Roxanne Malabar | Mauritius
Gender norms operate in the backseat - hidden, prevailing and often unrecognizable. We have so many creeping through our daily lives and consciously or unconsciously, we tend to follow or perpetuate them. Men being given decision-making powers, the profanity of the “way-too-short” skirts, women never being elected as prime ministers, the regular news of femicide, and the list goes on. But what sticks with me is how more women are turning things around and owning their lives today. Despite what society teaches us about being a male or female, we can go beyond that.
In Mauritius, tales of free men who know best and of submissive women who shut up to avoid trouble are getting stale as the world evolves. In my own circle, I have witnessed an inspiring situation which makes me firmly believe that there’s nothing a woman cannot do. It’s the story of a woman who, against all odds, made it through underlying norms. A wife, a mother but primarily a warrior. My mom, a heroine.
Little did I know that our lives would change so much in just a matter of hours and how this would start impacting my life vision in the long run. It all happened on a September night. My mom suddenly woke up because my dad wouldn’t stop moving beside her. He kept moving his left foot, as if he was struggling to get up. He didn’t respond and couldn’t even look at mom in her eyes. Something about him was very distant… After several failed attempts at communicating with him and his body falling off the bed, my mom realized something was off and ran to wake my big brother up. They also called other family members living in the house at the back. Our house was more of a family property. After he was rushed to the clinic, doctors ran some tests and finally found out he had a stroke. He was disabled and the right side of his body wasn’t responsive. The doctor told my mom that it would take years for him to be fine again, that he had become highly dependent and would need constant physiotherapy. My mom couldn’t believe what she just heard. She broke down as she saw chaos coming our way. She kept repeating how we would have been in a much better place if my dad was still well.
He was the rock of our family. And now he could neither walk nor utter a proper word anymore, except for ‘Ay!’ whenever he tried to ask for something.
Things were quick to slide into a downward spiral once the news broke out. My dad, despite being the youngest among his brothers, was respected in the family. His siblings, especially his sisters, dared not speak against him. My mom had easily become a part of his family just until my dad fell ill.
Then, the masks came off. It was as if it became easier to speak up now that the man of the family was no longer able to ‘protect’ or ‘impose’. Family members from my dad’s side began acting differently towards her.
At first, they tried to help from time to time but it didn’t take long for some to stop visiting. And those still living in the vicinity started bossing around and doing things which would bother my mom. They just didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t until some years later that I realized how hurt and troubled my mom was. The whole situation was an opportunity for my uncle-in-law next door to act as if he was the landlord and to speak rudely to my mom whenever she tried to share her thoughts. My mom fought for her rights and wasn’t naive; and that provoked him even more.
It started with the clotheslines. My mom politely requested my aunt and himself to leave some space where the sun’s rays strike for her clothes. The uncle didn't appreciate it but ironically it was my mom’s clothesline and we were sharing. One day when little space was left on the line, my mom tried to move one of their clothes and accidently knocked over a heavily drenched skirt. My mom went to knock at my aunt’s door and tried explaining the situation but the uncle behind, replied loudly, “Depi lot fwa la, li pe rode avek mwa!” He insinuated that my mom was pissing him off since last time and was looking for trouble. He would never have spoken this way if he was facing my brothers, but he felt comfortable doing it with my mother. The next thing he did was block the pathway to the dumping ground when my mom had to throw her rubbish. She desperately tried to get my aunt’s support but the latter just looked and went back into her house. What could she possibly do? She was fully dependent on her husband. How could she speak against him? He took pleasure in dominating and seeing my mom standing up to him made him boil. Yet, he didn’t expect my mom to be bold enough to call the police. Or that she could sell the family house, which involves his own as well, and move to her own house. Little did he realize that he should never have underestimated a woman’s power.
Eventually, we moved. Mostly for mom’s peace of mind but I cannot help but admire the strength and fierce energy she displayed all along. She was finally in a place she could call home. She didn’t have to deal with her in-laws’ patronizing behavior anymore. It took some time but she made it. It would just be a matter of time until the other house would be on sale. In the meantime, she worked hard in renovating the new house, liaising with the workers, explaining to them exactly what she wanted everything to look like and tracking the whole procedure.
She made the decisions and didn’t hesitate to disagree or confront them if things weren’t as she expected, especially when her money was involved. It was something she never did before. Despite fearing the unknown, she had to make a move and she brilliantly did.
Even though my dad wasn’t here to support us anymore and she was retired. But she used to be employed and never was dependent. While my brothers were almost grown ups when Dad got paralyzed, I was still a child and she raised me to the best of her abilities. She never let me down, guided me throughout my teenage years and still does as I’ve grown into a young adult. She shines in a man’s world and has always been more than just a wife and a mother. She is her own heroine, my best friend and a role model I look up to while growing up. She taught me not to give up, to stand for oneself and I will follow in her steps. She decided not to shut up and I won’t too.