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Seeing with new eyes: The Story of Nelisa & Tongai Furusa

nelissa fam pic 2We asked each of our kids what their guiding principles are – what they have learnt from us and how they live their lives  and this is what they said, Zoleka (12) plainly said, “Be Yourself” Yemurai (8) said, “Be kind and Respect your elders” and Garikayi (almost 5) said “Eat your Fruit and Vegetables”

For both Tongai and I our guiding principle is “God is Love: Without God all is in vain” – God is the centre of what we do and what we teach our kids.

Everything that has happened in our lives has been the works of God – he has been in control of our ultimate path & plan

My name is Nelisa (an isiXhosa name) meaning “To Fulfill”. I grew up in a Xhosa household in the traditionally or culturally known Zulu city of Durban. My family and I were outsiders living far far away from all our relatives.

Being born in the late 70s & growing up 80s in this country – being different was not always celebrated. Being different or the outsider is what shaped me and made me who I am today.

There were a few aspects that bound us as a family:

Our faith: I grew up in a Roman Catholic household. We were the ones that would pray the rosary every day and knew which patron Saint would be prayed on each day. The very fact that I attended an Anglican high school, was a “big pill to swallow” for us all. But above all of the doctrine – the emphasis was to know God and trust in Him.

The second was our language; my father had studied in Europe and spoke several languages – he would often encourage my brothers and I to learn other languages. My mother on the other hand, the proud Xhosa woman from Pondoland – would only ever speak (and still does to this day) Xhosa to me. Even though isiZulu and isiXhosa may not be too far apart – language and culture are often intertwined and work hand in hand. Looking back, it was perhaps my mother’s sense of owning her identity and passing it on to her kids

The third aspect was about understanding who we were within this journey of life. It has been touched on previously, but a clan name is what sets you apart from everyone else and links you to your ancestry.

I belong to the Tolo clan; oDlangamandla. When my mother talks to me or when am with my extended family – I am fondly referred to as MamTolo or Tolokazi (the female Tolo clan member).

Fast forward to the early 2000s –  living the young adult life in Johannesburg – the multicultural melting pot. Where it actually didn’t matter who you were or where you are from. I met a young man in the same industry.. and he was my perfect fit.

A perfect fit in that he had the same underlying value principles I did and this has been the corner stone to our relationship.

Nelisa and I are in a multi-cultural relationship. I am from Zimbabwe and am born Shona

She is from South Africa and was born Xhosa. We had been dating for some time and we finally decided we were going to start a family together. We had never done anything like this before but our minds and heart were overloaded with love.

Nelisa called her brother immediately because culturally, we really did not know what to do. He advised Nelisa to call her mother and tell her that “some was coming to ask” Ukucelwa. This was met with great jubilation and so the love that we had for each other began to slowly spread onto others. So much so that the Lobola ceremony, which was held in Durban, went on late into the night with songs from Zimbabwe being sung and taught to our new Xhosa family and vice versa. I always describe the joining of our two families as a very spiritual joyous occasion filled with love and respect for each other. Nelisa’s aunts embracing my aunts, her uncles embracing my uncles it really was a process of acknowledging and seeing each other and as beautifully put so well in Xhosa – Nelisa’s dad turned to my father amongst the singing and the laughter and said to him “Mlingani”, which means “my equal” and so it is with this love and respect that we have raised our children.

Zoleka (our first born) was born in 2005. Her name which means “Serenity or Peacefulness” in isiXhosa. In our modern approach to parenting, we offered each of our parents the chance to give a name. Zoleka was a name which resonated for everyone.

Little did I realize that with this naming of Zoleka – it would be a renaming for both of us –  I became maiZoleka (mother of Zoleka in Shona) and Tongai, babaZoleka (father of Zoleka).

These names affirmed our duty as parents and protectors of our children. Our roles in this world had changed from daughter and son to mother and father – and we needed to focus on the task at hand.

Yemurai followed 4 years later. Yemurai  is a Shona name which means “ To Honour”.  She was born two months before I lost my dad to Cancer. This was also the time that we started coming to St Francis – our spiritual home.  It is here that our faith was deepened and strengthened.  We found solace and sanctity in all the challenges that faced us.

In all honesty, we were raising our kids “alone” my mother was in Durban, amaTongai (Tongai’s mom) was living in Australia on a diplomatic posting and Tongai’s dad was in Harare.

Every decision was made by us and for us as a family. Having St Francis as our place of worship was important to our family.

We faced yet another unexpected blow – the sudden passing of Tongai’s father in 2012. We had to be strong and face whatever lay ahead.

We knew that God would be with us at every turn – and we knew that he was not a perfidious, punative God but One of Love and who would carry us on our journey.

In 2013, we welcomed Garikayi into the world. Garikayi another Shona name meaning “Live Well” – he came into our lives and completed our family.

We soon realized that identity and knowing who they were was something we wanted to teach them from a young age. Our children often travel to Zimbabwe and we have made it a priority that they visit and know our rural home in Shurugwi where my grandfather lived and died. This is our roots, where we are from as a broader family of Furusas and so ultimately where we make them understand that they are from.

These visits are always a joy for the kids as they often get amazed as to why so many people share their same surname in that area. We actually have a photograph of the kids standing outside a shop that says Furusa Supermarket  – they were so shocked to walk in and ask the owner who is the Furusa here? And she replied “I am.”

This sense of a broader family and identity was reaffirmed in our clan name. Our totem being a Zebra is something the children grasped from a very you age. The girls I call Madhuve and Garikayi I call by our clan name Mubaiwa. They all respond and understand that I’m talking to them. This is the identity that is branded on them for the rest of their lives. Knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they know that they are part of a wider family.  And it would be this wider family that we realized would be vital in supporting us in difficult times and always gives us a reference when sometimes we feel lost and directionless.

So most of the time we are lost and directionless but faith in God has always shown us the light. We have made sure that our children know and understand God. They pray themselves every night before they go to bed. It’s amazing what children pray for. They all pray with gratitude for their lives and their days. But what struck me the most is that they pray for each others protection of themselves and their family.  It is this love and these prayers for each other that keeps us moving everyday.

I’m very grateful to St Francis as we have been able to bring our children up in a church that is very family orientated. Our children enjoy coming here and it is here in the Sunday school and the Friday Youth meetings that they learn the love of God. They interact with fellow Franciscans and bond in the love of God. This is where we all learn to  love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul,with all our mind and with all our strength.

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