Vacation time

The other important aspect of going to Natal became taking my younger sister to spent holidays with her mom. So June holidays we would spent first at Dassenhoek and then later at Impola. At first my mamncane was renting a 1 bedroom with many neighbours around her. Even here we spent a lot of our time indoors and we would take a walk with her to visit our uncle on weekends. I think this is where I first got to use a train. I also got to see an Ak47 for the very first time, from the security who was keeping guard at the railway station.

Dassenhoek was an informal settlement kind of an environment; a lot of it reminded me of home. We used 2o litres to carry water and we negotiated ourselves for the most of our day to day things to get done. Mamncane would buy meat and ask a neighbour to store it on her behalf since she didn’t own one. Mamncane would later move to Impola and things were much better.

We had dessert every day and we watched TV on a daily basis. We still fetched water from afar and used a well behind the water for cleaning water and stuff. I always used to look forwards to the sound of frogs from the well behind the house. It was at Impola that I got to watch the bold and the beautiful when Marlene was a ghost xxx. Mamncane would  from  time to take us to visit our cousins at Goergedale and that is where I fell in love with the Zion church. My cousin was the member of this church and she was so tall and beautiful, the church uniform suited her so well, and when she would start dancing, maaaaan you would swear uyaziqhenya.

In Georgedale the neighbours were very neighbourly; I recall one aunty would be sitting in her sitting room watching the Bold and Beautiful whilst calling for my cousin to come see what Ridge was doing to so and so. I think she was the one who influenced to get back at Mamncanes house and watch the Bold and the Beautiful. People shared a lot of food and they would come over and spend the days with us. We played a lot of hide and seek in Georgedale because of a lot of tall grass and bush areas around our house. It was in Georgedale that I had my first taste of alcohol on Christmas Eve.

With the exception of 1993 where we went to Newcastle and saw cockroaches for the very time in our life and got fascinated by the carpet cleaning machine and its ability to suck all the cockroaches, and 1995 where I went to Bloemfontein with my sister. I spend all my June and December holidays in Natal between Dassenhoek, Impola, KwaNdengezi, Camperdown and Harmarsdale.

 

As a result I have no memory of Christmas or New Year’s celebration at home with my family. I realise how strange this is and I am encouraged to find out how my mom felt throughout this period

It’s a burger

Every year was a routine for me and my siblings, life began by going to school, doing my chores after school like fetching the water from a very tall tap which was shared with about three or four streets , I would sweep the yard and those days we used to sweep the street also. It became such a trend to sweep the streets because each one had their own style of sweeping and some form of design or art form would be done with our brooms on the street. And so when you stood right at the edge of the street, one could see a beautiful clean street with different artistic expressions from each and every house.

Every Saturday was laundry day, our laundry was so much so that all the fences alongside both neighbour will be full, every weekend. Like many other domestic tasks, I loved helping my mother do laundry and as time went on, I became the chief Laundromat of my family. We had two big iron tubs hat we used to wash and rinse, back in the day using sta – soft was not a pre-requisite. I have been trying to think whether it was due to the type of detergent we used or if it was lack of affordability.

I looked forward to school holidays and I remember that from 1989 until 1999, we went to Harmmarsdale. I remember the first time we were going to Harmmarsdale with my mom; we were so overjoyed and did not sleep.  She would always prepare idombolo nenyama yenkukhu for umphako. In those days the taxi to Harrismith would leave at six am and we needed to make sure that we are the Mcoyi taxis by 8am otherwise we would not make to Harmasdale on that day. Being in Natal was one of the greatest life experiences I ever had in my life and I believe that is where my IsiZulu accent was engraved in me. As years passed, I and my younger sister would be the two of us going to Natal with the exclusion of my other two siblings.

Watching TV was one of the greatest time passing habits that we used to enjoy. I remember seeing a floor cleaning machine for the very first time, the use and access to electricity which we termed uciphiza impukane obondeni. The first time I saw and touched a light bulb was in Natal. There was something very strange going in those early days though and I would later understand that it was during the times of war between the ANC and Inkatha. My mamkhulu would sit in front of the window with specific instructions that her son must sit far from the window or have the window behind him. The idea behind this was to say that should a bullet come though the widow, she would be the first person to be hit and her son would be spared. And so we would for the most part enjoy our vacation indoors for the fear of hippos that were always roaming around the streets or for the fear of the guys that are jumping fences and coming into the house bejahwa amaphoyisa.

As the years went by our visits to Natal became very exciting, Mamkhulu’s son had gotten married and they owned a house at KwanDengezi, so we would go visit him for the most part of our holidays. The durations of our holidays were very long and I went there twice a year. To date I have lots of respect for my brother and his wife for taking care of us the way they did. The experience of being in a high walled house with fence and proper security was an experience. My brother’s wife used to prepare meals which were to die for. She introduced dessert t my cute innocent life and would buy two big boxes of choice assorted biscuits, yhoo life was good. I remember in 1994 , the first time we went to Kwa-Ndengezi, she would prepare supper at six, and we were coming from an environment where we eat supper at eight or nine. So every evening we would finish our food, wash dishes and come eight we are hungry again. One of the reasons we were always so hungry was because at home we always ate pap and they were eating rice, pasta and all sorts of things that we were not used to. Part of being exposed into a new world is that there is lot of food types that I said I don’t eat, only to find that I meant I don’t know what it is and I want to try.

I mean trying a cucumber for example, was such an experience. I remember my sister didn’t want to try potato and mayo salad saying she doesn’t eat it, I mean how do you know you don’t eat something if you have never tasted it before…..  My funniest story was when the family took us to the mall for shopping, obviously their kids are city kids things like burgers and fizzy drinks are very normal to them. So they asked us what we want, obviously the first inclination is to look at your neighbour and copy what they asked for. So I had no idea what I wanted, my ever confident self, I asked my cousin what she was going to have and I asked what must I have. She gladly recommended that same stuff that she was going to have. At that point in time I didn’t know where we were and why were even ordering food on some ladies dressed in red. Anyway, food came, and everyone had a nice cute little box to open. My cousins were very excited and you could see that this thing is like winning a lottery, they were happy smiling, grateful. And then there I was, I opened, ate the round bun thing and it tasted ok. The next thing I heard was, seniqedule ukudla seniyoze nidle ntambama, I wanted to scream……… How on earth can this be ukudla, I didn’t even feel this thing in my tummy. That day was such a discovery and I couldn’t wait to get back to the house and eat.

I would later in life learn that we were at Wimpy?, Pavillion centre and that what we were eating is called  a burger.

Entrepreneurial parents

My father, Esrom Absalom Sibanyoni was born in 1939 in the farms; he was born to maMqubane and Willie Sibanyoni. My grandfather Sibanyoni was a preacher and he would travel the land preaching the gospel of Christ. There is not much I know about my grandmother. We are Swatis by the clan name; we were raised in BaSotho land called Warden.

My father is the first born in his family and has 7 siblings of which 5 are late.

We speak IsiZulu predominantly and SeSotho and English

My mother was born in 1950 in the farms of Heritage next to Harrismith. Her parents, maDuma and Khumalo were born in Zakheni in Ladysmith. My mother lost her father whilst she was small, and her mother also passed on early in her life. My mother started working for the farm owners at the age of 14 -16 in the kitchen as a domestic worker. She was 16 when she met my father and was 19 when they had their first child together.

At the age of 19, my mother eloped to be with my father, she would return in 1970 with two kids and have their white wedding.

My father started his own brick making business at the age of 16 in 1955. This form of brick making uses clay soil, sand and rocher to produce two types of bricks, klenker and rooi stene.

They loved each other so much, supported each other and started a beautiful family together. My father was a well-known brick maker amongst the people of the Eastern Free State and commanded such respect amongst the white farmers and people alike. In 1969 my brother was born, 1970 my sister was born, 1985 my brother was born, 1976 my brother was born, 1981 my sister was born, 1982 my brother was born, 1983 I was born and in 1988 my younger sister was brought.

I remember specifically the days around naagmall in my community that the farmers called u Mahashi and no Makhabishi would have a lot of loud conversations filled with laughter. I have on many occasions opened our door at home to see a tall white man in short with beard come in looking for my father. This would many times be followed by my father walking out into the van of the white man and off they drive. On his return my father always had cash. So I knew that what he was doing was rewarding.

Each and every white man was referred to as baas, it differs from time to time as mostly it was baaas, but I would hear sometimes klein bass on kids and the ones who looked younger

As I grew older, I enjoyed the long walks we would take after school and on weekends to my father’s work place. The distance included going over some valleys which seemed so big and scary to me then. My father would later in the years relocate his working place closer to home. This I believe was due to the change in ownership of the land he was currently working on.

My father used to pay attention to change of season, the meaning behind the moon and how that will affect his stock. He would on several occasions wake up in the middle on the night to go place sails over his stock to protect it from rain. My siblings and I have on a few occasions accompanied him to cover the bricks on a rainy night, these just used to be fun moments for me. I also remember when he was ready to make the oondt, we would team up and go after school to help pack the bricks, obviously my elder brothers would be doing the work and I would be hopping here and there. It was great fun to play with the clay and build little houses and babies, to run after the donkey which was used to turn the mixer. I have beautiful memories from this time of our life.

Over the years my father would enter into agreements to sell different commodities, we would sell potatoes and at that time the bag of potatoes was from R3, 50. We would have the whole shack filled with potatoes, my brothers would have very little room to manouver in their bedroom.  We would take a few bags and sit by the taxi rank, I guess now I understand that the people coming from work were our target market, the potatoes were doing well and life was good. The interesting thing with selling any food item is that we knew that if we selling potatoes, then we will be eating potatoes the whole entire time. My ever so creative mother, would do chips and next day do mash potatoes and the following day we would have potato soup, which was basically boiled potatoes, without oil at times, with salt mixed a little flour to make it nice and soft. I believe this is where the saying came from my father, reja papa ka papa.

We sold sugar beans at some point and boy owh boy did I have fun selling beans. The bean sack had a very nice feeling when you sitting on top of them, I liked the squesshy feeling as I glide on the sack and also there was more fun if one had a hole in it. I would play with the bean sack until the hole is bigger, I would fill the floor and play ukushiphiriza over the beans, those were the days I tell you. People used to come over with camfruit to buy , I don’t recall how much they were selling for but we had a good business. My younger sister loves sugar beans to date, I sometimes wonder if this season of her life is not to blame for passion for sugar beans.

We owned cattle during the early days of settling in the township and part of our afternoon tasks was to make sure that we take care of the cattle by feeding cabbage leaves and all the pap and other left over food items.  I remember at some point we lost two cows and my dad and brothers had to go on a search for the cows. My mom tell a story that when she got married, her mother gave her one cow and the cows we now had were as a result of that female cow breeding and expanding itself. I thought this was a wonderful gift that her mother gave her.

We named our cows and my mother’s favourite cow was bleskop, this cow could smell my mom coming and it would show jubilance and excitement. We related with all the cows to such an extent that when one of them was slaughtered, none of us would be able to eat the meat because they just felt like family, so we could not bring ourselves to eat the meat, my parents would slaughter and sell to the community. I learned my whistling skills from the walks I took with the cattle in most afternoons; I never got a chance to ukusenga because I was still small and afraid of getting kicked by the cows. So my father and elder brothers would do ukusenga and bring us milk on a daily basis. My mom loved keeping some of the milk until it was sour to make amasi, this is by far my most favourite meal.

 

Our neighbour opened a spaza shop and he was selling groceries and vegetables. A significant part of the green leaves we used for our cattle came from his shop. He used to travel to the Johannesburg Fresh Market on a monthly basis to stock up on all kinds vegetables and sell them to our community.

I believe that is where the fascination about Johannesburg came  from, remembering those days, we did not have television, our radio was barely reliable, so we had a lot of stories about the city of gold, the lights the traffic from our neighbours. I remember that very first imagination of a person’s inability to drive was always constant to the expression he used of how the bridges in Johannesburg were confusing, how taking a wrong turn can lead you very far from your intended destination.

I did from time to time also assist in the neighbour’s shop by offloading the vegetables, packaging and cleaning up the shop area. In the very early years of my life I kept a very consistent character and personality, I was very reserved, very reliable and I was the go to person to keep cash for the family and neighbours. My other neighbour used to ask that I come clean her house on every weekend and she would pay me R 2 for every Saturday spent in her house. I used to enjoy this very much as cleaning and maintaining order were things that came natural to me. It was this same neighbour who a black tv set and would ask us to pay anything from 2 cents to 5 cents to watch our favourite tv stories.

A habit that I would only keep doing for a very short time.

Spring Day

 

Our school had a culture of celebrating Spring Day and in 1995 we all needed to come in at senior primary kids in our own floral regalia. Now my biggest problem was the fact that I had nothing to wear. Whilst my parents did the best they could to get us Christmas clothes, it had been a long while for us without Christmas clothes. In the past I always used my Christmas clothes for all the events to come in the next year. This strategy worked very well.  But around this time in my life I had no new clothing item or good condition clothing item that I could wear to school. The last new item I had own was a very nice floral dress my mom made for me in 1990. This floral dress had a nice pinafore type of design that you just put on top and tie it on the sides. I had worn this dress of mine several times to school spring days and many other events, but this time around I just felt I cannot be repeating the dress for the fourth or fifth time.

However in 1995, I just felt no more, there is nothing I can wear and so I am not going to show up to school. At this stage of my life I didn’t think my teacher would take offense on my action. I mean I could show up in my uniform but the dress was not the only problem I had, each child needed to come with some cash to contribute to our snack and stuff like that. I don’t remember how much it was that I was supposed to bring along, but anyway I decided I won’t show up.

I told my mom in a strategic way and made sure she understands and I made no big deal out of it and somehow she believed it. Well it turned out that, not going to school on Spring Day was the biggest mistake of my life.

The next day, my teacher had a list of absent kids during the day of Spring Day. He would say to me in front of all other kids, that he feels bad to whip me because I am a star, but he must do so, so that I can learn a lesson. He basically chartered the course in scripture, which states, to whom much is given, much is required. I was already an example to so many kids, letting me get away with not coming to school on a Spring Day , will influence other kids to think that they too can do a no show on important school event days, regardless of the reasons, he said,  I must have showed up. The punishment waited for all those that did not come and so he asked that I take out both my hands and he gave me five lashes with a cane.

That day, my heart ached, that was the 2nd time I felt poor and that made me sad.

There were more than 300 school children in standard 5, so at the end of the year, when I was announced the overall number 1, I sobbed uncontrollably. It was for the first time crying over achieving something which I felt took so much and required more from me. I had after all put so much effort to passing, for the first time in my entire life. I had also missed spring day and got whipped for it.

 

There I was getting distinctions walking out the main room, down the step, with my teacher accompanying me but I felt sad, because I said to myself I am excellent yet poor. As I walked I recited, All things bright and beautiful, I cried until I got home.

 

The very same year, my sister from umamkhulu gave me a chifoon skirt with a matching top; my mamomncane bought me pierre cardin shoes. I don’t know to this day why, but I wore my shoes until they couldn’t breathe no more and they gave me permanent cones to which I suffer still date. I wore my chiffon suite right through to my first year at university in 2001. I have no idea who told them to do this for me, but from that year onwards, I appreciated every little thing I got and I knew that how great is God almighty who has made all things well!!

 

 

And so here’s to 1995,

 

All things bright and beautiful

All creatures great and small

All things wise and wonderful

The Lord God made them all

 

Each little flower that opens

Each little bird that sings

He made their glowing colours

He made their tiny wings

 

The rich man in his castle

The poor man at his gate

God made them high and lowly

And ordered their estate

 

The purple headed mountain

The river running by

The sunset and the morning

That brightens up the sky

 

The cold wind in the winter

The pleasant summer sun

He ripe fruits in the garden

He made them every one

 

The tall trees in the greenwood

The meadows where we play

The rushes by the water

We gather every day

 

He gave us eyes to see the

And lips that we might tell

How great is God Almighty

Who has made all things well!!!!

Lalela Mngane wami

My primary years were filled with a lot of strong character and confidence. I remember in my second grade, there was a season of pinky pinky. Pinky pinky was friend who came to visit but he/she lived in the bathrooms. So I would be very scared of going to the bathrooms. During break times it was easy because all of us went, but when you had to ask during class, then things got very difficult.

One day I had an incident in grade two, I was afraid of going to the bathroom enabo pinky pinky and I allowed myself to release the pressure. Then I took my jacket and tied it around my waist, off I went back into the class. Our class teacher decided to do a class inspection and I was sent home. This is one incident that embarrassed me at school and I don’t remember how I got to live my life afterwards.

I think generally I am afraid of scary movies or anything that will traumatize me in my sleep. Every year since I can remember, I went to Natal for vacation during school holidays. I remember my brother hiring a movie the Killer Clown in 1994, that movie stayed in my brain for more than a year and my sleep pattern was never the same afterwards.  Thank God at home we didn’t have TV so there was no source to give me scary nights. I also did not watch Leselo Rula for those reasons; I did not react well to scary stuff, especially when I had to sleep. As a result as a child, I would have dreams of standing in the centre of our yard with this pinky pinky making me dizzy. Those dreams would only stop the day I knew how to pray.

I started going to church early days of my life but the one that I remember is in 1992 which was on my way back from school. So each afternoon there would be kids singing in this white tent on my way home, until I got in the other day, to find this tall beautiful gogo  Radebe teaching Sunday School.  During those days, Sunday School was done from Monday to Sunday except Saturday and yes we called it Sunday even when it was mid-week. She taught us beautiful songs and basically connected my “voice” to God. It was in 1990 that I first understood that there is a creator of heaven and earth and his name is God.

There are so many things that we were taught over and above the beautiful songs that we used to sing. I remember that she also taught us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This lesson stuck with me and I recall that in 1993, one of the very playful boys tried to kiss me. There I was in class 3 b, a boy is trying to kiss me. I immediately went and told my teacher and the boy was taken into the principal’s office. I think this experience sort of affected the boy from that day. I did not do anything directly to him but I know for sure that even today our relationship was marked by the incident of 1993. This taught me something about the level of discipline that was present at my school. To date I am grateful that our school yard was safe place to and a place where one could raise her voice and be heard.

I have beautiful memories of my primary school. The one also sticks out to me is how I never used to study after school from grade 1 to 4. I can remember clearly that standard 5 was a very difficult year for me. In standard 5 I had to learn geography, I also realised that I did not have an Atlas and any material that was required for the class. Somehow in Standard five I was anxious more than I had even been in my study life. I made more effort to study and I know I felt like my teacher didn’t like me. So when the opportunity to become a prefect came, I remember I was not so keen on it. So I don’t remember if I ended up becoming one or whether or not someone lese took it. I do remember that 1995 required juggling a lot in terms of homework and life. For some reason I was growing and I had a bit of pressure going on in my life

I think I was also growing to be a social being, for example I remember how one of our teachers was so excited after being married, the excitement on her face was that of a little girl, I remember the same teacher being pregnant and walking the corridors with that sense of contentment.

It was in standard five that I knew what it meant to be liked, I always had two boys who made sure that my collar was sitting right, unbeknown to them, that underneath my jim dress what a half shirt that I would have been pulling down whilst messing the collar on the other end. The shirt would be half from the continuous burns that it has endured in my hands of ironing or from the hand downs I received from my brothers which would also have seen its better days. These boys also liked to wipe my chair to make sure it was dust free before I sat on. They would volunteer to do something with me or be on my side in any conversation that I found myself debating. It was in 1995 that I developed a crew of friends that would walk the studying journey up until my matric!

1995 was demanding academically, the length of recitations was longer on top of it they added a lot of bible verses that we had to know and recite off by heart.  I was the first chid to recite all verses in succession without missing a lie, from Psalm 121 to All things bright and beautiful.

It was in this year that my dream for a better life became solid. I met for the first time someone that I could identify with, from the novel Lalela Mngane Wami by EM Damane. I was always a class reader from the very early ages of my life, but in 1995 my reading ability took a different course. I knew how to express emotions when required; I read this novel with so much purpose and understanding. There were so many things that I could identify with this girl. The benches they used in their home, the culture, the hopes, the dreams and social environment, I saw myself in her and I was so inspired. I do believe that is how I thought becoming a nurse made sense, although inwardly I wasn’t drawn into that conclusion, I do recall my brothers saying id do well at caring for people because I have a natural way of taking care of people in my day to day life.

She was born into a poor family; they lived in, they used benches as chairs, I could identify with that as we also used benches as chairs. She studies and graduates to become a nurse. She completed starts working meets someone and gets married. She was my first mentor, my first person who I wanted to be like.

She was my first imagination of a better and empowered me.

5 cents too much

Most of my early primary days were filled with tears, I loved going to school, but I dreaded waking up. I did not want to be the first one to wake up yet again I didn’t want to be the last one to do so. So I cried most of the morning, my mother on several occasions had to walk me to school, when everyone else is gone, I would be crying until I get close to the main gate of the secondary school nearby. By this time, a flood of secondary kids would be going into the school and I would say to myself, wuu angifuni ukubonwa amaPhondle ngikhala, cabanga nje sengibonwa amaphondle, hayi angeke ngikhale. So I would hold myself until I get to the taxi rank that was my marking point. And from there onwards it would be either I have forgotten about crying because there was not tangible reason to cry from the first place or I would continue to cry, especially if my mother was still by my side. This is something I did intentionally as a child, I have no idea what hole this filled but somehow I know I just had to do it.

My school preparations were great; I enjoyed feeling my mother’s big hands putting vaseline on my body whilst I stood next to a hot dover stove. For most of my early years, I wore good shirts and good shoes. But in 1992, things were not the same. It was in 1992 that I learned how to cut a cud box to fill my shoe with the holes in it and go to school. This year I learned to stand test of winter walking to school with shoes with holes in them. In the year 1992 I could not wait for winter to end so that I could be free from the burden of wearing shoes that were hurting me and with holes in them. So when spring came, I gladly went to school barefooted. Being free from the pains and sores of tight shoes was a real freedom.

It was the year 1992 that my class teacher in grade 2c asked us to bring 5cents to class; this was going to be used to make wax polish for the class, a common practise in school. However this particular year and time we did not have 5 cents to take to school. So the morning of going to school, I refused to go to school without the 5 cents. How on earth can I show up with no money when other kids have? I have very few moments in my life where I have caused my mom pain and this day is one of them. She asked my brother Dumisani to take me to school and to explain to the school teacher that we don’t have 5 cents.

My ever so graceful brother obliged, he went straight to the principal and told the principal that I refused to come to school because I did not have the required 5cents to bring with me.

That day would see my teacher in tears, refunding all the kids their contributions, screaming and shouting about and saying she meant well, there was no reason for me to tell the principal. In principle my teacher was right, but somehow I just could not accept that we didn’t have 5 cents at home and I did not want to come to terms with it. Needless to say the teacher was upset and the whole teachers club knew about it. On the next morning parade, the principal announced that the school would no longer require kids to contribute to the polish for the school as it places a financial burden to parents and children. The school from now on see to it that the cleaning materials are provided for by the school.

As I stood there in that parade that morning, I didn’t know whether to be sad or be proud of that moment. I felt it had hurt my mother to be in that position, the look on her face really affected me and silently I prayed to try never make her feel like that again. Secondly my teacher was not happy about the events that led to this decision. She would on the days to follow, not allow me to take her bag to her house again, and not allow me to come clean her room as per norm after school. Basically this incident broke our relationship.

1992 opened my eyes to lack, I had never come across this and for the first time I was linking two incidents, my shoes have cud box which I must refill weekly or daily when it rains plus I had no 5 cents to take with me to school. I at the time could not describe it as being poor or poverty but I knew something was not the way things are supposed to be.

To my surprise, the small voice was there throughout this time. And I was told that it is okay, and so in 1992, an activist in me was born, I was 9 years old!

The personality

I am combination of quiet subtle and loud, I really don’t have the perfect words to describe this. All of my years at crèche I was a prefect, I had my ways around my maths and literature at the same time; I loved giving everyone a chance.

I truly believe that I lived out the small voice’s instruction in every stage of my life. I lived out with such intention and such presence in every stage of my life. I remember specifically that in crèche there would always be the kids who wanted to be prefects but would not get that chance, so I started from the early age to delegate my tasks of “the list yabakhulumayo” to the kids, I had a rotation system built around this and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved how at an early age the kids around me felt validated. I believe this skill is what enabled my entire childhood to be free of bullying and anything related to that. I was a leader of the pack but I always emphasised that everyone should participate to share in this leadership thing, write the list of those abakhulumayo, this in turn meant , not everyone will be ill disciplined, because if uyakhuluma today, kusasa kuzoba nguwe okumele ubhale abanye, so uzothini ke uma ichance yakho ifika.

One thing I must state also about my growing up in this small community is, never once did I feel the segregation of being female. I don’t have a recollection of memories where I could not take a position or do something because of the fact that I am female. From crèche upwards, the school kept both a male and female prefect and I was always a prefect in all my classes and grades up to standard five (grade 7). I know I still took up the roles here and there from secondary but I was not a prefect through each and every grade from there onwards.

The fact that I was number one from crèche to secondary gave me added advantages in life, I believe. I never suffered from any kind of low self-esteem, I was always confident about myself and I always extended an opportunity to other to feel the same. Our primary school had a culture of announcing the names of the students from position 10 – 1. This was done every quarter, so in our black and white and khaki uniforms, we would line up in the school parade, do our prayers. The principal would then call out the names of those who are excelling. For the first few years it was a big deal, until when I was doing my third grade, I was so self-assured, that I would step onto the platform before they could even call out my name. I try to think of this time in life as one where I had figured out the rest of my classmates’ strengths and I knew the extent of my knowledge and strength in comparison to theirs. I think I got to a state where I knew I could not be beaten period.

Back then, we were split by languages, I was doing IsiZulu as my first languages and this meant all the kids who did isiZulu are with me in the same class. Sometimes there would be times two isiZulu classes and one SeSotho classes. From Grade 1 to 2 we kept the same teacher, he/she would be the class teacher and teach all subjects. From the next grade onwards, the teachers would alternate or we would have change in classes, a completely different routine to what I had become accustomed to.

In my entire primary school, there was one quarter where I did not get position 1. That was the first and the last quarter that I would allow myself to slip into position 2. I am tempted to say this was in 1992. Something happened in 1992, which would give me a choice. I believe that 1992 would set a course for me to choose between sadness or choose to dream about a better future for myself and for my family.

I have a dream

The year is 1989; my mother had been telling me the whole of January that this year I am going to big school. The day has finally come, she has her towel on her waist, the tsogi on her face and finally she announces, Mano uzoya eskoleni, bakuthathile mntanami!!!!

I don’t know whether the summer rain had started or it is in my dreams by virtue of the feeling I had, but I started running around our shack that my parents had built, the utterances from my mouth were yeeeey, I am going to school, yeey I am going to be wealthy, yeeey I am going to build us a house. The beautiful warm summer rain was drizzling, writing about this day, I can still smell the freshness of the soil as the drops hit the ground. The rest of this day was spent dreaming with my siblings about what this will mean for all of us, I was going to school and I was so excited about the many doors that this would bring to me and my family. We imagined big houses, great communities, helping everyone who wants to come to school; the dream was about all of us, all of our community benefiting from what we would achieve.

The dream put people first. I can still feel the feeling I had when I was 6 years old; my dream is bigger than me. My dream starts with the people, then back to me. I never dreamt of big cars, I did dream of a good house, the essence of my being was revealed again at six years old.

And so when in 2009, twenty years later, I received my first real bonus of R17,500 I went home and told my mom I would like to build a house and I had completely forgotten about my confessions when I was six years old. My mom called my elder brother and the matter was discussed, he then went to the yard, started counting the size and length of the house, as he was counting, walking along the line where the shack was back then, my memory came flushing back. I remembered and I knew that this was not a coincidence. I would later give my brother R16, 000 from my bonus money to buy material to build a house for my family!!

Before I went to primary school, I was attending a creche kwa gogo u Qhuge. It would be later in life that I understood that her name was a direct translation of her disability. She was limping with her one leg shorter than the other, and so in isiZulu, that is called ukuqhuga, So this basically means I never knew what her real name was. I have great memories from attending this crèche, from carrying a lunch box of bread with rama and black rooibos. There is something about the taste of brown bread with a black, lightly sweetened rooiboss, to date, nothing competes with this feeling. I still miss the rooibos from the eleven ‘clock package, which was brewed in a big kettle which we reused and refilled over and over again, yet it would still trek just the right way. Drinking tea from a tea bag dumped directly to a cup is not the same to the home brewed cup of tea.

Drinking tea is something we love doing in my family and I have come to believe that it is part of our small community culture. Each family when having visitor in those days, tea placed more value to use when welcoming the guest over juice or fizzes. This could also be due to the cold weather conditions that Warden has. So we drink tea throughout the year. We can to date drink tea when it is 40 degrees outside and still enjoy it. My father was exclusively good at brewing tea, however as the years went by, he would take his mug, brew the tea, take another mug and boil milk, mix the two and then place them on side of the stove to cool off. At times he would doze off to wake up to an empty mug, tea burned by the ever so hot “dover” stove. I always wondered why warm the milk if you going to want the tea to cool off. But as the years go by, I find myself warming my milk first for my coffee and also wait for the coffee to cool off ……and so it goes without saying, like father like daughter

Most of my sweetest memories are those of my family sitting round the stove, on the floor with many blankets covering us and my mom reading a story book to us. This is one of the reason winter is my favorite season to date. The feeling of dressing with warm clothes, making fire, sitting around drinking something warm, has a feeling of “home” to it. I had lots of favorite storybooks but due to my poor memory I cannot recall their tittles. My mom worked as a cleaner at a library on contract when one of her neighbor ausi Maggie was on maternity leave. I do recall her working for quite a while at the library but as a causal employee. My mom would hire books written in IsiZulu and she would read them to us. It is amazing that as kids, story reading never gets boring. There was one particular story about a donkey that lost its laughter in the animal farm; an invitation was made to each and every animal in the land to help find the donkey’s laughter. The donkey’s laughter was an important part of what made the donkey survive. The donkey was miserable and so everyone had to do their part to help find the donkey’s laughter back. Giraffes had to search with their tall selves, on the trees, elephants had to use their beaks to check on the tallest of trees, rabbits had to search and all type of animals in their uniqueness had to use their habitat and help search for the laughter. This dragged for a long while, the search, the struggle and suddenly, the donkey found its laughter. I think what always made the story exciting is how it was read to us, mom does have her way of portraying characters, I must add she is a character herself. Over the years my friends have come to know my mother as a character, full of life and energy. She loves dramatic expressions and will stand up to show and emphasize a point. I owe my bit of drama and flair to her!

Today I choose

The memory of this moment in my life is between the year 1987 and 1988, my age would have been between 4 years and 5 years old. We were in between houses, it had not been long arriving in the township, and we were staying in house number 148, my late grandmother’s house.

This is the stand where my father built his mom a house, with the house came a two roomed house at the back of the main house. My whole family stayed in this two bedroom house my father, my mother, my elder sister, three brothers, my sister and me. I have no memory of elder brother in this point in time of my life.

This two room house had a wall which was shaky. I would learn over the years that the reason it is shaky it was because it was a single line wall. Normally when building a house, a two line wall is built to maintain depth and to protect the wall from strong winds from falling. This wall fascinated me a lot during our entire stay in this house. And so I would from time to time, place my tiny hand against the wall and start to shake it, in my mind, I was shaking it enough to see the movement but careful enough not to overdo it to fall. I have no idea how knew when enough was good enough. I was just being a child playing silly games. I would later in my life go into this 2 bedroom house, which is still there intact, to test the walls, the fascination I got with the wall is still stuck with me today.

One of my most profound memories from this house is that of my elder sister cooking cabbage, this I know for sure, that, that is the day that I fell in love with a fried cabbage, crunchy enough to be edible, salty enough to taste and it went with uphuthu. We would sit down on the floor sharing on an open plate legapha and everyone would dig in, and my goodness cabbage never tasted so good. To this day, I love this type of cabbage and to this day, I can eat this kind of cooked cabbage.

It was between these years that I first learned that I have the “ small voice” , I learned during this time of my life that there is something or someone who can speak to me and I knew within myself that I must listen to this person. It was between these years that I had a sense of knowing that the “small voice” had good intentions for me. This I knew how, every time the voice spoke, I was elated, my mood changed, my life would be full of hope. I knew I was hopeful, when I would hop around singing and shouting with nothing special, just me being happy self, singing to myself. I knew I was hopeful when sweeping the floor of this two roomed house, with holes between the cement and the floor. I was very hopeful when looking up the roof inside the house and seeing the stars. I was hopeful.

From the very young age I had a sense of responsibility, I was the child that would clean the house, clean everyone’s mess and never complain. I had my way of doing things and if you cared to ask, I would share with you why I was doing things the way I did.

So one mid- day, I decided to go take a bath, taking a bath in my child hood meant taking what we referred to a “waaskom”, boiling water in the paraffin stove if we had paraffin , mixing the water inside this waaskom and taking my waaslap and wash myself. I know for a fact that taking this bath with warm water was luxury because a few times saving paraffin for cooking was priority than having a warm bath.

On this one beautiful sunny day, I was done with my bath, I had put vaseline on myself from my face, arms legs and decided that because it was mid-day and I was till planning to go and play, I would waste the Vaseline on my cracked feet. I figured why waste the hard earned vaseline on feet and toes that are still going to get dusty again? So it made sense to me and out I walked to some elders who were sitting on the window pane in the front side of the main house.

To my surprise, they asked me if I was done bathing, I answered, confidently and said yes, the laughter that came from that moment….. and somehow I could read their minds, I knew they were looking at my cracked feet and wondering how on earth could I say I have taken a bath with such feet. I was waiting for them to ask me why, but they never did. I felt a sinking feeling… Immediately, something inside me, this something I refer to as the “small voice” said “do not be sad, they don’t know why you spared the Vaseline, to you it is a way of saving the Vaseline, but they do not know how you think, do not be sad, when you grow up, you must seek understanding, always ask why people do things, don’t assume like they just did with you”

Needless to say, I went back with no instruction from them, put on some Vaseline on my feet and the whole time the voice was comforting me. So I picked my chin up and out I went, when I passed there, I had a certain posture I carried, I did not ask for their validation to that now I am ok, I just passed, with a warm face and the voice kept saying, when you are older, don’t this to other kids and I went about my playing business.

On that day, I chose, I chose that I will be a kind of person that does not laugh when people do stuff, I will seek understand, I will ask where I do not understand, and I will seek clarity when I am confused by people’s actions. I had it in me that this was the right thing to do.

Fast forward to the future, I believe this is the essence of my being, I believe that what the voice was telling me, would be the core of what I do in my life. I have learned that part of what the voice was telling was what I have come to define as “giving people the benefit of the doubt”

In my life and career today, I am given an opportunity to build, and as I have come to see, no one builds anything, if their words tend to destroy.  As I said, I am optimists; I am a believer that something good is in each and every one of us. I walk this earth intentionally and my intention is to build. There are so many ways in which we can kill and destroy a person’s self-esteem and I believe the “voice” saved me from that feeling of feeling inadequate, I had an opportunity to walk away feeling I don’t know how to prepare myself properly, I could have thought that why on earth didn’t I put Vaseline on my feet.

 

But a complete opposite thing happened, I was sure in my decision of not putting on Vaseline, just because they didn’t ask me why, didn’t mean I was wrong in my decision. This was something powerful and profound for a 4/5 year old me.

 

So that day I chose to believe in people

Beauty in the scars

I have 2nd degree burn scars on my body, from my arms down to my left leg, I have a skin that is not in sync with the skin of the rest of my body. My mother tells me a story of how I got these scars. I was between age 1 and 2, I was learning to walk; now in the area where I was born it was common practice to make “imbawula” in order to keep warm. And as it is with any family raising children, children like playing with most things adults do. My siblings had created their own small version of the big imbawula and had placed it outside the stairway for it to get enough wind to blow the smoke away.

Since I was learning to walk, I crawled outside and I somehow hit imbawula and all the hot cold came rushing to my small body. I was severely burnt, to an extent that I carry the scars of this episode on my daily body. I am grateful that the extent of the burns didn’t disable me in any form and that in my upbringing I never felt ashamed or less fortunate about the scars on my body. I have from time to time being asked if I burned myself with an iron on my index figure , and so I get an opportunity to tell the story of how I got burned, I always end my story with this fact, but I don’t remember the pain.

This line has overtime become a very important life testimony for me, I know I was burnt, I can see the scars, they look scary. I now have 2 children of my own, each time one them was in the same stage I was when I got burned, I can only imagine what my mother must have gone through. The small size body, covered with bandages, the screams, the pains and medicines that had to be administered for me to get to the point of healing. I figured that the scars must have been more scarry on a small body, looking at how they have stretched with my skin overtime, I can only imagine how scary they were when I was smaller.

I have learned that in life you will go through pain and most importantly, life will leave you with scars, but it is important how you define those scars. You can look at the scars with sadness and the pain that you felt or you may look at the scars and see the spirit and courage of triumph.

My scars remind me of how strong and courageous my mom, how blessed I am that I never once felt inadequate, never once did I feel incomplete, not beautiful enough. My scars tell a story, that in life your body, your soul and spirit will be subjected to pain, just as much as the opportunity to cry was presented an opportunity to live is also presented. I own my scars, yes I don’t remember the pain. I am grateful that I see the beauty in these scars.