A couple of months ago, I decided to help out at the Old Age Home Ministry group. I was holding the hand of a ninety-six-year-old lady. She asked me why I was doing this? I told her I was lonely and decided to visit those people that were lonely too, and I felt her squeezing my hand tightly in a way to tell me that she understood. Something in this action made me think of my favorite scene from the movie The Horse Whisperer. It was the part where Annie Mac Lean, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, talks to Thomas, played by Robert Redford:
I envy your mother…It must be great to be her age. To be at that point in life, where there is no more guesswork. No more impossible decisions to make. But anyway, any of it does not matter. The worries and wrong turn you make are as valuable and cherished as the things that you’ve done right. It must be such a relief. There must be such peace in that.
My two boys and I regularly play The Game of Life board game. We love playing this game together, and I find that it also teaches the children important life lessons. At the start of the game, we are all given different colored cars and pegs. These items represent the player, and we received $200 000. I laugh at this, for I was not given this amount of money to start my life as a young adult. As we start to play, we have to choose between going on a career path or go down the college path.
I decide that today, I’ll be going down the career path. The card in the game that I drew was that of a ‘Police Officer’ and would be earning only fifty thousand when landing on the ‘Payday’ blocks. In real life, there were so many choices one could make. I think if one took an aerial map on my life, it would look like the road map of Auckland city. I remember that I wanted to go the college route once I graduated out of high school. I was accepted at The University of Pretoria at that stage to study Psychology. I was looking forward to student life at varsity. But just like in the game, I had to choose the career path, for I could not get a student loan in South Africa in 1993.
With the political turmoil going on with the new government forming under the ANC-party, made it hard for people to get student loans. Bankers were telling me that they could only give study loans to people of colour. One even commenting that there was no future for the white people in this country. I could not comprehend what they were telling me, back then. My parents couldn’t afford the loan that the bankers suggested. After trying to convince my father to help me to obtain the loan, he told me, ‘I would not waste money on a woman to get her degree. They just get married and have children after getting their degree. What a waste!’ I had to console myself and find something else, instead.
The last few years pre-emanating the choice that I would have to make was an awakening experience. For when I was sixteen years of age, the violence in the country has escalated. I woke up at night hearing strange noises, finding the spades that my father kept in his storeroom all stolen, in a time where the farmers in the region were brutally murdered using spades and a method they call necklace burning. Criminals place a tyre around the person and setting them alight. But the public and the world demanded the change in South Africa. No matter what the consequences on all the people.
I chose nursing as a career path, for becoming a police officer in 1993 meant that you would become a metre maid, writing out parking tickets every day. In Prue Hyman’s book on Hopes Dashed? The Economics of Gender Inequality, she wrote ‘that women’s choices are still constrained by expectations and reality with respect to their unpaid labour’. She continues saying that women choose ‘low-paid female-dominated occupations and industries, such as care work, retail and hospitality’. She found that ‘gender stereotyp[ing] and dominant hetero-normative discourse’ are to blame in these career decisions. Which made me think if I was given a choice, would I have chosen a nursing career?
In my first year of nursing, I sat in the Orthopaedic ward with one of my elderly patients. She was telling me about her life travelling around the world. I was sitting beside her holding her cold, soft hand in mine, dreaming dreams of going to all those places that she was describing to me, countries such as Spain, France and Italy. To go skydiving out of planes and bungy-jumping of tall bridges. None of those ever came to be, and the only thing remaining was the dreams in my yearning heart.
As we played our way around the board, I landed on the ‘Stop – Get Married’ space. I placed a blue peg into my car, representing my partner. I remember the night my partner asked me to go out with him. It was on the 23rd of November 2002 at the Voortrekker Monument in South Africa. It was at his work’s Year End-function, and we have just won a bottle of champagne for a floor dance that we performed together. We have known each other for many years, yet it was a difficult decision for me to make. Knowing my parents would be moving away shortly. A lot in my life was about to change.
Maybe even the beautiful full moon that night also played a part at the beginning of a great partnership. Loud drumming music was playing in the background mingling with cheerful laughter. The Voortrekker Monument building stood as a bastion over the valley, forming a beautiful backdrop for our intimate talk. The light was illuminating the tall brown building at night time. Walking around the monument by day would show you beautifully carved walls of a time long ago. My forefathers also had to make difficult decisions. This monument was ‘to commemorate [these] pioneers’. Going to a country, they did not know and taking courage, having to cross a harsh, wild countryside and facing many dangers. At the front of the building, there is a statue of a pioneer woman with her two children sculpted by Anton Van Wouw. The woman, like me, looking into the distance. Maybe she too had dreams of distant romantic places. Inside the monument, you would find the Hall of Hero’s which consist of ‘27 wall panels… depicting important events from the Great Trek’. You would also find a Cupola with an opening in the roof. Every year on 16th of December the sun would shine on a platform, with the inscribed vow, ‘Ons vir jou Suid Afrika’ (Meaning: we for you South Africa).
The date was significant for the pioneers for they made a Vow to God. Dingaan brutally killed Piet Retief and the people with him. The pioneers made a vow with God to help them with the battle against the Zulu’s and Dingaan. They promised that they would honor this day if He would bring them victory. On the 16th of December 1838, ‘the Battle of Blood River took place’. There were 470 Voortrekkers against 10 000 strong Zulu fighters, but the Voortrekkers were victorious. At that moment, it felt like the promise that laid inside that building, was extending to us. It felt sacred somehow, although doubts in my mind made me question my own decision.
Could it be that I believed the lie society told me that to be genuinely happy, I had to follow cultural ideas and be with a life partner? Although I only recently said my I do’s. Society, through using the ‘family, the church and the mass media,’ tells us that ‘we’re not happy, comfortable and fulfilled’ if we do not conform to their ways. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, said that everyone is making choices because of ‘selfishness’, although one might feel that the decision was ‘sacrificial’. He also maintains that we have ‘the choice whether to submit to love or not- that is, the decision whether to extend or not extend oneself’.
As the game continues, I had to place two blue coloured pegs into my car. These two blue pegs represent my two boys. I gained them landing on the ‘Baby Spaces’. I also gained a ‘Cosy Cottage’ worth $150 000 as I settled on the ‘House Space,’ which reminded me of the first house we bought. The first time we went to view the house, I felt quite appalled by it. From the outside, it was a small face brick house, with bars in front of all the windows. The doors had brown security gates in front of them, and there was a double garage on the right side of the house. The garden was small, and a large Ceylon Rose grew at the front door. Every wall inside the house was painted in a variety of colors, ranging from dark purple, blue, green and many more. All the walls had to be repainted to a neutral shade, making our new home appear cosier before we moved in. Our bed could not fit in the master bedroom, and we realized that we would have to renovate the house. Not just placing a sliding door in the master bedroom but adding a slam-lock security gate in front of it. Later years we renovated the kitchen to a Cherie Wood with brand-new kitchen appliances. The garden over the years changed to a tropical paradise with Philodendron, ferns, lilies and Iridaceae planted with great love and care.
During The Game of Life, I got another chance of choosing a different career by stopping on the ‘Stop-Night School’ block. Just like my own life, I got another chance of studying to become a Psychologist. I started my part-time studies at the University of South Africa in 1999. It did not last long, and I had to quit my studies. For when I became pregnant, I found it difficult to work full time, study and take care of my baby. I found myself asking if this decision too was ‘self-sacrificial’? Did I do it for myself or my family? Prue Hyman supported me in her book saying, ‘unpaid work’, such as domestic tasks, play a ‘huge contribution to [the] well-being’ of the family. Most women find themselves in a similar position having to balance work-live, domestic tasks, raising children and studies. To top this, I found my anxiety levels rose due to the escalating violence in the country, just like most South Africans face today.
I stood with a certificate in my hand with the DNA samples, in the form of nail clippings, taken from my child by an Inspector from the South African Police Service. The white paper certificate states the child’s daycare center, his name, age, address, hair color and color of his eyes. The inspector took fingerprints from both his hands while small illustrated pictures frame the certificate to soften the blow to parents. Grateful that I wasn’t there when they took these samples and fingerprints, for the police required parents to have these certificates, in case the child gets kidnapped, and they discover the child’s body. The certificate in my hand made my heart grow cold, and I found myself without any resolution.
It was hard to think back onto those years without hearing the song ‘African Dream’of the Soweto Gospel Choir playing inside my head:
All I feel is my heartbeat
Beating like a drum
Beating with confusion.
All I hear are the voices
Telling me to go,
But I could never run.
But I did run. I took my partner and children and ran. Away from my family. Away from my newly renovated home. Away from my friends. Away from my well-paying job. But the drumming remains in the crevasse of my mind. The drumming of feet against the dirt road. The continuous singing and chanting of the unhappy ANC youth league that was protesting against the government not coming through on their promises. They sang and danced till late at night, and now and then a cheer will go up. I was laying in my bed on the farm. There were a few farm attacks in the region earlier that month. My young son was sleeping close by. My partner and his father had gone away fishing, leaving only me, his mother and our young son, alone on the farm. When I couldn’t sleep, so I stood in front of the window, staring out to the dark landscape. I prayed to God for courage.
Reinhold Niebuhr made a statement, ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Looking out to the fire torches everywhere. The singing and cheering got louder and louder. They pass the dark house. Just the beating of my own heart in my ears remained.
Playing the game, we have to cross many different action blocks. Finding myself asking, why do other people always get the ‘Take a dream vacation’, ‘Sail around the world’, ‘Climb Mount Everest’ and ‘Learn to skydive’ cards? George Borjas wrote in his book We Wanted Workers that the reason why people emigrate is to get ‘a better job and a better life for the migrant and family’. My youngest son was a week old when we started proceedings to move. He was a year and eight months old when we got onto an aeroplane to leave the country. It was so much different than I envisioned. The bureaucracy that took us so long to bring us to safety finally. They measured my partner and myself to find out what our skills, ‘education, work experience and English-language fluency’ level. At great expense, we have our family safe.
My partner and I love listening to music. Listening today at different songs we used to know, trying to guess the names of the songs before the chorus part of the songs plays. Songs such as ‘Burning Bridges’ by The Mike Curb Congregation:
Years have passed, and I keep thinking
What a fool I’ve been
I look back into the past and
Think of way back then
I know that I lost everything I thought that I could win
I guess I should have listened to my friends
Have I been a fool? Looking around me today at the rent house we are living in. An old face-brick- house overlooking the city of Auckland and until 2017, I was earning a reasonable salary. Taking comfort that there were no bars in front of the doors and windows of our home. Although the fences around the area were growing every year, my children can play in the parks, safely. With the few attempts to abduct children, police were patrolling the surrounding school areas. I could feel the resolve coming over me, the same as what I experienced more than ten years ago when we came to New Zealand. There’s an old belief that if you look back to the place you were leaving, you will rush back to that place. I forced myself that night we got onto the plane not to look back. I needed to grasp the courage and look to the future. Make a sacrifice for my children.
We may face high mountains
Must cross rough seas
We must take our place in history
And live with dignity – ‘World in Union’
I look down at the vehicles on the board. Some of them are overly filled with little pegs. Is it not everyone’s longing to grow up and doing what you love? To have your own home, such as a ‘luxury apartment’, ‘farmhouse’ or ‘beach hut.’ I found that the words ‘white privilege’ followed me to New Zealand from South Africa. What does it mean? Just like most people I knew growing up, we lived from month to month, hand-me-down clothes and a family car that every now and again didn’t want to start. Did that make me privileged?
On our way home from school, last week my ten-year-old son asked me, ‘Are we, voyagers?’
‘Are we what?’ I had to ask.
‘Are we voyagers? You know explorers.’
At first, I did not know what to answer him. ‘Why?’ I asked him.
‘Well, just like the voyagers of old coming to New Zealand on their canoes, we arrived here on a plane. That makes us explorers… and voyagers, does it not?’
I guess it’s true. We are voyagers, just like my forefathers took courage to go to a country they have never seen or been before. We crossed the wide-open planes and faced the different challenges the strange country throws at you. I do not need to look into the distance like the pioneer women. I am there already. Although the game of life for me is still continuing, and I haven’t reached the final ‘Retirement’-stage yet. With God’s grace, I’m now living the adventure that I craved so many years ago. I’ve found my own peace knowing that every decision that I’ve made, no matter what, had led me to this point in my life.
Borjas, G.J. We wanted workers. Unravelling the immigration narrative. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2016. Book.
Choir, Soweto Gospel. “African Dream.” Voices From Heaven. By Alan Ari Lazar. 2008. Multi-Media online.
Gaming, Hasbro. The Game of Life. Canada. 2013. Boardgame.
Hyman, P. Hopes Dashed? The Economics of Gender Inequality. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Limited, 2017. Book.
Kanawa, Kiri Te. “World in Union.” The IRB Rugby World Cup Theme Song. By Joseph & Skarbek, Charlie Shabalala. 1991. Website.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31146.Reinhold_Niebuhr. 2018. Website. 5 June 2018.
Peck, m. Scott. The Road Less Travelled and Beyond. Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1999. Book.
Pretoria Web Design. http://www.vtm.org.za/faqs/. 2018. Voortrekker monument -Website. 5 June 2018.
The Horse Whisperer. Dir. Robert Redford. Perf. Kristin Scott Thomas. 1998. DVD.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. “Burning Bridges.” Kelly’s Heroes. Cond. The Mike Curb Congregation. By Remy D Shand. 1970. Movie.
http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/day-reconciliation-celebrated-publicly. “Day of Reconciliation celebrated as a public holiday in SA for the first time.” South African History Online (SAHO) 16 March 2011. webpage.