Friday, November 14, 2014

Tabitha, a server and cashier at GOLD Restaurant is warm, bold and forthright. Born in Kitwe in the African country of Zambia in 1978, her parents divorced when she was eight. It isn’t unusual (customary even) in certain African cultures for children to stay with the father and that’s exactly what happened.

She didn’t have an easy childhood by any standards. Still, she relates her story with no bias or resentment. In fact, she has an unusual degree of gratitude for ALL the people in her life who have helped to shape her into the considerate, resilient person she is today.

Good wives and family secrets

Her father, a Muslim from the Congo, came to Kitwe, met and married Tabitha’s then Christian mother who did her best to adopt a Muslim way of life. What her mother didn’t know, and would only find later when Tabitha was a toddler and her mother was pregnant with her second child, was that he had a first wife and children living in the Congo. In fact, he’d had children with other girlfriends too. To further complicate matters Tabitha’s mother only found out about his existing family when, having heard rumours that he had married again, the first wife paid them a visit.

Little girl in a big family

As a little girl Tabitha couldn’t understand why her stepmother was so hard on her. She was expected to work alongside the domestic help when her half siblings weren’t required to. The only duty they shared was the cooking but even then she decided not to let her grievances live inside her. She never allowed herself to be angry. Sometimes she would cry secretly in a corner as a way to let her feelings out and to let them go. Her happiest childhood memories were rare visits to her mother and time spent there with her favourite aunt.

Forced to leave home

She was in her matric year when her father died in 1998. The two were close but, upon his death, her stepmother and half sisters were determined to kick her out of the family home. They went as far as locking cupboards and made cruel, accusatory remarks. Initially, she was determined to stand her ground, but the verbal and emotional abuse became unbearable, so she left to go and live with her mother. She returned in time to write her final exam but, not having had the benefit of proper tuition, she didn’t pass. Still, she didn’t allow herself to be bitter.

A new life in South Africa

In 2007 Tabitha came to South Africa to join her husband. He had come to South Africa as a political refugee in the previous year when the war broke out in his home country, the Congo. She worked at various places and became part of the start up team at GOLD Restaurant.

It changed her life. Cindy (co-owner) is one of the kindest, most understanding people she has every met. She says, “our relationship is special and everyone who works here feels they have their own personal connection with her. We’ve built a family with different cultures from all over Africa. We succeed as a family and people can feel this when they come and dine here”.

Becoming Tabitha

No one knows who “Tabitha” is in Zambia and the Congo, not by name anyway. There they call her by her birth name, Fatoumatah, which Tabitha changed in 2009. She says, “it doesn’t matter what people call me, I know who I am, and that’s all that matters.”

Also, while she has respect for Islam Tabitha chose Christianity as her spiritual way of life. As a proud wife and mother of three happy, well adjusted children she wants her kids, whom she’s very careful to love and treat equally, to choose their own life paths one day.

Time really has healed old wounds

Tabitha spent time with her stepmother a little over a month ago. The two were happy to see one another. Tabitha says, “forgiveness is not for other people, it’s for you and when you realise this you can let go. She’s still my other mother and I’m still her child”. Nowadays, Tabitha’s stepmother treats Tabitha’s mother fondly, like a younger sister. When asked if there’s more to her story she smiles and says, “time has healed a lot of old wounds but you can’t share everything until you really know a person’s heart”.

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