Dona da Casa


It started with Mãe.

About 2 weeks ago, mãe had to go to South Africa for her brother-in-law’s funeral. This meant leaving us in the house and expecting us to cook, bathe, and hold down the fort independently….

with the help of her sister, who lives across the street and made sure to check on us multiple times. During our homestay time we have found that just when we think we’ve got something down a Mozambican mãe will tell us we are doing it wrong or correct us on minor details of accomplishing a task. In the case of the ‘South Africa free-for-all,’ ( 😉 ), Alex and I were proudly cooking spaghetti in the darkness of another power outage when mãe’s sister appeared in the kitchen and informed us that we were using all the wrong spoons and needed to remove a lid from one pot and put a lid on the other.


We cook it a lot at home. But somehow cooking spaghetti here makes us feel like kindergartners.

Spoons aside, we must have done something right because being ‘on our own’ for a day and a half allowed me to earn a new title from mãe: Dona da Casa. I think it’s a compliment.

I knew that ‘dona’ means owner and can be used when talking about businesses and restaurants. I found an appealing definition in my Portuguese-English dictionary for dona da bola: big boss (fam). But I am now the dona da casa. Does it mean owner of the house? No. Big boss of the house? I wish.

It means housewife. Who would’ve thought.

In the States a housewife is a married woman who takes care of all house business and does not have a job outside the house. Personally, I always picture housewives having children, but I suppose they don’t have to have children. And I would argue that this title is generally outdated and has been replaced by more ‘chique’ and acceptable terms that give more credit to these women.  When someone uses the term housewife, it draws up images of big hair, homemade cake, and afternoon soap operas.

For me anyways.

Now, whenever mãe sees me sweeping, chopping, cooking, or cleaning she looks at me and says, ‘dona da casa, Cecelia.’ I also earn honorable mentions from mãe when I do something that she generally likes or is impressed by, like cooking butternut squash for lunch all by myself or hanging laundry on the line. Apologies to Alex, who earns no special title for completing the same tasks. Maybe I will start calling him dono de casa/ househusband. That term doesn’t exist, but I think that can be changed.

So, for about 10 days it was just mãe who was on the dona da casa train. And occasionally Alex. But yesterday afternoon my teacher jumped on the train too, and with no spurring from mãe. Every day I joke with my lingua group when I arrive and leave by saying ‘Olá meninas,’ and ‘Tchau meninas.’ Basically, ‘Hey girls,’ and ‘Chow girls.’ But yesterday our lingua teacher tried to put an end to me being just another menina in Moz.

‘Não Cecelia, elas são meninas mas tu es a dona da casa.’ No, Cecelia, they are girls but you are the housewife.’

But…I just want to be a menina! I tried to explain to him that I don’t know everything that’s needed to be a dona da casa. Basically I tried to convince him that, although I am married, I am still one of the gals.

It didn’t work. My role in society is forever changed.


The hopeless housewife.

Cooking butternut squash with nothing but a charcoal stove definitely upped my dona da casa status.

Cooking butternut squash with nothing but a charcoal stove definitely upped my dona da casa status.


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