Lindiwe Majele Sibanda | Grandma Mahembe’s Farm | Moth Global Community
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Lindiwe Majele Sibanda | Grandma Mahembe’s Farm | Moth Global Community

March 1, 2020


Part of my umbilical cord is buried in Lower Gweru Village in Zimbabwe at the doorstep of a thatched hut which used to be my
grandmother’s bedroom. My grandmother, Mahembe,
was a great woman. Agriculture was in her blood. Her local community named her Mahembe, a Zulu name which means
“a woman who wears overalls” because she worked hard. She would get us up at 4 in
the morning all in prayer and her prayer was always,
“I wish all my grandchildren “would grow up to be farmers “and feed not just their families, “but the whole of Zimbabwe.” She would work on her one acre
plot where she kept goats, she kept cattle, she had
a mixed farm with corn, she had an orchard, she
had a vegetable garden and she had a bean patch and all this was to feed
not just her six children and her 50 grandchildren, but the entire community around her. It is no surprise that I then
chose a career in agriculture. I was lucky enough to get
a government scholarship to go and study in Egypt. When I got to Egypt, life
was not too different from Zimbabwe, but after my first degree, I got another scholarship
to go and study in England. There, life was different. What was most different was the food. Right at the hostel where we stayed, they served us hamburgers,
they served us french fries, they served pizza and there
was soda any time you wanted, and I enjoyed that. Four times a day I would drink Coca-Cola. These are things I never
afforded when I grew up and when I saw it plenty and affordable, I enjoyed and indulged. I graduated and went
back and took up a job at the local university and
within the first two months, I met my Mr. Handsome and got married. Life was fun. Just the two of us, graduates,
working as professors at the university, we lived the life. We had arrived. We could eat out as much as we can and Zimbabwe had moved on by then and just next to the university,
a food court had opened and all the french fries,
McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Fish— —Kentucky Fried Chicken
was just at our doorstep. Mr. Handsome would pick me up lunchtime, we would go in our Mini
Cooper car and park, open our doors and enjoy pizza, and he loved his french fries. After work, we would go to the
college bar every single day without fail because
that’s where you caught up with the local gossip. We would drink all the
sodas, anything we wanted. After that, we would play squash or go swimming and then
go out and eat out. There was no need to cook at home. After all, we’re educated and development is about
affording anything you want. That was the benchmark where we were. Within a year, I got my first child, a bouncing nine pound baby. Just as well, it was within the first year because if we had delayed, village elders would have
been summoned to sit us down to find out if there is a problem. So we got that right. My grandmother, who was still
alive then, sent my eldest aunt who is my favorite, Auntie
Ellis, to come and look after me to make sure that in
my new responsibilities of looking after this baby, I
do not neglect Mr. Handsome, but also that I’m well fed
with our traditional foods and would improve my milk let-down. So she prepared the traditional brew, she prepared all the
lovely traditional foods and my Aunt Ellis made
sure every day at 5 a.m. I got a pot full of porridge
to eat, I got my lunch with the goat meat that my
grandmother used to prepare when I was a kid, and then for dinners it was all the vegetables, all
from my grandmother’s field. Auntie Ellis used to stay four
full months, the idea being by four months the baby’s old enough to be weaned onto solids
and that’s a good time for her to turn her back and go to her own farm in the village. The moment she turned her back, we went back to our fried french fries ’cause that’s the food, that’s the life. The measure where I come
from is when you eat out, it means you’ve arrived, you can afford. I had my second child after three years and by the fifth year of
marriage, I had three children. A lot had changed in those five years. I could no longer go and
play squash and go swimming, but one thing that didn’t
change is the food that we ate. Even though Aunt Ellis would
come those four months, we would still go back to our food. University-wise, I was doing very well, but one big change was my body. Before I knew it, I was
weighing 220 pounds. The world told me I was happy. We come from a community
where big means you can afford what you want to eat, you
are happy, you are healthy so what’s your problem? You’ve got the money,
spend it on yourself. So because I was doing so well, I was invited to go and
speak at a global conference, which was on food
security, the area I study. I prepared my speaking notes
and my message was very clear. Africa needs to feed Africa. We need to improve productivity and our farm families can feed themselves. That’s a message that was clear. I got to England, there
were three keynote speakers. We took up the stage just like this one. The first speaker was from Europe and he addressed the topic
of global food security by unpacking that food security
is about food you produce. It’s about access and markets. It’s also about utilization and developed countries
are not doing well because they are wasting a lot of food. If only they could reduce waste, Africa would not be starving. I went, “Yeah, I’m going to
great hook from that speech “because I’m talking about an Africa “that needs to improve productivity.” The second speaker was from India. She took the floor and explained
that in the 60s in India, they had gone through massive
starvation, big hunger, but thanks to the Green Revolution, they produced a lot of
rice and a lot of wheat, but they are now facing hidden hunger. I went, “Oh, hidden hunger? “That’s close to what
we’re facing in Africa.” But she went on to elaborate that as a result of this hidden
hunger, there is obesity, there are diseases like
hypertension and diabetes, and now they’re facing
stunting, massive problems all to do with agriculture and nutrition. I sat on my chair about to stand up and when I was called, I looked down. There was I, wanting to
represent a continent that is hungry, a continent that needs to increase productivity and
I was representing in my body an overweight person,
overfed and just the opposite of what I was standing to advocate for. I was filled with shame. As I stood up, I took the
podium and started to talk only to realize I had
forgotten my speaking notes on my chair. Instead of going back to
pick up my notes, I just rambled on and just
went on and on for 20 minutes. I even forgot I had a
PowerPoint I had to put up. I was just filled with shame. When I finished speaking,
I took my position with the other speakers
and waited for questions. Full one hour of questions, all directed at the two
speakers and nothing for me. I knew I had messed up. The moment we stepped down,
I went straight to my hotel, packed my books and caught
the next flight back home. I just could not face coming
back to the conference. As I flew back to Zimbabwe,
I was clear in my head, something had to change. I got home, as I opened the door, looking forward to seeing my babies, guess who had come to
visit, all without notice? Auntie Ellis had come from the village. I was so excited, ’cause
she was my favorite aunt. I was like, “Auntie, you are here! “This is great.” She pulled back and said,
“Girl, what has happened to you? “What have you been eating?” I got a flashback of the
London conference and all the things I had had and just tears started
coming down my face. I’m like, “Auntie, you
can’t do this to me.” And she said, “Look here, we can fix this. “Come and see what I brought for you. “I brought all the harvests
from my garden and from my farm. “We’ve got to fix this.” She went straight for the
fridge and opened the fridge, 20 bottles of Coca-Cola she
just pulled them out and said, “This is sugar, get it out of your fridge. “No more soda in this house.” She went for expensive
pre-packed foods, the bags, and she said, “We’re going to fix this, “you’ve got to eat right.” Auntie Ellis stayed with us four months. The first two weeks were tough. I would wake up at night in sweat dreaming that I cheated and had a soda, just to realize that it’s all a dream. My feet were sore, a tingling
sensation of just dehydration because I was craving for a soda, but I was so determined to
make this work. End of first month, I
had lost one dress size. By second month, I had
lost two dress sizes, but at the same time,
my friends were talking. Two brave friends came to me and said, “Are you sure you are okay?” We come from a place
where you lose weight, you need the doctor. And unfortunately, you
don’t need the doctor because of diabetes and hypertension, you need the doctor
because it’s HIV and AIDS. I assured them that this was deliberate, I wanted to change, but
then they just smiled. I went on with the good food
that Auntie was preparing. After four months, I had moved
from size 20 to a size 12. Auntie turned her back and went, and now the same friends
came to me and said, “What drug are you on? “We want that.” As I go about my everyday work as an advocate for food security, I now emphasize nutrition security. Every day, I wake up to cook for my family with my own hands, to cook my own food, and one thing I know for sure, my grandmother, Mahembe,
is smiling in her grave. Auntie Ellis, who is 110 years old now, is happy that I will get to
her age, but I leave it to her. Thank you.

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