Our space is under a construction shade. We are all sitting on the floor with our legs stretched forward, and each one of us sits on a flowery folded chitenge material they were requested to bring for that purpose. In the middle of the circle is a burning paraffin lamp, a symbol of hope. This circle could have taken place in September but one of our group members was battered by her husband, sustaining injuries. We had to call the circle off because we were all broken, and felt spiritually disbanded. Today Sarai (not her real name) is not here, but she has sent us a letter that we are going to read later on. She has found a night job of slicing bread the whole night and she needs to rest as she will be working 3 consecutive days since yesterday.
We all have not eaten any food since morning, and we have been shying away from food during the day for the past three days. Today will be our last day. We are exploring various methods of gathering and sustaining enough energies for our work and the adversity confronting us, and fasting is one of them. We come from different religious backgrounds; one of us is an internalist, believing lately in the power of the inner being, personal agency and discernment, two belong to the Zviratidzo Apostolic Church, two are Catholics, while four are Methodists. One of the four Methodists has chosen to name herself a nun. She believes in works of charity, as well as in celibacy, and this is a result of a long moment of expansion following surviving a gang rape in a neighbouring country where she was selling doilies for a living. One of our key women is missing, and her name is Daima (not her real name), a Moslem woman. Daima has just returned to Zimbabwe from Ghana, following the death of her husband. Each time we have met Daima she has told us horrors of how she survived a huge struggle to prevent her husband’s relatives from grabbing her property from her. Today we expected her to tell us a story and experience of hope, grounding and refreshment that she experienced during the Moslem fasts In August. Daima fasted for a whole month. We will listen to her at the next circle.
Today’s circle is a healing session. It has been practiced two times before, in solidarity with Sarai’s predicament, and we hope to get maximum satisfaction from its proceedings even in the absence of Sarai. We will send her the joy and accumulated energies.
As soon as we are settled Shuvai hums a song, and we all take it up. It is a song about opening up our souls to receive the spirit of unity during times of adversity. It goes,
Kana tasvika pane zvinhu zvaoma
Tinotenda tine moyo mumwe
Mweya wacho mweya munyaradzi
We repeat the song again and again, and we feel transformed into a new realm. We keep inciting the spirit of unity to come and comfort us. After a while of singing the facilitator stands up and welcomes the group to the space.
She asks the participants to refer to the quote sent via sms to their phones. All women reach out for their phones and open the message. The facilitator asks each woman to read the message, loud. The messages has been translated from its original English version which read, “Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” The quote is from Ben Okri, and from one of our group resource books that are kept at the facilitator’s house. Sometimes we read stories from books and share translations for personal encouragement.
In turn the women read through the message, repeating it, and allowing it to sink before the next person takes it up. After the last reading Shuvai hums the song again and we take it up once more.
The facilitator stands up again and this signals the end of the song. She opens Sarai’s letter and reads it. Sarai takes us through her ordeal on the night her husband beat her up for trying to stop him from eating up the children’s relish of fried fish in soup, after he had again eaten another share of left-over chicken. In the letter she recounts her ordeal at the police station, where she was sweet talked into with drawing her case by the police, and into going back home to her abuser. But there is a turning point in the letter, Sarai tells us how she later defied this ‘order’ three days after getting her current job, and moved out of the marital house to stay alone with her two girl children.” Sarai writes in very good Shona language, she also writes in peace, and in hope.
When I left the police station and moved back in with my abuser I became deaf and dump. I could not speak, not to my children even. I refused to answer our facilitator’s phone calls. Why? I felt like I would be a hypocrite, always calling out for help but always giving in to abuse. I was hopeless. When I found this job it was like a God sent. I decided to quickly move out, and next thing I did was to share with the facilitator, and with all of you the good news. In my new home, the room that I share with my children, I decided to exercise the skills I learn here every day, skills to prepare my inner self for peace and forgiveness. I forgave my abuser, but vowed never to accommodate him again in my life, not even for a discussion. I told my children about the forgiveness, but also about my ‘no, no’ stance on accommodating him. I am always teaching my daughters to forgive and respect others, but to be alert to their abusers. I have learnt that living with my hatred and anger blocks me from others, peace has to start from within me. I have agreed to view my enemies and abusers as victims in their own regard. When the facilitator finishes reading the letter half the women are crying. Priscilla is passing hard tissue paper from a roll provided in our first aid kit. We all take it, because we need it. Shuvai hums the song and we sing on.
It is the facilitator’s duty to check the levels of energy and decide if the circle can continue with dialogue, especially after some women have broken down and cried. But since the women look composed by the song, and continue to hum the tune, it’s a good sign that we can continue.
The facilitator stands up and puts a chair in the middle of the circle. She covers the chair with a white piece of cloth, and this represents Sarai’s church regalia. We are all going to symbolically pour our words of comfort on Sarai, after listening to her voice through the letter she sent us. In turns we all stand up to shower words of comfort to Sarai, and at the end of each speaker we observe 1 minute of silence to connect with Sarai in space and allow the words to sink in her.
When all the speakers are done the facilitator takes a pair of scissors from our first aid kit. She cuts the letter into separate pieces, and puts them all on the chitenge in the centre of the circle. We are going to burn Sarai’s pain symbolically. We will burn the pieces where Sarai recorded her painful moments in the hands of her husband and in the hands of the police on the paraffin lamp, but the parts where Sarai speaks about hope and courage, about forgiveness and boldness and about passing on the courage to her children we will keep and pass them back on to Sarai to stick against the walls of her one roomed home. Sometimes we have to condemn the painful past, burn all its legacies and traumas, and keep only that which brings joy to us.
This report has not given a rendition of the stories and words of comfort told, choosing to focus more on an enunciation of feminist methodologies that we use to try and bring women together as one in a shared space for healing and strategizing. The methods are a combination of what we have learnt in the many different healing processes we have been to and what we think works for us as women in Zimbabwe based on experience.
How we came to build this small but united and strong community of ordinary women is not as easy as this report has been told. These women, having lived for most of their lives in a disempowering society, and having gone through humiliating and painful moments, at first found our story-telling-and-tell-it-all-approach unusual and uncomfortable. With time however, and from session to session, we all started to be more open and relaxed towards each other, and also to build a community of trust and sisterhood.
We do not have cure for violence and poverty, but we believe that pain can be prevented by creating an awareness of its causes, and also by addressing the roots of conflict both at individual and at collective levels. We encourage promoting a change of heart and attitude as the starting point for peace creation.
The power is not only in the story telling, but in the listening as well. Listening permits to choose between living a reflective instead of reactive life. We listen to the voice of the story-teller, but we also at the same time listen to the individual inner voice, to our conscience, and to the outer power’s leading – according to each person’s own faith or viewpoint.
Our group’s name is Tasimuka Taneta. We are a small gathering of 25 women representing the diversity of problems faced by common informal female traders in Zimbabwe. The problems range from poverty, lack of capital to do meaningful businesses, violence against women, lack of access to information and a sense of powerlessness in a country where power dynamics decide one’s fate and potential. Together as one, and with the help of our one facilitator, we commit together to work on specially designed issues, ideally once every month. What started as simple platform for sharing of information in the open market is slowly becoming a vehicle for ordinary women to cover their own unique peace-building potential. The driving factor is a quest for our own individual and inner peace. Focus is also on trust and friendship building through sharing personal stories. Step by step we are helping each other to understand the nature of peace and the role of each one of us in creating it in a space that has potential for more and worse conflict owing to structural differences and other related issues.
As a group we often identify areas of concern in our respective communities with the potential for creating conflict, and we mobilise collective strategies to take joint action in both small and big ways to address these issues. Of late our market women’s circle is also providing women with a transformative space for inter-personal and inter-religious dialogue as a way of creating potential for grounding women into their respective spaces of growth despite the challenges they face.
In our next circle we will share stories on how women from different faith backgrounds rely on religious fasting as a strategy for inner growth and grounding.