Slice of life: The blessing of independence from the women who raised me

My mother and grandmother are two strong women in my life who have contributed to my strong and independent character.

They have been the sole providers in my brother’s and my life, making sure that ends met so we could have everything we needed.

But they have done more than that, having taught me how to survive without depending on anyone else.

They taught me courage, self-sufficiency and independence as I witnessed how they both struggled but always provided for our family.

For as long as I can remember, I have always feared having to depend on someone else because I could not help but feel like I was imposing. In higher primary school, I refused to ask for help with my homework as I would think to myself: “If my grandmother can fix broken pipes, floors and ceilings around the house by herself, what is stopping me from figuring out primary school homework alone?”

My grandmother is somewhat of a stubborn woman, a trait that has rubbed off on me. She refuses to rely on a man to fix anything around the house. I used to get frustrated when she would ask me to help her cement the bathroom floor or to take the garbage away in a wheelbarrow to the dumping site, instead of telling my older brother to do it.

Eventually I came to appreciate her showing me how to perform these duties. I’ve learnt that I can do anything for myself without adopting the stereotypical attitude of, “this is a man’s job”. Limitations based on gender do not exist in my head because of my grandmother’s teaching.

My mother too, taught me valuable life lessons. “You need to work hard for yourself. You do not want to be at the mercy of anyone, especially a man,” she has always told me.

Determined not to rely on anyone, I decided to use my talents to make my own money. I began a hair braiding business at 15, inspired by my mother’s advice and my paternal grandmother and aunts who are very good at braiding hair. This is a skill that I am fortunate enough to have inherited.

By braiding people’s hair I am able to make pocket money for myself and help my family by contributing towards household expenses. I started off by braiding my family’s hair for free to perfect my skills, and went on to start charging my neighbours R150 to braid their hair.

My hair business was at its peak in third year at Wits when I stayed in a student residence in Braamfontein. There, a lot of young women came to my room every weekend so I could do their hair. This helped a lot because I could buy groceries and necessities for myself without burdening my family with requests for money.

Staying in Braamfontein was particularly good for my business because there is a huge market for braids and I was easily accessible, living in student housing with most of my customers. I also charged affordable prices, taking into consideration the financial constraints faced by most students. I did so, however, without compromising the end result that my customers were looking for.

In early 2013, my little sister was born and I became the middle child. The very fact that I am someone’s older sister motivates me to work even harder at being financially independent. I love spoiling those who are closest to me. I constantly want to make sure that my sister gets anything she wants. More importantly, I want to lead by example and show her that a girl can do anything without relying on anyone but herself.

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