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Chido Munjanganja

Chido is a Zimbabwe-born optometrist. When she was a teenager she moved to Thailand. She currently lives in Chicago.

What is philosophy to you? How do you understand it?

Philosophy means finding the right path in life, for me.

I know that your father was a big influence in your life. And I know he was an educator. Do you think that his influence and who he was, was in a sense, the reason you were seeking to study philosophy or to find this path?

For sure. Seeking knowledge was definitely an influence I got from my dad. He read all the time. The image of my dad is him sitting in a chair, his favorite chair, and reading a book, that was my dad.

But interesting enough, with my dad, I knew he had a PhD in philosophy and history or something, but we never really talked about it. Philosophy is something that I was just drawn to later on in life.

And do you think that the kind of books he read and the knowledge he had impacted the way he lived? Was there a connection between the things he read and the way he was and the way he lived?

I think so. The fact that he did not get into politics. When everybody thought he would have a good chance of winning, and he did not want to be someone else. There is a lot of corruption and he did not want to put himself in a position where people would put him between the rock and the hard place.

My uncle was a politician, he wrote the constitution of my country, he was a minister in the government, and he told my dad: you should run! You would win.

But my dad just knew, with all the corruption he saw, that that was not a life he wanted. He did not mind having the humble life he had, he also made sure he was not indebted to people, so they won’t be able to manipulate a situation. I think a lot of it was from his reading of philosophy and understanding the human mind and history.

You moved from Zimbabwe at a young age, is that right?

We moved from Zimbabwe to Thailand first, when I was 16, for school.

I moved with my family; my whole family moved there. Then I came here from Thailand for undergraduate studies. Not to Chicago, but to New Haven, Connecticut.

You got to experience living in different cultures and different environments in general. Getting to know these different cultures, what would you say was most impactful from that experience to you?

I was thinking how people can still communicate even if you do not speak the same language, there's still ways of showing compassion or helping someone. There are very universal ways of speech, I guess, you know, or communicating. Our maid in Thailand did not speak English. So, a lot of stuff was maybe pointing at stuff, sign language, but even though there was not much exchange, I could see a lot of conversations happening between my mom and her. So that was kind of cool to see.

Would you say that this experience of moving a couple of times to completely different cultures, impacted your identity?

For sure. Yeah, definitely, like living in Asia, I grew up attending school there. So, I was not too immersed in the culture, but it is different than just visiting right? Or they do not speak English in Thailand. So that was a very profound experience for me.

How do you think that experience affected your identity? When you think about yourself, do you identify with certain aspects of the culture you grew up in?

I just try to weave it all together because I am not whole without either. Without either experience I would not be me. I do show pride when I present myself as an African who has lived, not necessarily in the most common places you would find like Europe, like the UK or America, but I went to a country where you would barely see people of color.

There is a lot of ignorance about Africa, and I feel I use my experience in Thailand and my heritage as Zimbabwean to show that there is another world of people out there, beyond what you see here on the streets. I do see it as part of my identity. I think it is just a powerful piece of my history that helps propel me into a different light. And Thai food is my comfort food. If I am feeling down, if I am feeling sad, I want Thai food.

If you look at the Zimbabwean culture, and you look at the way you were brought up, the way you grew up in that culture, do you recognize or see a specific value that you take away from that culture?

It is an interesting question. I didn't really think about that. Because honestly, I thought about the things I didn't like about the culture, the things that I rejected but I never really thought about what values or positive things that I have taken on, too. Good question, though.

You have this perspective of seeing something that is wider than what you normally see or what people would see, by being exposed to a few cultures. You have an insight to something bigger. What did you take away from those cultures?

I never actually stopped to think about it… Zimbabwe is very lively. When we are at our best, because right now things just kind of suck, Zimbabweans are known to be resilient. And sometimes it is to a fault. It is not a positive thing because this is why we're still in our current situation. We are so resilient, we can tolerate a dictator, we can tolerate a lot of stuff being done to us. We just adapt versus pushing back as a nation. Because there are more of us, less of them… And I know it's easier said than done. I live here, it is easier for me to say “hey, why aren't you doing something?” But Zimbabweans are known for being tolerant and resilient and ambitious because we are all over the world. There is a saying that everybody knows at least one Zimbabwean all over the world.

Education was something important in my country. And we would go wherever we could to study. When my dad worked for the ministry, they would send students to Cuba to get university scholarships, we were known as the breadbasket of Africa.

Zimbabwe is like that, or used to be before... We had the highest literacy rate in Africa which is showing how education was really valued. And we used to produce, and we did a lot for ourselves, we were “the model nation”, the nation people looked up to. Even in the movies, like Blood Diamonds, Leo's character is from Rhodesia which is Zimbabwe. We are pretty famous.

I think that wherever we are, we do excel, and strive to do well, most of the time, because we also want to help and support our families at home.

What would you say are your core values in life?

Showing kindness and compassion I think are my very core. I try to do everything with that in mind. Even if I am upset, I try to be compassionate or put the shoe on the other foot, and instead of just reacting I try to be understanding as well. But not a pushover, either.

Do you feel that the kind of life you had helped you develop those values? Because I am sure that moving from place to place wasn't always easy.

Yes. They definitely influenced.

Not being able to communicate in a normal verbal way, you could notice the body language and expressions, if someone is being nice to you or not. I guess that by not having that verbal language, I would think about it in a more internalized way. For example, how do I show that I am grateful in an indirect way?

You mentioned earlier that later in life you were seeking philosophy as a method or as a path. Do you feel it is helping you discovering a certain path in your life?

Yes, it is definitely like filling in some of those holes and curiosities, like questions about who am I? Where do I come from?

I am not a big reader so it's hard for me to get that knowledge and information from just reading books like the way my dad did. Having philosophy classes that are interactive, and the talking actually helps it stick and it makes it less academic and easier to take in and internalize. I am grateful for that.

If you had a chance to give some advice to a younger version of you, what kind of advice would you give yourself? From the perspective you have today.

Learn to meditate earlier in life.

How did meditation help you?

Well, the meditation helped me with discipline. It is an easy way to learn self-discipline and through that, apply it without knowingly even, into other areas. With discipline you have pauses, there is no rush, no rush decisions, or impulsive decisions. It is more purpose oriented and goal oriented.

Do you think your younger version was not disciplined?

Academically I was but I think that on social aspects I was not quite as disciplined. I knew how to be disciplined in my academic life but not outside of that.

Do you think that the lack of discipline in certain areas in your life, prevent you from doing certain things, achieving certain things or being who you are?

No, it just caused unnecessary suffering. I mean, when you are younger, you think about ‘now’, that instant gratification, versus how is this going to impact me down the road?

But besides meditation it is also self-love. For me self-discipline encompasses self-love, self-respect, all those things. When I am saying self-discipline, that is because you're doing it. You are doing what you need in order to fulfill a life’s purpose or goal, whatever it is. I am just talking in terms of leading a healthy life, keeping up with my responsibilities and not letting things fall to the wayside. Because then I am only hurting myself at the end of the day.

Do you feel you have acquired more self-discipline and more wisdom in that sense?

Yes, it is definitely a little less suffering. The suffering is still there a little bit, but it is definitely a little less.

What would be your advice for people who are struggling right now, who are feeling the effects of this crisis?

To understand that in life there are cycles. There may be moments, like this past year, that do happen. Life is not always going to be roses. It is not always going to be perfect. It is not always going to be great. Accepting that reality makes it easier to face those adversities when they come.

By knowing that, you subconsciously prepare yourself for that possibility, versus if you ignore it, and you think “oh, that will never happen”, then it is like living in a false world. It is to have a clear vision of things or a clear perspective or understanding of how things work.

It is not going to be forever. Try and find the positive in the worst of situations. It does help lift you up and lighten up situations that are really difficult.

What inspires you in difficult times? What lift you up?

My cats.

What about them lift you up?

Like right now this one she just wants my love and attention.

In the mornings they both will take turns and they will come and give me cuddles and snuggles. That is a great way to start the day. I love that I get to start the day like that. They are very affectionate.

Her name is Bella-Moya which means beautiful heart. Moya in my language means heart, Bella – beautiful…

And in the current state of the world, also in my country, I am seeing a lot more of the negative versus all the positive things that are happening. But it is in the air right now. That is what influenced my thought process.

We are definitely influenced by our surroundings; we're not isolated in that sense. But if there is something that helps us keep a clear vision, we can remember that, like you mentioned, it is a cycle and it is not going to last forever. And we can always choose to look on the fuller glass, rather than the empty part.

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