen should be my least favourite room in the whole house considering the dishes that accumulate in the sink on a daily basis, the result of multiple meals prepared throughout the day but I find clarity when I am stuck in the mundane, boring stuff like chores. I cook meals as well as poetry in the kitchen, the aromatic flavours of onion and tomatoes sizzling in hot oil awaken my senses. Ideas come to me when I am busy, I could be mopping the floor and a really provocative thought will cross my mind at lightning speed forcing me to immediately drop what I’m doing and exchange the mop for a pen to capture those thoughts on paper. As I am writing this I have set a pot of water on the stove for porridge.
My mornings are pretty routine, I get up just before eight to clean up and cook in time for my grandparents to take their medication. As the firstborn I am a deputy parent of sorts meaning that in as much as I would like to lie in bed past ten like a majority of my friends I cannot. My grandmother was a house wife. She carries that title with total pride. It’s not an inferior or insignificant occupation as the feminist world has come to define it but something to cherish and find meaning in. In the rosy days of her youth she would rise before the African sun lit the horizon and in the gentle darkness of a fading night surrounded by a symphony of cricking insects she would plough her father’s fields, light a fire to heat up bathwater and get dressed in time for school.
Even now at eighty one she shows no signs of slowing down. At six o’clock you can hear her shuffling about in her room gossiping with my grandfather. It is only upon mine and my sister’s insistence that she remains in her room until eight o’clock at the very least. She always finds me in the kitchen because I don’t trust that she won’t start tinkering about with pots and brooms when she knows very well that she has back pains and sometimes her legs hurt but as the saying goes once a housewife always a housewife. By the way there is no such saying I made it up.
So where exactly am I going with this? I do not know if I love the kitchen because it is my “sanctuary” or because I spend so much time in there (more so because of Lockdown)that I have become conditioned to think that I can only find security in a room that has a stove and a sink. In all honesty I feel guilty for sitting in the lounge for longer than an hour. I hate feeling guilty for sitting down to write poetry or short stories or even use my phone. If I lived on my own I would wake up to read, take walks in the garden, eat, shower, sleep and write some more. So I started to do some introspection. My sister and I take turns with the housekeeping duties but she is more relaxed about the whole process. She’ll work out in her room, style her hair or watch a stream of addictive Netflix shows only emerging from her bedroom when it’s her turn to cook or check our brother’s home school exercises. I cannot remember when exactly I started to feel this way but it must have been some time around the beginning of my adolescence. At around thirteen years old I stopped wearing denim shorts because my grandfather said they were inappropriate. I began dressing shabbily to conceal my pubescent figure and grew increasingly resentful at the pile of responsibilities being thrown my way. Suddenly I was spending less time daydreaming and living and more time learning how to press a shirt ( which I am still not very good at) or wash laundry or sorting through piles of clothes to iron.
This only ever happened during school holidays when we would go though a “housekeeping bootcamp” designed by Gogo. She would instruct the helper to mentor my sister and I because “ school education is just as important as home education.” She loved to echo this statement . She still does. She was a lot more lenient with my sister who at the time had an infant like reaction to housekeeping duties which explains her free spirit even now…this is where writing became my therapy. I noticed as our little brother (who is the last born) grew older that he had more freedom to do absolutely whatever he wanted.He is turning thirteen next year and my grandmother does not trust him to stand anywhere near a stove. At thirteen I was trusted to cook sadza for a family of five and not even with the aid of electricity but on a fire, embers blazing furiously under a three legged pot nearly scorching the hairs off my legs.
I remember back in 2018 cooking in a size 4 “bhodo.” at my uncle’s funeral with a “mugoti” whose length extended past my waist and whose thickness was that of a sizeable tree branch. I was half convinced I would fall over from the sheer effort of mixing because I am not a big girl. I am not athletic either. I don’t enjoy cooking as much as my sister does and I think it’s because I like to minimize the number of utensils used so I will have less dishes to wash. My sister on the other hand can cook up a brilliant storm. Her meals are so yummy but the dishes are a perfect nightmare to look at and I say this with love. We are opposite sides of the same coin.
My cousin who is also a boy and just turned fifteen cannot cook to save his own life. If he’s stuck home alone he will live off peanut butter and jam sandwiches like a caveman but even cavemen are better. At least they make an effort to hunt for their food and roast it! We ran an experiment with him once by writing down instructions on how to cook chicken and he put a single drumstick in a giant pot and filled it to the brim with water! It was shocking. I see it even now with our own brother that I have to ask him to do the dishes or make the bed. It does not come second nature to him because no one expects it of him as they do of me. He spends the day playing video games and I always agonize over the fact that I would like a husband who will not be completely reliant on me for everything and yet here we are raising our brother to be that kind of man.
I want better for him. I believe he is smart and funny and very cool. In as much as he finds it irritating I will constantly nag him to help out till it becomes second nature to him. We limit his usage of gadgets because if he had it his way he would be playing videogames from sunrise to sunset on his tablet. So far he has learned how to make gravy, fry eggs and make tea. He does the dishes every third day and makes the bed every morning. On days that he forgets or develops an attitude I am there to remind him, sometimes with kindness other times with long very emotional lectures. It is so easy to hate the male species and complain about teenage fathers who never step up but what are we doing by condoning this nonsense in our households. If we can’t hold our sons, brothers and boyfriends accountable for the little things like replacing the toilet seat after they pee how can we expect to hold them accountable for big things like taking care of your pregnant wife ?
I am not demonising housewives or stay at home moms.
I applaud them for their strength ,for working behind the scenes of a movie dominated by patriarchal standards and making it look so easy. It may not be the presidential office but it is a great national service that our leaders and CEOs came from those humble beginnings .
Most of us mill through the city streets looking as slick as Hollywood stars, the result of someone’s labour at home. The domestic workers who can barely afford the clothes on your back ensure that your uniform is crisp and clean. I can only imagine how many school prefects from various high schools actually know how to iron their slacks or starch their shirt collars.
These domestic workers are mothers and wives too. They wash strangers’ underwear to put food on the table and put their own children through school. Housework is not a question of gender. It’s a question of necessity. We need to eat both men and women therefore we learn to cook and I can hear someone saying “There’s fast food and uber eats.” But in the pandemic world we are living in it doesn’t hurt to acquire basic life skills instead of relying on greasy take aways for the rest of your life and let’s not even talk about the environmental damage!
In the last city clean ups we did as DIFTK every Sunday we were guaranteed to find a cluster of empty Chicken Inn boxes and tomato sauce/salt sachets littered everywhere and plastic forks even. It’s that same “ someone will clean up after me..” attitude that we take into the CBD and display shamelessly by discarding banana peels in alleyways as though they are a pair of dirty socks you’re leaving on the floor of your bedroom for the maid to pick up. Our streets smell of urine because certain not all ill disciplined males are of the mind that they are at a liberty to urinate everywhere because they have the biological advantage of peeing while standing. I can hear someone saying “ but we get pressed.”
And women get their periods.
We go to corporate meetings and sit through day long business lectures while bleeding.
Vendors on the streets and office workers alike, work through the discomfort and mess of it in discreet fashion. It would be appalling if soiled pads and tampons were littered across town. If we squatted to pee in every alley some would say it’s an invitation to rape and yet people dispose used condoms like it’s loose change.
The double standards are appalling. It might seem like an exaggeration but when it comes to discipline we are truly lacking. It’s only with the onset of covid 19 that we have been forced to review our questionable hygiene standards.
It’s time we rewrote the script and changed the narrative
And God so help us
He is the director of our lives after all.
If not for yourself then do it for the kids.
Love Chioniso .
– Chioniso Tsikisayi