LIFE WAS different in Modjadji village. In Nobody village, where I came from, the role of a wife and makoti, a daughter-in-law, was basically traditional. In this village, being a makoti was as good as being a domestic worker. There was even a song that they sang when they welcomed you as makoti: “mmatswale tlogela dipitsa, mong wa tsona o fihlile” – mother-in-law, stop doing household chores, the person responsible for them has arrived.

As makoti, I was instructed by my mother-in-law to address everyone in the family and all relatives in the plural. The same way Julius Caesar addressed himself as we, us, our and so on. If someone asked me where my mother-in-law was, I had to say “they went to the shop”.

The same went for everyone related to my husband, Leshata, including children. When I shared this with a colleague at work, she said, “My dear, it is not only the family and relatives, but also their dogs, cats, goats and cows.”

Nobody really cared about the fact that I was pregnant. I had to do the cleaning, cooking and washing for all of them. It was back-breaking work.

I was willing to go with the flow and be a good makoti. Well, khethile! Khethile! If you have made a choice, you have to stick to it. If this was the price I had to pay for being with the husband I loved so much, so be it. I was fortunate to have a husband. Most women were struggling to find a man to marry them. Their children were being raised fatherless. I should be counting my blessings, I thought.

Little did I know that addressing my mother-in-law in the plural and doing household chores were to be the least of my troubles. I was always tired from having to go to work and then come back home to chores. My swollen feet and stomach cramps did not help.

It is often said that most women marry men that resemble their fathers in character and physical attributes. The only thing my dad and husband had in common was their height. My father was a dignified, humble gentleman. He was the kind of man who always made sure that his family had everything they needed.

“I don’t want my children to suffer the way I did,” he would say with a sombre face. I never heard him raise his voice at my mom, or saw him lay a hand on her. If they ever fought, it must have been behind the closed door of their bedroom.

When I met my husband, I expected him to be of my father’s calibre. I was doing my final year at the University of Limpopo, and Leshata was working as a teacher. We met in a queue at Standard Bank, and he charmed the wits out of me.

Three months later I was pregnant. Although I had misgivings about the unplanned pregnancy, he was happy about it. When I told him the news, he wasted no time in making the necessary arrangements. It all started with a letter from his family to mine, informing us of the lobola delegation that would be visiting us on the second Saturday of October. Normally it would have been enough just to inform them that I was pregnant and to pay what was called a damage fee. But he insisted on paying both the fee and the lobola.

My parents were a bit sceptical about the whole thing. My father reminded me that marriage was a big step and urged me to wait and get to know Leshata better.

“It all happened too quickly. It’s just too soon. You have only known him for three months, my girl,” said my father.

“It won’t help her to wait, the calabash is broken already. She must hurry up and marry, otherwise she will be a lefetwa. Who is going to marry her with another man’s child? She will grow within the marriage. We will support her,” said my mother.

By the end of the year he had already organised me a teaching post at the primary school in his home village. It was a feeder school for the secondary school where he taught.

I went straight from university to bogadi, my mother-in-law’s home. We shared a four-roomed house with Leshata’s mother, who had never married, and his three younger brothers. His four older sisters were all married and living with their husbands. It was a very uncomfortable situation, as we had only two bedrooms, one for his mother and the other for us, the newlyweds. Leshata’s brothers slept in the kitchen on foam mattresses. One of the boys was still at school while the other two stayed at home.

I convinced my husband to build us our own house. With the twins coming, we needed more space. Leshata bought the idea and told me that building a house in the village was not as complicated as it was in urban areas. There was enough space in his mother’s yard. He told me that we wouldn’t even need an architectural plan. He used a stick to draw lines on the ground and showed the builder how big the rooms should be. The only important thing was that it should be a structure that looked exactly like his principal Moloto’s house.