2.0 – Your environment does not define you


Mums dreams of being a cycle-breaking hero defied the norm back in the early 1950’s, especially in a tiny African village farm. She could’ve easily stayed in Zambia, married, had children and let culture and society dictate her fate as an female growing up in the early 1950’s. Or even worse, died of HIV like some of her relatives in the 80’s and 90’s.

Why would she want more?

She was surrounded by a loving family. They had enough food, sufficient shelter and unlike its surrounding countries, Zambia managed to avoid war and upheaval that marked much of Africa’s post-colonial history. But I am sure like many families back then and even today, they too had their imperfections. I have seen slithers of these growing up. The inheritance of personal and parental tools in need of serious repair, the passing down of bitterness and rage like family heirlooms. She didn’t tell us everything growing up – just enough to give us a sense of where she came from. Superheros must keep some secrets, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, mum was always perfect. But we’ll get to that later on.

So Petronella, why did you want more? What drove you to dream bigger than the tiny village of Monze?

As a young girl, should would always say:

“listen mwana ‘angu” (my child),“my mother, your grandmother Clara married very young and had 10 children. All these children were educated by the Irish catholic church to at least high school and given equal opportunities despite their gender”.

Some of my aunts that mum talked about either got married, others returned to the village to work on my grandparents farm, became teachers or nurses. Those were the only three options for girls after high school back then.

“I wanted more” she continued. “The world the nuns made us read about is what I wanted”.


Mum would say:

” Your environment does not dictate your direction in life unless you allow it”

 Read that again, because this has now become my life’s motto and one of many heirlooms I hope to pass down to my children. Just because you grow up surrounded by wealth does not necessarily guarantee your success in life.

Life continued for mum. As the fairy tale that most little girls tell themselves goes……….

Girl meets her prince;

They fall in love;

Travel the world together;

Have beautiful children;

Amazing careers (she was a new aged woman for her time);

Live happily ever after in a pandemic free world, on a hill, in the sun, by the sea.


This fairy tale wasn’t written for us.

From a poverty stricken environment, domestic violence (yes the prince wasn’t quite the prince we’d hoped for).

My mother raised 3 daughters on her own. Not even with an accepting community. She changed diapers, packed school lunches, turned up to a few sporting events and tucked me in at night (when she wasn’t doing night duty at work. What she hid very well like most single parents, was what was really going on behid the scenes. The silent battle of with forces of darkness none of us could see. I was unaware of this through much of my childhood, though the signs were there. I don’t remember whenI first took note of the cape tucked neatly under her clothes, but by the time I left home, I had a good idea of how much time and energy she spent fighting the villains in her head – bi-polar, depression, isolation, parkinsons and today dementia.

Please don’t get me wrong, my life wasn’t all doom and gloom. We never went without. We travelled the world, we learned, we saw. The little things mattered and brought us joy. Petronella’s dreams and passion for wanting more, gave me a global upbringing. I knew no poverty.

Confronted by racism, gender discrimination, social isolation and many other challenges, my siblings and I were taught to remove fear from our environment and mindset.


For what surrounds you does not define you.


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