by Balekane “TK” Moloi
As a 27 year old woman growing up in the dusty streets of Duduza, a small township in the eastern wing of Johannesburg, just outside Mpumalanga province. I had a life some would say was an average upbringing, when considering the family history and background. I grew up in a large family, with neighbors who had the spirit of Ubuntu and togetherness in their hearts. I learned from a young age what it meant to be part of a community, which cared for their own as family. I learned what was the true meaning of the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
I am the fourth of five children who were raised by a single mother. Life was not easy most of the time because my mother was a raising us with no financial support, only the moral support of the neighbors from time to time. She had the burden of raising us the best way she possibly could, feeding five mouths three times a day, putting clothes on our backs and keeping us warm in harsh cold winter. We lived a four-roomed shack, which also cost her money that she did not have enough of.
I have an older brother and sister and a younger brother who is seven years younger than me but looks older because of his lean tall structured body and not to mention his handsomeness. I was treated as a princess when I was younger by my older siblings, especially my sister who was my mother’s first-born child. She practically raised me as her own child until she passed away due to AIDS. When she fell ill my family tried by all means to make the heartache easier for me, they thought it would break me into pieces but miraculously I pulled through though it was not a walk in the park.
Her passing took its toll on me. It felt as though my soul was buried six feet under with her decaying body from all the bedsores she had developed during her last stages with the disease. Although its still hard not to cry when I reminisce about her and the unconditional love she showed me through the glorious years we had together. I gather strength and console myself with the promise that I made to her to always love and protect her daughter who is now a beautiful 15-year-old young lady.
I remember when I was about six or seven years old when my mother bought me a Barbie doll with a matching kitchen set, it was the first and last present I ever got for Christmas. To me it felt as though she had bought a wrong toy as I was used to playing with boys toys, and the whole set was lost in less than a week. Growing up in my neighborhood was an adventure everyday especially during school holidays. We used to play in the dark streets until way passed our bed time and we would even miss a bath or two at times because we would be so tired from all the running around the whole day. One would pass-out during supper, those are days I would go back to any day. Except for the spanking we would get from time to time, for taking a walk to the local dumping site to find “treasures” for ourselves. To adults they were meaningless junk. During summer time we would go for a swim in a nearby pond that would fill up when it poured hard the night before, we used to call the pond “ikofi” because of its muddy color after we dived in.
When I was in Grade 2, that April my baby brother was born. Just like any other 7 year old I resented him for taking my place as the baby of the family. As time passed he grew on me and made me melt like ice on a hot summer day. The thought of being an older sibling to him put me at ease. When I was 9 years old my mother took me on vacation and the destination was Soshanguve, in Pretoria. That was the best trip I had as a child because when we came back home, I had all the bragging rights. I was the only one who had been on a train.
At 13 years old when I was in my eighth grade I had my first crush on someone and to my surprise it was on my math teacher because she was a beautiful creature. All the boys in our class would talk about things they would do to her had they been given the chance. The thing that worried me the most was that all my female peers had crushes on male teachers and then started to ask myself what was wrong with me?
Why was I feeling that way about another person who was just like me? I learned to understand the reason behind my feelings in the years to come as I grew up and understood myself. My crush and I became like sisters as the feeling was mutual, but I lived as one of her learners and she gave me the attention I longed, that made her more of sister than a potential lover. We would talk about anything during our lunch breaks at school but I never mentioned my infatuation I once felt for her because it was rather embarrassing to me.
I never understood at that time why I was feeling this way about other girls who were older or the same age as me. Thokozile Mashiane groomed me throughout my high school years and ended up encouraging me to take on a challenge of studying physical science and pure math, which was not everyone’s cup of coffee amongst my peers. High school was bliss until I had a major setback in my matric year. About two and a half months before I was scheduled to write my preliminary exams, I became critically ill.
It was around seven in the morning when I woke up with a splitting headache. It felt as though my head was smashed with a five-pound hammer. I had promised my mother that I would help her prepare our Sunday lunch, but then she suggested that I go back to bed for another hour or two and she would wake me up when she starts preparing the dessert. When I woke up my feet felt as though they were placed in a bucket of ice, my body was aching with pain and my fingertips were almost grey. However those were the least of my worries at that moment, because I needed the restroom faster than you can say “busting bladder’. As soon as I tried to raise my heavy head I realized why I was in such a need for the toilet. I had a drip connected to my arm and I was at a hospital, a place I wouldn’t willingly go to even if someone paid me a million bucks.
I was still dazed when a familiar face walked in, it was my aunt, Nomasonto Ntuli, and she helped me to the toilet just in time, before I could create my own mini dam. She then went out and came back with more familiar faces that I recognized as my uncles, aunts, older siblings and cousins. I remember the first words I could utter were, ”Am I dying?” and they all bust out with laughter and tears before answering, “you almost gave all of us heart attacks”.
Later that day I was discharged to go home because the medical team could not explain my being unconscious for more than four hours. They said I must come back for more tests the next morning. We went home and like any typical black family my house was full of people, it was a though we had a traditional ceremony that morning. Neighbors, my immediate family and friends from around my hood all came. A week passed and I did not go to school because I had migraines and suddenly one morning I woke up with a loss of sight. I had gone completely blind over night and unable to lift my own eyelids. We thought it was because of the headaches but we had not expected what happened next.
Over the following couple of days I woke up without the feeling of my legs, they were all wobbly and felt as though they were ripped off from my abdomen. I told myself they are probably cold, so I must go out of bed. When I put my feet on the floor I could not feel the coldness of the floor, since I had lost my sight, I thought they were not on the floor. Then I did what any other normal human being would do when attempting to walk, I stood up only to fall flat on my face and my mother came rushing in because she had heard the impact of my fall. I could not see her facial expression when I told her I cannot feel my legs and I can’t walk. In my mind the only thing that was hovering was one word “PARALYZED”.
What consoled me was the fact that I could not see the terror in her eyes as she realized what was going on. Scared of what was to become of her once normal healthy, and promising child. All I could do at that moment was to hope that it would end soon. My older brother took the responsibility of suggesting that I see a traditional healer because all modern medicine had failed us completely. Like any desperate mother, she agreed to the idea.
They took me to bab’Ngwenya who worked on me for weeks and miraculously took me from my vegetative state to almost normal self. I wrote my preliminary exams with a walking stick and stiff legs, but at least I was on my feet and had regained my sight. By November I was fully healed, even though I was far behind with my schoolwork, as I had missed two months of the syllabus in my learning areas. A day after Family Day in December 2005 I went out that morning to buy The Star newspaper. To my surprise, I found my name amongst thousands of other people who had also passed matric. When my mother returned home from work the first thing I saw on her face was how proud she was. Although she did not say it in words, her look was enough for me. I was also proud of what I had achieved. I had done what most would not have done if they were in my shoes in the past seven months.
The following year I opted to take a gap year, but my older sister would not hear any of it, so I took a bridging course at Central Johannesburg College and moved to Jozi Maboneng. There, I met new people; some friendly and some not so friendly and that did not bother me at all. What mattered to me was the fact that I was an 18-year-old living in the big city that is feared by most for its reputation. I found the city to be just like any other. Life was not a walk in the park, I was learning how to play the piano and read musical scores composed by the likes of John Jackson, Robert Lockwood Jr. Louis Armstrong and Sam Taylor just to name a few.
Later that year I was invited to attend a project known as “Democracy Begins in Conversation” which was directed by the New York born activist Betsi Pendry. The project took place at Constitution Hill and we had the privilege of meeting the eleven judges and having a conversation with them about our constitution and the work that they do. We attended an 8 weeks course with the project and had a presentation of all the work we had done during the project. We showcased our photography skills that we acquired during our time at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown. Paintings, plays, poetry and music were used to translate and interpreted our views on the constitution.
In 2007 I decided to study towards a degree and I ended up tackling a Bachelor’s Degree in education. I then enrolled with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Soshanguve campus. Again, I met new people and made new friends. The first semester was the hardest because of the change of environment and lifestyle but I managed to do well. Towards the end of that year my older sister had a massive stroke that paralyzed the entire right side of her body. From then on everything went downhill with her health. The ARVs barely kept her alive while her health deteriorated every time I went home for visits, which were more often than the previous year. Most times when I was home I could not bare to see her in that state, knowing there was nothing I could do to ease the pain she feeling and that I saw in her daughter’s eyes.
I often asked myself “how can God be so cruel, why her and not someone else?”
During that year I suffered a minor setback with my health, I had dehydrated kidneys but that was the least of my worries. I did not do well that year and to make matters worse, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) financially excluded me from their fund and my appeals were in vain, they just would not budge. I had to make a plan for funding in 2008, without any luck from banks for loans I decided to drop out. My mother was against the idea and said she would make a plan to get the funding even if it meant they slept with an empty stomach every day. I tried by all means to convince her they needed help with my sister who needed caring 24/7, but my efforts were in vain yet again.
I went to the university clinic one morning because I was just not feeling well and was transferred to the hospital in Ga-Rankuwa were I was diagnosed with having depression. I would hide the medication when I went home because we had enough problems already and I did not want to stress my family even more. Life had turned into a “female dog” on me. I was anti-social and could not focus in my schoolwork as much as I would have liked. The only thing that could take away the pain was alcohol; it hurt more when I was sober.
One morning when I was preparing to go to class I got a message to call home ASAP so I did exactly that. As soon as heard my mother’s voice on the other end, l knew what she was about to tell me. I was not ready to hear it. She said my sister had passed on and I broke down and cried on the street pavements without any care in the world as to who was watching.
For God’s sake I was in pain; couldn’t they understand what I was feeling?
I gathered whatever strength I could to get myself home like my mother had ordered me to do during our conversation. I took the first taxi to town and then the first available train headed home. I arrived home to a house full of relatives and neighbors. As strong as I thought I was I broke down when I saw my mother on that mattress, what she had told me was true and irreversible.
On the Friday before her funeral a hearse pulled over at my doorstep and I was standing outside with my cousin. I asked her why was it here and she just said, “everything will be alright” and took me inside the house. When I saw the coffin being wheeled into the bedroom where my mother sat for the last two weeks it dawned on me that I had lost the only person that meant everything to me other than my mother. On the day of the funeral I was practically a walking, breathing corpse. Nothing made sense to me and all I wanted was for all those people to just leave my house and let us be. I mourned my sister’s death for about 4 years before I could fully accept that I would no longer seat and joke around with her, I would never see her beautiful smile again.
A week after the funeral I discovered that my mother has breast cancer and she was scheduled to go under the knife a week later.
Again I asked why must my family suffer so much?
Why were we being punished like this?
I had just lost my pillar of strength and now this. Life couldn’t be this cruel in a space of a month. That’s when I started to think that God was testing my faith in him. The day came and my mom was operated on successfully. However the chemotherapy was the worst that I’ve seen of my mom looking helpless, we pulled through and survived cancer.
By the end of the year I had massive amount of money that I owed to the university and had no idea how I would pay the debt because all the little money that was supposed to go to my studies had to pay for my family’s health. In the years to come I had to grow up and make means to take care of my family so I started looking for work and support my family, as the conditions were now not so good.
In 2011 I was awarded a scholarship at a local primary school as a sport assistant and the following year I was promoted to being a supervisor of 18 people. It was not child’s play but I managed to keep a sane head. It was a blast working in a different environment, learning brand new things every day. I worked at James Nkosi Primary School for almost three years before my contract was terminated in July 2014. Since then I have been doing temporary jobs to keep busy and support myself and help around the household.
All the events that took place in my life have made me the person that I am today and I do not regret all the decisions that I made throughout the 27 years of my life. I am proud to say that I am a proud black young lesbian woman living in the township.
I am thankful to the people who have supported me and groomed me to be a humble, respectful and loving person. Most of all, I owe much gratitude to the woman who gave birth to me, Nokusa Lydia Moloi, she is my everything I would not trade her for another parent ever.
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