From the moment life said ‘go!’, I was already under pressure to excel.
Picture this – it’s 4pm, and you are in a 20 minute bus ride going back home from school with your little sister. Kids don’t often go that far for school, so strangers usually take interest in getting to know you.
The said strangers start asking what your name is. You mention your full name, and they recognise your name. They ask if you are Anyakalua (AKA Mrs. Manduwi)’s daughter, and you sheepishly smile, and say that you are. They then spend the entire busride discussing how great a woman she is. Picture that happening for nearly every single day of your childhood.
That was my childhood. My mother was(/is) one of the most noteable inspiring women and role models in my community – the first female ship-captain of Malawi.
She doesn’t think much of it, but everyone was just amazed to know a woman was a captain of the ship in Malawi. The entire lakeshore knew her by name – Anyakalua. I am told people would run to the beach to get a glimpse of her, if they heard she was sailing the Mtendere that week.https://www.byntha.com/travelling-to-likoma-island-via-the-mv-ilala-on-lake-malawi/embed/#?secret=rzcdbNV5ZqRead On How To Get To Likoma Via The Ilala
I never had to look far, when I learnt of drawing inspiration, and finding role models. Greatness lived in my house. I have always had one role model – my mother, the strongest and most brilliant woman I know.
I have witnessed her go from being a ship captain, to the principal of the Marine Training College, to the Principal of a technical college, and to now running her own two schools. She is hands down the most hardworking person I have ever seen (a little too hardworking if my opinion counts), and she has inspired me from day 1 till this very day.
Role Models Outside Of The Home
I have met so many powerful women in my academic and professional journey. Many of them have, and continue to inspire me. Watching women I have proximity to achieve so much, inspires me to reach for greater heights.
Personally, I have experienced a good number of people who reach out to me to tell me how I am their role model, and how much I inspire them. In this chapter of my life, that sort of influence is growing at a rate I was fairly not prepared for, and it scares me, particularly in this era. What era, you ask? The cancel culture era.
On a personal note, I am human first, and a storyteller second. I guess third, you could say I am a business person. In my professional journey, I have experienced a lot of love from people who find my creative entrepreneurial journey inspiring, but that on the other side of the coin also breeds contempt from those who do not consider that I live up to their standards.
The love is wonderful, and I appreciate it dearly, as I do believe we need a lot more love in this world, and I try to give as much of it as I can.
What worries me most is how, especially as a media persona (media being one of my modes of creative expression), I have witnessed a lot of influential people get ‘cancelled’ for most times very valid reasons too.
I have nothing against the cancel culture, and think we do need to cleanse society of bigots and other such vile human beings. It worries me, however, when any and everybody becomes a target. I have sometimes seen myself be targetted for circumstances I did not even play part in. Reading the situations – you notice the two or three leading the conversation speaking of how they should not have ‘role models’; that role models will always disappoint.
Having been dressed with the ‘role model’ title, and in fear of being cancelled – particularly if you build your brand around being ‘inspiring’, you find yourself trying to fit the box of the things people like, and find inspiring about you.
I have on occassion found myself trying to morph into bits about myself which people find most appealing and acceptable. Those parts of me are still real, but may only be a very small part of who I am in whole as a human. That’s a concept in branding, and a story for a different day.
Now I do not consider inspiring people a bad thing. I think we all try to find people around us who are doing what we would love to be doing, because we try to 1. affirm it is doable, and 2. find ways in which it can be done (if it has been done before).
The problem begins where people are held to a standard of demigods – where they lose their humanity because they are not permitted to err. I have heard it so many times, how people found one person inspiring, and that they cancelled the said person, because they did not live up to a certain standard for them.
When I see such, I think to myself, I’d rather not inspire anyone at all, to begin with. Personally, my career is in storytelling. Inspiring people is, though monumental, a very secondary thing. I would not wish to be cancelled for ‘influence’ that has come about because of my work.
My mother is my role model. She and I describe ourselves as the best of friends, and the worst of critics. We are so candid with each other, and that is one person I can confidently say I know fully – strengths and weaknesses in balance.
I acknowledge that she is human, and that being human means you are a balance of positives and negatives. I appreciate that she is real. It is her realness I find most inspiring.
If my siblings and I are educated today, it is because she studies every one of our subjects (not even exaggerating), and taught them to us whenever we were on holiday. She really is the most brilliant woman I know.
I have witnessed her fail, and I have witnessed her triumph. I have witnessed her full of love, and I have witnessed her on days when I doubted she had any. Through and through, she remains the most inspiring woman I know. She is human, a great human, a human that is real, a human that errs, and a human that triumphs. That is inspiring to me.
I know it is easy for me to extend empathy to her and her humanity, because she is my mother. I understand how hard it can be to extend such empathy to strangers – people we do not know on a personal level who happen to inspire us.
If you ask me, everytime a stranger says I inspire them, I am more scared than honored, because I start wondering which parts of me they relate to as inspiring, and I tend to wonder if they would still find me inspiring, if they got to know all parts of the real me. I do not think I am a bad person – or that I will be doing anything anytime soon that will warrant my cancellation, but then again you can never tell in this era.
One of my bigger fears is being cancelled before I even get the chance to be the storyteller I was destined to be. That would be sad. Knowing that, I am wary of my influence, as I understand it could be the same thing used to shoot me down, and that I now try to control the growth of that influence. I am slowly learning I have little to no control over that influence, and that scares me.
To all the women who have inspired me in my academic and professional journey, I want to say thank you – for just existing, for just being you, for being true. That’s a true role model to me. A role model is not a extraordinary person to me. A role model in my books is a real human being that does real human things in an extraordinary way.https://www.byntha.com/we-need-more-jessie-kabwila-s/embed/#?secret=5zbZI8n7Ou
A role model is not a extraordinary person. A role model is a real human being that does real human things in an extraordinary way.
And to my ma, Mrs. Manduwi AKA Anyakalua – thanks for living your whole life in the most extraordinary, and inspiring way. I am so grateful to be your daughter. I am so grateful I get to call the queen that is you, my mother.
All my love,