6.0 Petronella in her younger years


I started recording conversations with my mother long before it was clear she had Lewy Body dementia. I did this because my own story was not the easiest and listening to her story of origin, helped ground me, providing a sense of joy and connection when I felt none. So much of our history together was strained, but there are no words to describe the pride and joy in her voice as she spoke of her family. Petronella was at her happiest when she talked about her parents or children. Despite our many disagreements this lifted the veil on the love my mother felt towards me.

Later, as her dementia became clearer, I grew to know her more deeply.  As her protective walls came down, she shared the kinds of stories she always felt the need to protect me from as her daughter. She revealed some of her deepest battles as well as her demons and I gained context as well as a window into her emotions on these topics. Suddenly, I had context to provide a direction for my own journey and healing. For these small blessings I will be forever grateful to the ravages of Dementia. But enough about me.

Petronella’s family originated from the Zambian Tonga tribe that were believed to be the first to settle in Northern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia) in the 12th century.

Her parents, Paul and Clara Dyamini (both deceased) had ten children. From eldest to youngest, Petronella was the 3rd eldest.

The ever hardworking and always smiling Clara, outlived her husband Paul and 6 of her children. I cannot tell you how many grandchildren and great grandchildren she raised, but she had a few. With such adventurous roots it was, perhaps inevitable that my mother would become an explorer in her own right.



Grandma Clara and I for my tradition wedding in Lusaka, Zambia 2008

I am so blessed that my darling husband got to meet my grandmother.

Grandma Clara 2 years before she passed away from dementia related complications. I still don’t know how old she would’ve been.

Petronella was a self-proclaimed daddy’s girl and tomb boy. She would dream of going to high school and once there University. Most girls older than her age group would only go as far as middle school before being married off or extracted to help around the home.

She attended “St Joseph’s boarding school”, which remains a Catholic all girls schools run by the Irish nuns to this day although mum corrects me that they referred to them as “sisters” not nuns. It was considered one of Zambia’s top schools with a reputation for strictness.

boy were those sisters strict!” she would reminisce.


Mum remained in contact with Sister Jane Meyer for many years to follow.

The girls had to wear their hair short without traditional hair braiding. Uniforms must be clean, ironed and always a certain length below your knees. Your spotless white socks must be pulled right up and your shoes mirror polished black. They slept on metal sprung bunk beds which squeaked at the slightest movement. Wetting the bed was a punishable offence deeply feared by the primary girls who attended. During the week they ate porridge for breakfast and over the weekend enjoyed the treat of bread and butter or jam with a cup of tea. Lunch and was the staple maize meal (nshiima) with vegetables and beef stew. Chicken was only served on special occasions as they were kept for the sisters.


(Pictures of St Joseph’s school – courtesy of M. Castelluccio)

All forms of communication with the opposite gender during school terms was strictly prohibited. The sisters would open and read every single letter sent to the girls and if you received a letter from a boy, you could get whipped or depending on the content, suspended from school. It was a grave sin to fraternise with boys.

The girls learned maths, English, French and home economics as core subjects. Geography was taught to the older girls, but not the local geography, instead they learned British geography and British history.

Native languages were not permitted to be used whilst at school and swift punishments were dealt for speaking any language other than English – even to your friend. At no point were the girls allowed to practice any of their traditions whilst at school and according to Mum the closest they would get to their cultural roots was playing the drums in church or as they sang songs taught to them by the sisters. To continue a sense of traditional identity, the girls relied upon elder students to teach them local history, customs and traditions covertly during school breaks.

Mum learned to speak English initially from her father. Grandpa Paul had learned to speak English from the catholic priests and he later became a teacher himself. He would teach all his children at the dinner fire until they were old enough to start school. They were considered “well off” in their village  as Grandpa Paul was a village elder and school principal (not St Josephs). They had a large farm in Monze to which the locals would assist in cultivating. The produce was sold at the local market and also shared amongst the villagers that worked on the farm. This farm still exists and is currently run by my Aunt Florence and other relatives.


Photo of Grandma Clara (Left), Petronella (centre) and Florence in the Monze farm in July 2011. Grandma’s main hut.

Although my grandparents had 10 children of their own, they also took care of orphan children and children of relatives that needed assistance. Everyone was welcome – whatever they had was shared.

When mum completed high school, she already had dreams of going to the University of Zambia. Her school grades were second to her best friend Regina. However, her parents could not afford the tuition. In addition, the only university options for women at that time were either; nursing or teaching. Neither of which Petronella was interested in. She wanted more. She wanted the life that she had read about in her school books. She wanted to explore the geography and experience the remains of the European history she was now familiar with.

Petronella with her best friend Regina (deceased) at the University of Zambia. They both undertook a student exchange program in Madascar. Mum has very fond memories of her first trip out of Zambia with Regina.

Salvation came in the form of a librarianship scholarship which was suggested to her by the Sisters. It was a new course available only to a select few. And with St Joseph’s being a top school in Zambia together with mums high grades, the sisters helped complete the application forms. University further fanned Petronella dreams and her father was so proud. Having daughters in most parts of Africa is a huge blessing as daughters come with a bride price. This price increases, with every positive attribute the girl possess. A university education meant the village elders second daughters bride price would increase tremendously. They were wealthy indeed with 6 daughters all baring at least a high school education.

Petronella’s Bachelor of Librarianship graduation – University of Zambia


Petronella’s Masters of Librarianship Graduation – Strathclyde University – Scotland 1983


Petronella dedicated her Master’s thesis to her parents, her husband and her “most loved babies – Abigail, Adelaine and Amanda”. How I wish she could still remember all these people and how much we once meant to her. I have the original hand typed, 255 paged bound book in my study today


Today a copy of her thesis can still be found in the University of Zambia, kept in the “Special Collections Division”.

Librarianship would later take mum all over the world. Like a true Virgo, her perfectionist tendencies suited book cataloguing. She was meticulous and single minded in her pursuits of improvement. She loved the interesting people she met, the wonderful new locations she visited and the unlimited knowledge she now had access to.







Fiji Islands


But… like all good stories there were a few interesting bumps along the way.

Petronella met a boy at the University of Zambia when she was 18yrs old. Eddie David Mavunga.

She described him as a sweet talking, big afro giant of a man with bell bottom pants and slick dance moves. He was a real ladies man and had such huge presence when he entered a room. He was studying a major in mathematics. They fell in love……..

I’ll tell you more about him in our next conversation.



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