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Well-being Kitchen tea party in Zimbabwe

After a full month’s hard work in the market, my body grew tired. My right breast was painful, and so were my legs and bones. I couldn’t do my morning jogging exercises anymore, as I had to catch taxis to the market at 5pm every day, to be in time for the opening of fresh clothes bales. If you get there early, you get a better selection of old clothes that sell faster. By 8am I had to be on my way back home, to shower, eat and go to Epworth, the semi-rural market on the outskirts of Harare, where I sell from. My body really needed a break, time away from the noisy market place, a relaxing atmosphere to sit and chat with my girlfriends.

The idea of throwing a kitchen tea party for the market women quickly came into my mind. This would help all of us to take a break from the long, busy and tiring activities that have become part of us. We would surely lose a day’s sales, but the idea of playing to loud rhumba music, eating braid meat over glasses of fruit juice quickly solicited support from 25 women. I also invited 3 friends of mine who work with NGOs, my neighbour Linnet and her friend.

I seized this opportunity to try out the heart-mind-body process that JASS launched in Zimbabwe in April, to which I was part of the organising team, to further experiment with the methodologies. This would be a kitchen party with a difference.

Following morning I brought tiny cheaply printed invitation leaflets for each of the women. The invitation rules were clearly articulated on the invitation card:
• Bring a 1 litre drink of your choice
• No beer, only red or white wine and 100% juice
• Bring two fresh fruits of your choice
• Dress casually
• You can mix & match
• No smoking

We met at my rented house in Hatfield. The women came, all dressed in colours of the rainbow. We sat down in a circle on the fitted carpet. In the centre was a glass jar, a bowl of sand, a teaspoon and a bowl full of fresh roses.

We started with introductions. Each woman would say out her name, name one woman that inspires her most and tell why that woman inspires her.

After that we did breathing exercises, using a bicycle wheel and pump to illustrate. On pumping in pressure the wheel would bulge, and inflate when pressure was taken out. This is how proper breathing exercises should be done, filling the tummy with air and inflating the tummy on breathing out.

We then did a ritual with the stuff at the centre of the room. We poured dirty sand, teaspoon by teaspoon into the jar, until it was half full, and explained how bottling up annoying issues, anger, etc. will fill the body with garbage until somebody got sick, hence the need to empty the garbage and re-fill our bodies with goodness. We emptied the jar and took turns to drop flowers and as they did so. I advised that the body can be emptied through eating well, exercising, sharing stories, resting, meditating and yogi.

After this we broke out into 5 groups, where women took turns to share fears and threats, followed by coping strategies. After this we took a break for ginger tea with lemon and honey, served with home baked muffins.

The reporting back session took us to the lunch hour, and we took a break to stuff ourselves with well-prepared traditional dishes. We had juices and wine, and a desert of fruit. We treated ourselves to rhumba music and dance before we re-visited the reporting back session.

Maria’s story was the most touching of them all. Maria is my neighbour’s friend. She is a branch manager at a local bank and was invited at my friend’s recommendation.

This was the first time Maria shared her story with anyone. Maria works at a local bank, and her husband is a company CEO. Her husband insists on picking her up from work every day, although she owns a personal car. On arrival home, he inserts two fingers into her vagina, to check if she had sex at work. Each time his fingers come out wet, he accuses Maria of sleeping around and starts beating her. Maria only gets a break from this when she is having her monthly period.

I have resorted to drying my vagina every day before I leave work, and will insert tissue paper to absorb all moisture so that when I get home my vagina will be completely dry … .

Maria could not finish her story, she broke down and sobbed. To get around this emotional moment, each woman was advised to get a clean sheet of paper and write Maria a letter, comforting her and advising her on how to deal with her situation. One of the letters read thus:

Dear Maria

I love you. We all love you because you are a brave woman. Please stop crying, and stop pitying yourself. Stand up for yourself, for your children and for all the other women around you. Your husband is an abuser, and reporting him to be charged for domestic violence is the ideal step to take. Ask your heart, do you still love him, and want to spend the rest of your life being abused. Stop inserting paper into your vagina, you will get infections. I can’t imagine a dry vagina Maria. Go to Musasa Project, they will help you.

Take care of your body. Take the garbage out, and fill it with flowers, with love so that you don’t get stress.

Lots of love,

Laiza.

We took turns to read the letters to Maria, and by the time we finished reading the last letter she was composed and listening attentively. It was getting late, and most of the women had to travel as far as Epworth.

Before we closed I told them in brief about the JASS’s heart-mind-body process, explaining JASS’ commitment to empowering women to change their lives for the better. We placed a chair at the centre of the room and created a JASS Southern Africa Regional Office. One woman sat on the chair, wearing a hat made of paper, she became Shereen Essof. We took turns to thank JASS and to request for more professional heart-mind-body spaces in future.

The JASS heart-mind-body project offers a safe space for reflection and emotional support, while also enabling women to analyse and strategize around how to engage in the new and changing context safely. Women enact serious forms of violence on themselves by overworking themselves, and by refusing to acknowledge that resources can be used for optimizing individual strengths, for reflection and caring for individuals. They focus far too little attention on their own health, well-being and needs until the problem becomes acute.

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