Survival and Revival: The Story of Delta’s Spirit
It was on a spring day in 2004 when twenty-year-old Delta Milayo Ndou decided that her life was no longer worth living.
Barely into her university studies and unexpectedly pregnant, Delta wavered between determination and indecision until at last, she forced a bottle of pills down her throat and waited to die.
But somehow, in those long minutes awaiting the end, Delta had a change of heart.
“I couldn’t go through with it so I forced myself to vomit and chose to face life - to live, to fight and to survive,” recalls Delta, now 26.
It’s almost impossible to believe that one of Zimbabwe’s most outspoken journalists and gender activists could ever buckle in submission to fear.
Delta’s regular column in one of Zimbabwe’s weekly newspapers and her personal blog attest to her bold approach to tackling societal inequalities and the challenges of being a woman in contemporary Zimbabwe. Owing to her activism, Delta was recently recognised by the Moremi Leadership Institute as one of Africa’s 25 most promising young women leaders. On describing herself on her blog, the self-defined feminist writes, “I am a VOICE – one of those who refuse to be gagged by the traditions that tell me that my womanhood obscures my humanity.”
But just six short years ago, when dreams of success seemed audacious for Delta to even consider, she believed eternal silence to be her only escape. “I was a first year student, recently orphaned and now pregnant by a final year student,” recalls Delta. “I had never felt so acutely the pain of losing my parents as I did then because for the first time ever, I was deep in trouble and they were not there to turn to.”
Delta’s mother died when she was 15. And half a year later, her father followed.
“Suddenly I was no one’s child,” remembers Delta of that double loss. “I belonged to no one and in many ways it felt like my value to the world had depreciated. I was nothing but a nameless faceless addition to the burgeoning statistics of Africa’s AIDS orphans.”
Though Delta points to her father’s infidelity and emotional abuse of her mother as the cause of her parents’ early deaths, she also distinctly recalls his fervent encouragement to her to get an education - a wish he reiterated even on his deathbed. And so she had honoured this dying plea, completing high school and proceeding to university, all the while the pain of her loss still plaguing her. With time, she directed this tangle of emotions towards her relatives, creating impassable rifts between herself and them.
That was also the time she fell in love.
“In that one man I found comfort, acceptance and the precious knowledge that I belonged to someone,” she recounts. “I mattered and if nothing else, there would be someone who noticed if I suddenly fell off the face of the earth.”
But Delta hadn’t bargained for motherhood as part of this package. Devastated at the thought of becoming a college drop-out and fearing the prospects of becoming a wife as disempowered in marriage as her mother had been, Delta chose suicide as her way out.
Fittingly, the indomitable fighting spirit that had carried her through innumerable trials intervened.
And so Delta continued with her degree, giving birth a few months later, to a baby boy. After the birth, she resolved to go back to school as soon as she could and seven months on, weaned her son and went back to university, leaving him in the care of her lover’s younger sister.
“When I returned, I found myself mentoring other young students who’d fallen pregnant at college,” she says. “I shared freely my experiences and listened to their fears and spoke to their families, and begged and pleaded on their behalf. I knew that without their family’s support, they would never be able to come back and finish studying for their degrees.”
But just as Delta seemed to have overcome the darkness, more problems ensued.
At 23, after the great struggle to get to the special day, Delta missed her graduation ceremony, hospitalised after collapsing due to stress-related fits and convulsions. Her blood pressure had shot up so high that she was having trouble breathing. “I had learned that my Prince Charming was not so princely and that he had successfully charmed his way into another woman’s pants and impregnated her,” she remembers with painful humour.
After a traditional ceremony in the same year that she’d given birth, Delta had become her lover’s wife.
“It had been the last thing I intended at the time but I was in love, pregnant and it was the way things were done,” recounts Delta candidly. “But with hindsight, it was also possibly the worst blunder of my life to date.”
The pain of betrayal stabbed at her, but Delta chose to survive once more. “That’s what African women do,” she says matter-of-factly. “Sometimes we display the kind of stoicism of a cow standing in the rain!”
In 2008, Delta was identified among Zimbabwe’s top young leaders. This is the same year that she began her newspaper column and also became an HIV and AIDS scriptwriter for Population Services International (PSI) Zimbabwe.
Last year, she was selected as a keynote speaker at a southern African regional conference on gender and development and began her blog – called ItsDelta – on 25th November 2009 to coincide with the global launch of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Delta is also a gender resource person for a local university, a mentor for a high school human rights project and will next year be published in a short story anthology.
“Life has happened to me and I have, to the best of my ability, charted my own path thus far,” affirms Delta. “I am a survivor and always will be.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.