Born with a name that had a negative connotation, Tadzei Njerere grew up with the constant reminder that her father wished she were a boy. She recently talked to The Weight She Carries about growing up in a family and community where being a girl was of little value.
How was your home set up when you were growing up?
I was born in Mberengwa, Zimbabwe. I am the firstborn child in a well-blended family of four – two girls and two boys. My sister and I come from same mother and father.We have one brother from each of our parents’ second attempts at marriage.
I was partly raised in Mberengwa by my paternal grandmother until the age of 15. My grandmother was my rock for all essential needs. She single-handedly raised my sister and I from a very tender age of two.
My parents separated when I was very young. My father took us to go live with his mother. He was incapable of taking care of us for reasons known to him.
My mother did not hold a formal job or own a house in the city for us to go live with her. The safest and more stable place to live was with my grandmother in the village. In a way, it gave me and my sister a sense of belonging. We grew up and loved our roots and will always remember where we came from and where we grew up.
At the age of 16, I moved to Uzumba, Murehwa. I was raised by my maternal grandmother from that time on. I completed my secondary education. It was food for work and we worked hard for everything we had.
I moved to Harare right after secondary school where I did a lot of odd jobs from housemaid, fresh and roasted corn vendor, temporary teaching to ‘car parts salesperson.’ Car parts salesperson is in quotes because there were no car parts to sell. I was conned [out of] $250 to train to sell car parts that were non-existing – a story for yet another day.
How did your name affect you whilst growing up?
My full name was Ndakatadzei, which means ‘what did I do wrong,’ which my father named me as he wanted a boy child not a girl. During my first year at school I struggled [with] writing my name as it was too long and the small books which are used for Grade Ones did not allow the full name to fit on one page. My handwriting was also too large and made matters worse for me. I would write ‘Ndaka’ on the first page and turn to the next to finish with ‘tadzei.’
Tadzei said that her teachers made an attempt to make her write her name in small letters without success till her second year in school when her grandmother was summoned to school and asked for a way to shorten the name.
‘Ndaka’ did not make sense at all so my savvy grandmother picked ‘Tadzei.’ My father learnt about it and he insisted it should have been ‘Zvitadzo,’ which means sins or crimes, but I kept the name Tadzei and he would call me Zvitadzo only when he was mad at me. I loved all my statement names. When I moved to live with my mother at 19, I later learned that she wanted to name me Patience. That would have been disaster as I am not patient at all or have I ever been patient.
What challenges did you face being a girl child in a home where boys were preferred? How did you overcome those?
My father wished for a son, but he was sadly never blessed with one until very late in our lives. We grew up and watched him and his misery of not having a son to leave his name to. In a way, I understood, but that did not stop me from doing all the things boys in the neighbourhood did. I herded the cattle, goats, donkeys and all the other livestock there was. I chopped firewood and did all chores traditionally meant for boys because we did not have a boy in our house to do them and even if we did, I would have still done so.
I carried myself around with so much pride even the boys did fear me. I was a self-made leader. I did not wear trousers then, but that did not stop me. If a person did not show me respect for any reason known to them, I would show them why I deserved the respect just like the boys did. I knew how to protect my father’s name to a point where some villagers who did not know our family dynamics thought I was a boy and my father was so lucky to have such a hardworking boy to leave his inheritance [to] just by my reputation.
My father had four cows and a few goats left to him by his late father, my grandfather, who had 25 wives. The mentality of how important boys were to have as children came from my grandfather. He had 25 wives and I have many uncles I cannot account for. The inheritance was distributed based on how many sons each wife had. The more sons one had, the more cows they received from inheritance.
For someone who was raised in a setup where girls were only good for marriage, marriage or relationship were not part of my [aspirations]. I did not view boys as [anything] other than competition and for that, I never [aspired] to marry one. As I got older, I enjoyed being in the company of boys to a degree but never wished to marry one or spend more time than welcomed with them. Simple way to put it is I dropped and dumped more boys before they figured out if we were a thing or not. I did not tolerate superiority complexes at all.
What have your keys achievements been?
My greatest achievement is being able to take care of myself and my kids. Wait, that is not true! My greatest achievement was when I was able to buy myself my very first pencil skirt. I bought it from a second-hand store that was located opposite Fourth Street bus terminal.
I have many achievements; it is so hard for me to pinpoint one. I can gladly say, I am the first girl child in my close community to go to college and overseas. After secondary school, I went to Harare to look for work. I did all kinds of jobs one can think of.
When an opportunity presented itself at the age of 23 years, after toiling the streets of Harare with nothing concrete coming my way, I grabbed it. My mother had the year before moved to the US through a family member and she had help from her church to apply for me to go to college in the US. I landed in the US in August 2000.
I was in school full-time and I had two full-time jobs and a part-time job. I put myself through school and helped my mother as well. I bought my first car in 2002 and drove myself to take the driver’s test which I aced. I completed my Associate of Arts Degree in Business Administration in 2004 in Maryland. I later moved to Ohio in search for a job in my field. That did not work out too well, but I never lost hope. I had to do some work for money and in every job I did, I made sure I did it to the best of my ability.
I met my Prince Charming in 2005 and we moved to Canada together. We have since made Canada our home and we have two beautiful kids.
What is your advice to young women in pursuit of better lives despite being female?
Do not let anyone dictate what you can or cannot do. Be your own self. If you need someone to remind you [of] your worth, look in the mirror. You control your destiny in all situations you are in. Set realistic goals and set them around your situations. I grew up in the village and my goals then were to stay around my village and have an impact in my village at that time. Always look to impress the person inside you and follow your heart. Be known for the person you are exactly not for who people think you are. Aim to always inspire those around you.
My advice to those born in families where they would rather have had males only is to not let that define who they are. It is a personal choice to look for positives in strange places.
Lastly, but not even close to last – “FEAR NO MAN…Never!”