Very briefly I will run through the very basic and boring stuff. My full name is Nonkanyiso Phathisiwe Mabaleka and I was born on the eleventh of September 1975. I have lived most of my life in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.
I went to Noddy nursery school then spent three years at Waterford Primary school, moving on to Khumalo Primary school for the remainder of my primary school education. I went to Townsend Girls high from 1989-1992, where I completed my O’levels, and moved on to Matopo Mission where I completed my A’levels at the end of 1994.
I did a year at the Polytechnic in Bulawayo studying Computer Science and hated it with a passion. I worked as a data capture clerk the following year, then in 1997 I studied Beauty Therapy, then worked as a Beauty Therapist in Harare and Bulawayo till 2001, which is when I first started working on Cruise ships. I have been to all the continents of this world and have even forgotten some of the many places I have seen. My final cruise ended in 2014.The story below will explain where I have been since then.
My personal, ’road to Damascus’ experience!
I call this the ‘road to Damascus experience’ because it is that experience when you’ve planed your life one way but you are forced by situations caused by God Himself, bringing you into His original plan, just as He did with Paul on his way to Damascus.
To tell this story I must start from the very beginning. I started working on Cruise ships in December of 2001. I was on the Disney magic for three years and moved on to the Norwegian Spirit for a contract and a half. A full contract was eight months long. My father passed away in 2005, which is why I only did half a contract. I went back for another contract and found that I just did not have the strength, so I stopped cruising around August of 2006.
During the five-year break I was busy with a whole lot of church activities from cleaning the church toilets, managing the church garden, helping out in the office, music team activities and other church programs in general. I learned how to play the guitar through the church too after a friend blessed me with one. I started a gardening company called ‘Garden Venture’, which ran for a couple of years. I spent a year in South Africa and five months with our sister church in Mauritius. This was the time I started writing the book ‘Mazi’, written in Ndebele.
I found myself back on the ships again towards the end of 2011. I was back on Norwegian Cruise lines, namely the Gem and the Pearl, then moved on to Silver sea cruise ships, the Silver Whisper and the Silver Spirit. Now this second time around served to accomplish two things in my life. I always told myself that I must do a Mediterranean cruise, and also that I would stop cruising once I had done a World cruise. I saw the World from the Silver whisper. That was an amazing contract! The Spirit was my last ship taking me to the Mediterranean.
See, going back in 2011 was just a way of escape for me I believe. I was fed up with Zimbabwe and life on land. I missed the sea! However when I returned, I was no longer as young as I had been when I first set out. Being on the Norwegian ships cost me my slender body. We were allowed to eat in the guest area and at times as late as 10pm. I admit I was not careful. I also found myself developing a nasty habit of snacking in bed, late in the evening. So I gained weight as I never have in all my life. It came on very quickly, within about two to three months and it was the cause of a lot of pain in my feet and legs. I had never really gone over fifty kilograms so I was excited at first but was alarmed when I was now 58-59kgs, lumpy in weird places and in pain. I worked out harder and started to try to hold back on the late night crepes with ice-cream, fruit and cream, and the snacks in bed that normally followed. I detoxed and went to every class the fitness instructors gave, including working out with the engineers when they did their insanity work out. I had very understanding acupuncturist workmates who helped me a lot.
I must mention the last contract though because it is here that I knew I had to stop and could not return to working on ships. I had gone down to about 56-57kg. However it was the most difficult contract work wise. My heart was not in it even more than the previous contracts. My body could not cope. I always got a headache which thankfully the acupuncturist could help alleviate.
I must say, I loved the young people I met, had loads of fun, but it was time to stop cruising. The thought of going home to Zimbabwe was rather daunting because I could not think what I would do once I was home. So even on the ship I was on the net trying to find a job elsewhere. I wanted a place where there was no one I knew. An exotic place, far from the ordinary, where I could go and live for a minimum of two years! I got it, in Sierra Leone.
Now I was only home for a month and the agent in South Africa and the employer were pushing for me to go as soon as was possible. I should have listened to my gut. The sirens in my head were going off so loud it was the most unbearable decision I have ever had to make. I remember the discomfort I had when I had to sign the contract. I actually cried into my pillow a couple of nights. Something felt dreadfully wrong and a part of me actually suspected I might die from this trip but somehow I felt I couldn’t stay at home. Things were just not right. How could I announce that I was not going to go! So I pushed my gut feelings aside and carried on..
Now get this, I flew into Harare but the airport was just too cold for me to wait for hours till 2am for my connecting flight to Sierra Leone, so I went to a friend’s place. Would you believe, on returning to catch the flight, the plane had left a whole two hours early. There were no daily flights, so that meant spending a few days at my friend’s place. The next flight came and I wasn’t allowed onto the flight because I was supposed to have gone to the airline offices for them to open the ticket, blah blah..! Again, I had to stay a few days. It all felt like another sign to say, “Nonka you are making a huge mistake”, but I pressed on since I had already signed the contract. Never ever ignore your gut and all the signs God gives you. Pressing on is actually ignoring and even being disobedient to the spirit of God.
Well, I eventually did get to Sierra Leone and to cut a long story short, despite all the fun I had, the beautiful beaches and the lovely people I met, it was to be one of the worst working experiences of my life. The Lebanese bosses were blonde, and totally unreasonable, controlling our lives to the point of policing our movements after work and who we spoke to, to how we lived in our little flat which was a floor beneath the salon. There was constant ridiculous yelling and unreasonable behavior, threats and manipulation.
To top that all off, there was Ebola. Within less than two months of my being in Sierra Leone I knew there was no way my two-year plan was going to work, with the lock downs and all. The salon finally closed down, both bosses having left the country, with us remaining behind in the hope that the last airlines still flying in and out of Sierra Leone would not pull out too before we too could leave. Now this was weeks after the cheaper, direct flights had seized flying which meant by the time we, the employees could leave, our tickets were almost four times what they could have cost if the bosses had kept to their word and let us go earlier. To top it all off, they did not pay the flight cost as agreed on my contract. AGAIN I SAY, NEVER IGNORE THE SPIRIT OF GOD WHEN HE SPEAKS.
When I was in Sierra Leone I managed to bring my weight down to 55kg, and had a personal trainer I saw every day except the weekend. I still could not get down to 50kg at least. My weight should actually be 49kg or so, according to the biometric tests. I tell you with all the stress and the jogging I did once I got home during that self-imposed 21day quarantine period, when the health department would call, though not often enough, to make sure I was not carrying the Ebola virus, I managed to get right down to 50-49kg with no real effort.
What was to follow after that was getting the agent and Sierra Leone employers off my back as they harassed me, trying to get me to either go back or pay so they could get some other unfortunate victim to go in my place. I did eventually, with some help from home affairs, manage to silence them. The greatest trial though was what to do now that I was back, dead broke and without a plan. I had so many promises of amazing jobs and finances for business. These went on for the rest of the year and the whole of the following year, 2015. It didn’t help that I actually had energy to chase some of them up.
By the end of 2015, I began to wonder what I was doing wrong. So I stopped and asked the Lord what He was saying to me. What did he want me to do! The answer was almost immediate. All my life I knew the arts was what I was born for, it came naturally, but somehow life and my environment always dragged me astray. I remember one day after church, I spoke to a couple, both of whom are my friends, and the husband told his wife he wanted to take me to a hang-out he ran at a place out-of-town. This is where he had a long chat with me about what was going on in my life and advised me to do my music. He linked me with a man in Harare who trained me a for few weeks and helped put together the instrumental for my first single, ‘Do you still love me’.
I must mention though that before I left for Harare, to echo what the Holy Spirit had said to me in my own heart, followed by the words my friend had spoken, I had so many other messages God spoke, making it very clear. The next Sunday, I felt I had to go to an altar call as my personal statement to God that I accept what he had shown me. To add to that the preaching touched on that too and the pastor called me and prayed for me after encouraging me, though he did not say exactly what he believed I had to do. The following Sunday, the pastor from Harare actually spoke about musicians who needed to take up their calling.
I heard God loud and clear but one thing remained even clearer. Anything that God was going to do in my life was not going to happen whilst I was still in that church. Often times it was one of the environments that had pulled me away from music somehow and I had relaxed and let it go. So I stayed one more Sunday and have never been back to that church. God continued to speak. The next Sunday, I just happened to be sitting in front of the television, with it tuned to God channel, and the preacher on the television spoke about talents and how God gave them to us so we could use them. The same thing happened the following Sunday. It was a different channel, a different pastor, and pretty much the same message. Use your talents! It does not get louder than that. It was time! Therefore in November of 2015 I went to Harare to get myself back into playing my guitar and singing.
After being in Harare for four months, I came back to Bulawayo but found myself going into acting as well after reconnecting with a friend I had met when we took part in the Bulawayo theater pantomime in 2008. Through him I got to know of auditions where I met other artists and they linked me with more artists and now, my head is spinning but I am finally able to say, I am a singer, songwriter, actress and just recently added writer to that list, after realizing it was time to publish a book I wrote in 2010. Well I would like to think you know the rest about my writing, if you read my page, ‘Inside Nonka’s Head’.
That is the shortened yet very long story of how my life was supposed to go one way but the good Lord brought it back to where I am finally doing what I am most passionate about. I will stress again……that voice…that voice…..that voice! Listen to it! He knows what’s best. I believe this journey will be very challenging. It already is! I pray I never get discouraged. It is better to live out the last of my days doing what I am most passionate about. I am grateful to God for His grace. He has been very patient with me. Had our roles been exchanged I might have struck Him down by now. Thankfully He is God and I am me.
HAVE YOU HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE? What was your ‘Road to Damascus’ experience like?