Category Archives: Friendship

Partnerships

The ship that rarely sails.  Or that sets off and glides along for a good while before hitting an iceberg or a rock.  Or where a mutiny on deck causes a power shift and a new commander makes for ports unchartered for.

Why is this?  Because of inherent differences in people, their opinions, visions and goals.  Often times it is due to unscrupulous partners and greed.  The lack of hesitation in using another for personal gain.  Seeing a talent, skill, attitude or attribute in someone else that can be used to one’s own personal advantage.  Knowing full well, that when the usefulness of the partner has been spent, he will be thrown overboard somewhere at sea.  Having brought to the table what the vulture needed, but could not supply himself.

Signing contracts are of no use.  It will eventually cost more to get out of a contract through a lawyer than what it will to just walk away.  And as always, the lawyer will be the only one who makes a profit as he feeds off the lack of knowledge or understanding, differences of opinion and misfortunes of others.

When two people shake hands, it is on the assumption of mutual trust.  No one does this if they imagine that the other has diabolical intentions once out at sea.

There is the ship owner that offers shares in a vessel as well as a captaincy to another.  The latter mans, repairs, cleans and loads the ship and sets of to trade, waving goodbye and bon voyage to the former standing on the quay.  But no sooner has the ship disappeared from view before the original owner sets off in full pursuit, clambers aboard and wrenches back the controls in an act of piracy.

Then there is the partner that offers a partnership and initially works hard, side-by-side.  But as time goes by, he starts missing voyages due to other commitments and eventually completely fails to board.  The other is left with a 100% of the work and only 50% of the profit, yet is expected to be, and act grateful, forever and ever amen.  This while lining the coffers of him no longer there.

True also is that rosy skylines are marred by partners that are always late, and those who never take calls or return messages.  All of which could lead to mutiny.

Even under the best of weathers, with the most trustworthy of partners, and without an ounce of maliciousness on the horizon, the partnership will have more stormy waters and rough seas to contend with than could ever have been envisioned at the outset.  This ship has the potential to ruin even the finest of friend, or family relationships.

So dear seafarers, I wish to encourage you to study carefully the character of another, read again and again through a ship’s logs and papers, suspiciously revise the behaviour of sea routes, calculate costs, conjure up future scenarios ,weigh, weigh and weigh options, both personal and financial, before ever stepping aboard another man’s ship.


Relationships have to be Transparent

Most of my relationships are of the honest kind.  Or rather, my most meaningful bonds are built on complete transparency.  With people who have seen my good, bad and ugly, and still want me as a friend.

These friends do not judge.  They might occasionally express concern, or gently point out an ugly, but they love and appreciate all the time.

They are people who do not care to let their hair down in front of me, and who allow me to do the same.  I never have to feel embarrassed about anything I have done, or about a way in which I behaved, because they take me as I come.  And they like me because I am willing to just be me, on display, in front of them, warts and all.

Friendships like these are hard to find, and so worth keeping.  They put together on an understanding of mutual faults, and on the insight that we all carry our own bag full and that it is not for us to question what another has to bear.

I did not know all this until I was older, though I wanted to be that which I saw in my mind’s eye.  I could not ever really feel it because I did not really act it.  Now I do because I understand that what I am is what I am, and that those who do not care for me, can do without me.  And I don’t mind.

I never feel quite comfourtable with non-transparents.  That ‘something’ is always between us.  And I know what it is, even if they don’t.  I have a built-in radar for real and make-believe.  Life is easier when you are unaware of this though.  Relationships seem more rosy and true.  But you are less aware of the importance of guarding your heart, and so you will be injured.

I don’t get hurt that easily anymore though, because someone taught me in the worst possible way.  I won’t cry again over a relationship, unless it is my fault.  Because if you keep your eyes open, you can see most things coming.  It is the University of Life as far as I am concerned, and thank you to everybody involved.  You cured me of my friendship romanticism.

Today, I prefer my friends roasted.  Tested and true.  Genuinely real so that I can make an informed decision about whether I want you in my life or not.   It can never ever though, be based on grudges and there has to be a comprehension that I can be wrong when I think I am right.

Every person that crosses my path in life is important, whether for a season, or a lifetime.  I shall keep an open mind, I shall give you a second, a third, a fourth up to a whatevereth chance.   But if you show that your true colours are grey, I shall not give you my heart.  I’ll keep my innermost thoughts to myself and give you that which floats to the surface.

Because love conquers all.


When is a house a Home?

For me, home means safety and security.  That is what our armed robbery almost destroyed.

It is also a place of love, comfourt, forgiveness and caring.  We should feel safe inside our homes, protected from the outside world.  But we should also feel secure in one other, and protected by one another.

The people in a home should be transparent with each other, yet have enough love to overlook a host of transgressions.  I am reminded of Liz Murray, in her book Breaking Night:  A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard of which I wrote in a previous blog.  Her parents were both drug addicts and she was out on the streets early on.  I kept wondering why Liz became the success story that she is in spite of her background and circumstances.  The only answer that presented itself to me was love.  Her parents were honest about what they were, and they loved her.  She never doubted that and it was this love that allowed her to rise above what seemed to be her destiny.

Inside a house there might be much or little, neither which make for a loving home.  Parents who admit their mistakes do.  Children who respect their parents though they might not agree, do.  People who accept one another’s faults, do.

Two, or four, or however many people living together have to be able to give one another space.   My Uncle and Aunt had seven sons, one after the other, nine in one house which was by no means spacious.  They had to learn to cohabit their home in a way that made them one unit, yet where each still had enough space to be an individual.

It is not always easy to share your space with others, especially if your personal bubble is big, and you crave a lot of ‘me time’.  But therein lays the secret.  That which hurts, grows.  That which scrapes and scours, builds.  That is what the people in your home do.  They build character in you, they teach you, and they grow you.

Left to yourself, you would never become what you are ultimately, capable of being.


Every relationship needs an accelerator, and a brake

Whether in marriage or business, one person has to do the spurring one while the other has to slam on brakes.  It is amazing how, subconsciously, we slip into either of these roles.  It is a necessary, and complimentary, occurrence.

What happens when two accelerators join forces?  Although dynamic, they butt heads because they tend to want to assume control.   If they both not quite mature, the partnership could self-destruct.   Interestingly though, almost as if by evolution, one of them will eventually start slamming on brakes to compensate for the speed at which they are travelling.  Without this, the two accelerators would have no caution, nor time to think things over, and high-speed accidents will  be imminent.  Similarly, two handbrakes would never get a project off the ground.  They would be too busy conjuring up worse-case scenarios and stuck in ‘what if’.

I am an accelerator, and one quite hectic.  Left on my own, I am all over the map.   So my husband has been a deeply steadying influence on me.  In fact, the more gas I give, the harder he pulls back, creating an environment where I have to slow down and assess what I am doing.  He is extremely patient and has learnt that it does not help to fight me.  Instead he just slows down and causes such drag, that I have to stop.

I am a good influence on him too.  Although I cannot make him move when he does not want to, I spur him into action quicker than he would have otherwise.  But I have also learnt not to push him too hard because if he makes a decision without absolute surety, I will be responsible for the results thereof.

Whichever one you are, with age you discover to work with your opposite instead of against them.  You start to appreciate the dynamics they bring and learn to be grateful for it.  A relationship is like two rocks rubbing against one another.  Although painful, in time, they sand out all the rough parts in one another until they eventually fit together like two spoons.  The hardest thing is to stay for the duration, and not to bail out along the way.  Why, we will only land up with another stone to grind us, one which might cause even more suffering.

Lol!  It reminds me of graffiti I read somewhere:  “No matter how beautiful she is to you, some other guy is sick and tired of her shit”.


Blood is thicker than Water

We recently had a family funeral.  It had been 15 years or more since I had seen some of those cousins but there was that immediate kinship.  It needed no words.  It is a bond without explanation.  A blood-tie.

I love my cousins and I love the idea of cousins.  I have almost 30.  We make a point of getting together once or twice a year, just to catch up and to have fun.

Cousins are nice for many reasons.  You are not that close to them that they judge, but not so far apart that they do not understand.  They accept you as you are, they don’t backstab or bite.  They have no need to.  They are your blood.   They knew you as a child and they know the circumstances that shaped you.  They identify with you.  They were a source of strength through each family tragedy.  They walked together with you, in your family shoes.

Aunts and uncles will always see you as a child.  They frown easier, like parents do, because they feel that they have a vested interest in you.  They have watched you from birth and wish the best for you.

Sad though are aunts and uncles that become grumpy with age.  Life is difficult, sure, but if you going to sit at a family barbecue with a sour face, why come?  Stay at home and you won’t be irritated or annoyed, nor will the people around you be inconvenienced by your disapproving face and under-handed grumbles.  And hell, if you have become a vegetarian and do not eat bacon, bring your own food.  Don’t sit there and complain about what is on offer when you have contributed zip.

I had to laugh at the funeral though.  An older ducky approached one of my aunts and said:

“Mary, is that you?”

“Yes”, said Mary, “And who may you be?”

“It is me, Sarah, don’t you remember?”

“Of course I do Sarah!”

Sarah stood still for a moment and looked Mary over, from top to toe before exclaiming:  “My Mary, but you have gotten old!”

Mary visibly froze, then slowly shook out her feathers:  “Well Sarah, you don’t look to young yourself”.

“But Mary, you look ancient!”

By this time I was rolling on the floor laughing but neither of them noticed.

“Now listen Sarah, I am seventy-three years old, what do you expect?”

Sarah tapped her foot:  “But you look seventy-three!”

Mary was turning red:  “How old are you Sarah?”

“I am fifty-six”.

With a satisfied grin Mary looked Sarah straight in the eye and said:  “Well, you also look seventy-three”.

And that was the end of that.

Comical as it was, it made me realise that these two had not seen one another for thirty or forty years, and that they have long since passed the age of niceties.  They say it like it is.  And the appearance of the other was indeed a great shock, a realisation of time gone by.

I was sad that I had lost a cousin whom I had not seen enough of.  I was more sad for my aunt and uncle and remaining cousins for the loss they will have for as long as they live.  But I was grateful to find that the bonds with my family were still intact and that it will always be.

Because in the end, blood is very much thicker than water.


I was just wondering …

If you have been friends with someone for a long time, let’s say 20 odd years, and that person suddenly grows cold and distant, you would automatically assume that you did something wrong.  Right?

Then, you would start working through the drawers and files in your head to find out what it was.  Sometimes you will locate it, but it takes time.  In the meantime, that person stews and stews and stews.  And occasionally, you just don’t find it.

Now this pisses me off.  If I have been your buddy for so long, and if you liked me enough to choose my friendship, surely you know that I will not hurt you intentionally.  So work with me on this one because I clearly have to spell it out.  I accidentally/unintentionally offended you.  You are my friend, I like you.  I value you.  I did not suddenly wake up one morning and decide roll over on you.

So why on God’s green earth could you not pick up a phone, write an email, send a text or a smoke signal to let me know that I did X, and that you are hurt?  After 20 years, do you not know that I would set it right?

If you believe that I meant to harm you, then clearly I have been sadly mistaken about you.

So now, here we sit.  I actually did locate the (what I imagine to be) offending file, in the drawer marked “Try something New” which by the way, had nothing to do with you.  I removed it from that drawer, changed everything to the way you like things done and filed it under “The Usual Way”.

So what now?  Once you see what I have done, are you going to become nice again and pretend that nothing happened?  Thinking that I am none the wiser?  Or will you actually say:  “Hey, that thing was bugging me but I did not have the courage to talk to you about it.  Thank you for sorting it out”.

The ball’s in your court.  I hope you surprise me.


To all the dogs I never loved …

Gingi was a Pekingese.  We found her abandoned at the SPCA when she was 6 months old.  Pekingesies have wonderful personalities.  Not really lovable and grumpy when teased, but so unique.  Once you own one, you will be in love.

Gingi came into our lives before I liked dogs.  She had attitude, more like a cat.  She was always so proud of herself when she went to the parlour and loved climbing into nooks and crannies and drawers.

Gingi died before I could love her properly.  She managed to squeeze her way through the fence and got knocked over.  The driver never stopped and she was dead when I got there.  My family gave her love, therein lays my consolation.  But she started teaching me that dogs could and should be loved, she started walking a road with me which Danni (my Rhodesian Ridgeback) carried through.

Then came Ameé, the cutest little baby Pekingese.  I enveloped her in love.  She died in my hands at 3 months old.  Jessie was extremely tiny and had congenital problems from inbreeding.  She also died in my hands.  My road of learning to love was almost complete.

I fetched Cinnamon (in the picture) when she was 8 weeks old.  She was from the same breeder as Ameé and Jessie and had the same problems.  But this time I went to a specialist vet who saved her.  She is a princess too, just like Gingi and gets funnily angry when the kids tease her.  She doesn’t want to sleep with me, or cuddle.  She loves me on her terms.

And I realised that I, someone who regrets very little, regret not loving Gingi enough.  But I am so grateful for what she taught me.  That dogs are wonderful additions to a family.  They enrich our lives, they teach us, they are loyal and love unconditionally.

Gingi my little animal, if you were here today, you would have been queen.


Jy’s my Diksko Bal

We did not start with a mutual liking, it grew over time.  It was not easy, we earned it.  There are so many reasons why we should not be, why we should be distrustful and suspicious.  There are countless people in the way.

Yet, we are.  Why?  Because you make me feel safe.  You are not judgemental or critical.  You have no inhibitions.  You are so naturally you, it makes you beautiful.  You have no pretences or make-believes.  You love unconditionally and give all of yourself.

You are fun to be with, even when you are sad or angry.

You give much and ask for little in return.  You are unselfish, kind and generous.  A ball of shimmering light.

The last few years have been so rough on you, I wish I can help you heal.  You have found yourself in the deepest of waters, but you know you will pull through.

And I will always be here.


To my Friends

Each of my friends, without exception, plays a role in my life, whether in body or in spirit. I cannot name you for fear of overlooking someone

I have a friend whose shoulder I have stained with my tears, and a friend who shares my laughter.

To another I divulge my fears. There is one who understands my dreams.

One makes me knuckle down and work hard. Another is for playing hard (beloved).

There is my good counsellor, to lead and guide. And my sparring partner, to challenge and confront.

Some know when I am in a crisis, others nudge me when I don’t see a need.

One I might have to carry for a season, but when it’s my turn, they’re there to hold me up.

Faithful, faithful child, you’ve walked with me through the valley of shadow of death.

Friends come and friends go but they always leave a part of them behind inside my heart. Each of you encourage me to be more me, and inspire me to become more like you.

I would have never been where, or who I am without you.


She died from AIDS

I see the coffin being lowered into the ground by pallbearers dressed in black. I hear the wailing and screeching, sniffs and sobs. I feel the chill in the air. Lettie’s tears streaming down her raisin cheeks onto her new dark dress. The smell of freshly dug wet earth covering Susan’s body. Her footsteps eternally erased from the soil she walked on. All that will be left is the smell of her, for a while. On her clothes, her bed, her things. And the imprint of her in our hearts.

With a trembling hand Donald reads the letter I wrote. The one in which I tried to explain my love for Susan.  Agnes is nodding her head. She is the only one sitting down, her shortened polio leg unable to bear her enormous weight. Edith stands with her head bowed, clasping her thin hands in front of her.

“Susan always worked hard. Her smile graced my home every day. I will always remember her laughter and the fact that she didn’t get angry. People came for advice because she was wise. She loved her mother Lettie and her family”.

Cousin Donald’s voice rings out over the crowd. Today is about remembrance. We are reminiscing together even though I’m not there.

“I am glad because now I know she will never have pain again. Her tears have been dried and she has been filled with joy”. He stops and looks at the funeral goers before carrying on. “My prayer is that Tsepo shall become a big man just like his mother dreamed he would. Tsepo, your mother loved you and she was very proud of you. Always stay on the road that she pointed out so that you may honour her name”. Tsepo’s seven-year-old face reflects the turmoil within. His newphew Johannes is eight and feels that he should comfourt his little cousin so he digs into his pocket and hands Tsepo a mint. Even though he is sad, he is glad to see his father again. Joseph works on the mines and does not often get time off work. His mother lives far away in Rustenburg, but Johannes does not like going there. She is mean and her parents treat him badly. He is always hungry when he visits her. It is much better to stay with Gogo Lettie and Tsepo. .

By means of a little piece of paper I tell them how much richer I am for having known Susan. I know they will soak out of it all the feelings I had poured into it. And afterwards, someone may ask about the person that wrote the letter. And Lettie will tell them about a white woman in Gauteng who became her friend.

oooOooo

If someone asked me, I would tell them that I was only twenty-one with a baby on the way when Lettie found me. She became my housekeeper and my teacher. Whenever I became despondent over baby problems she would say to me: “Nooi (young girl), as long as you can wrap him in a blanket your troubles are small”. How I used to laugh with her. Little did she know then how small that blanket would become when her own kids got older.  Joseph would land up in prison for killing a man in a drunken brawl. Nicholas would develop epilepsy and need permanent care.  Agnes would always be crippled. Hilda’s husband would always beat her. Susan would be in the grave long before her mother.

She only worked for me one or two days a week in the beginning, I forget which.  My husband and I lived in a tiny little house on a huge piece of grass. Everyone laughed because it looked like a doll’s house. Two years later we moved and Lettie followed. She stayed with a woman whose mother she had worked for. She told me that the couple fought all the time.  She was miserable.

Then one day she said: “Nooi, they told me to leave. What am I going to do? I have nowhere else to go and I cannot retire yet”. I was astounded. “Why Lettie, what’s going on?” “I think they are getting divorced”. My husband and I spoke it over before I approached her with my suggestion. “Lettie, you know the zozo? It is not much but if you want to stay there until you find something better, you are welcome”. I saw the worry disappear off her face in that instant. “I will take it nooi”. “Lettie, promise me you’ll look around for something better”. “I will nooi, I will”. By the end of the month she had moved her few belongings and there she stayed. I wanted to build her a proper room but did not have the means to do so. The zozo was made from precast and it was draughty. It got hot in the summer and cold in winter. But whenever I asked she insisted that she was quite comfortable. She never did look for another place to stay.

She spoke about her children often and they dropped in whenever they were in the area.  I got to know them all. Edith, Joseph, Agnes, Susan and Nicholas. Hilda I met later and her daughter would eventually work for my brother. By this time Lettie was well into her fifties and working for me three days a week. The other two she spent at neighbours. She would come home and astound me with stories of how they lived. People who seemed so normal from the outside. She also told me the story of her life. She only had a standard four because she ran away from school. Her mother then found her employment on a farm but she ran away from that too. I think in different times and under different circumstances, Lettie would have been somewhat of a free spirit. But poverty is a chain that nails everything down. She eventually fell in love with a “Boesman” as she called him, a coloured man. She had 6 children before he ran off. She left the children with her mother to find employment in Johannesburg.  Six children did not come cheap.

One day I asked her: “Lettie, did you never fall in love again?” “I did nooi. But it did not work out”. “Why not?” “Because he was from Mozambique and he wanted to go back home. He was a madala (old man) already by then”. “Why did he leave you if he loved you?” It did not understand the cultural differences. “He wanted to take me with him, but I could not leave my children Nooi.”   That ended her only true love. From there on she put men behind her and sought to raise her kids as best she could. To provide for them and see to it that they appreciated what they got.  I saw exactly the same trait in Susan in time to come.

Then Joseph was imprisoned. One night on the mine compound he got into a fight. They had had too much to drink and a man pulled out a knife. So did Joseph. In the ensuing fight, Joseph killed the man and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  I still remember the look of shock on her face during the months it took for Joseph to receive his sentence. The embarrassment. But she did whatever it took to raise the money to pay his expenses and never wavered.  Today Joseph’s imprisonment is but a dim memory.

She always said that at sixty she would retire. We used to laugh at that. “You are still a spring chicken Lettie, you have a long way to go. Anyway, what will you do all day long” I’d ask. “I’ll sit in the sun and I’ll rest. Then the children will look after me like I have looked after them”. I wonder if she knew it would not be the case but hoped for it anyway?  I also never really entertained the thought of her leaving. Somehow I imagined that I would always have her with me. “But when I leave nooi, I will send someone to look after you”. She saw me as a child and never noticed that I had grown up until we were apart. “Who will you send Lettie? No one will be able to look after me the way that you do”. She’d smile wisely and say: “When the time comes, I will know”.

Then she turned sixty.  And she left.  She sent her sister Olga in her place. The rest she longed for turned out to be bringing up grandchildren whose parents were working away from home, carrying water from the communal tap in the village and walking hours every month to collect her meagre pension. All the while dealing with daily life in a dusty town where everybody knew everybody’s business. She kept in contact with me. She even sent Susan or Edith  to visit and update me on their news. We wrote to each other and she visited once, just to see how big my children were.

Olga was with me for little over a year when she died.  She went to a shebeen one night with a friend and an argument errupted.  She ran off, not stopping to look for cars and was knocked over, dying instantly.  The husband soon appeared at my doorstep with family and friends. They sat in her room talking about her and planning her funeral.  He was an alcoholic, dependant on Olga for an income. There was no money for even a modest funeral. The only thing to do was to take care of the arrangements ourselves. My husband and brother made the coffin and we found a helpful mortician to make her look the way we remembered her. He lined the coffin with fabric and placed her in it. He even agreed to rent us a trailer to take her home in.

My sister-in-law and I piled the bakkie high with Olga’s belongings. On top of everything was her two-seater couch and on top of that, her son Ben and Donald. Behind us followed a ‘Martin’s Funeral Parlour’ trailer carrying Olga’s earthly remains. It was a slow six-hour arive, made worse by the starring passers-by and my attempt to stop smoking. We arrived in Jan Kemp Dorp at midnight, wondering who would help us off-load. But to our surprise, all her family and friends were there in their Sunday best, awaiting our arrival. They respectfully removed the coffin and placed it inside her house. Then they silently filed past it to pay their last respects. The only suggestion they made was that in future we should split the coffin lid so that the face only may be viewed.

Afterwards we had tea with Lettie at her house. She proudly showed us the works of her hands and explained the things she still needed to do. The house was warm and friendly and loving. It smelt of cooking and cleaning.  I was glad for the opportunity to have seen her world.

When I spoke to Lettie again she had decided that Susan should come and work for me. Her baby girl. I was reluctant because Susan was capable of so much more. She had completed a basic computer course and had elementary typing skills. Besides for that, she was a vibrant and energetic young woman. I was concerned that housekeeping would stifle her spirit and that she would land up regretting that she did not try other things.  Initially I think Susan agreed only for Lettie’s sake, but as time went on she grew roots. She always assured me that if she found something more suitable to her, she would tell me.  I got to know and love her. We chatted often, about the mistakes of our pasts, the hopes of our futures and everyday life. She told me that she had a relationship with a man when she was in her final year of schooling but only found out that he was married after she fell pregnant. She kept Tsepo but left the man.

Shortly after she came to me she entered the darkest time of her life. She fell in love with a man who cheated on her. Susan was a SeSotho and Thomas a Zulu. Their traditions were worlds apart. He said that he wanted to marry her but that she would have to go live in Kwa-Zulu Natal on their land with his mother. “Mandy, I can never do that. My mother would never allow it. And I’m not sure that I would ever see my family again, KZN is so far”, she said. “If you love him Susan, sort this out before you go any further”, was the only suggestion I could give. She cried. He had no shame. I did not understand, but I did. “Susan, you have to leave Thomas, he is destroying you!” I pleaded. “I know Mandy, but I love him”. “Love is a decision Susan, not a feeling. Move on!”  Her usual sunny face gave way tot perpetual sadness.

During that time a friend of hers contracted AIDS.  The husband, mother and children deserted her. The stigma of the disease was just too much for them to bear so she died alone, and was buried alone.

Susan finally ended the relationship with Thomas but it took a long time for her to heal.  But I was able to complete a goal I had for Lettie. I built Susan a room with a bathroom and the zozo hut was pulled down.

Then suddenly she became ill. “Mandy”, the gynaecologist warned, “this is a pelvic inflammation, but it is unusually high in the abdomen.  She needs to be admitted to hospital so that they can run tests”. “Where would you suggest I tale her Doctor?” I asked.  Susan was not on on a private medical aid and government hospitals were notorious.  Little did I know what lay in store for us. “Joburg Gen is good, but Baragwanath would be better. Get her in there today”. He wrote a letter that I saw as a talisman guaranteeing good treatment. How wrong I was.

Our first attempt at having her admitted at Baragwanath was when she arrived there at two in the afternoon with Donald.  Shortly before seven o’clock that evening he had to leave to catch the last taxi home. And since they had been there already five hours, there was no reason to suspect that they would not admit her. I was at a business dinner with my husband when I received her “please call-me”. “Mandy, they say that I must go home”. She sounded weak. “Susan, did you show them the letter from your gynaecologist?” I was livid. “Yes Mandy. They say that there is nothing wrong with me and that I must go home”. “Let me speak to the doctor”. He sounded uninterested and insisted that Susan was not ill. “What about the letter from the gynaecologist?” I asked. “Well, I believe that he has misdiagnosed this case. I am prescribing some medication, if she starts vomiting she should come back”. His manner was blunt. “So what you are saying is that she is only ill enough to be admitted if she vomits?” I asked. “Yes”. “Then you will admit her?” I insisted to make sure that I understood. “Yes”. Susan had to wait at the hospital for over an hour as we wangled our way out of our evening.  She had a packet of painkillers and an anti-biotic.

For three days she was too weak to get out of bed and then she started vomiting. Eight o’clock that night we rushed her back to Baragwanath. I was sure that she would be admitted. Seven o’clock the next morning she phoned me and asked me to come fetch her. “Why?” I screamed. “They say I am not ill”. Her voice was toneless. When she got home she told me that the doctor only consented to see her at twelve o’clock that night. That after looking her over and doing a urine test, he again told her that she was acting up and that there was nothing wrong with her. He put her in the men’s mental ward for the night.  She was never really able to tell me what had happened to her that night and God alone knows what damage it did but after that she lost her laughter and I believe, gave up.

Three more times she went back to the hospital but all she got was to stand in a queue for hours for a handful of pills. By the end of October we decided that she should go home to her mother.  There was a doctor in the town of Hartswater who knew the family. We hoped that he would be able to diagnose what was wrong with her.

She saw the family doctor immediately and phoned me from his consulting rooms.  He told me the same old story: “I cannot diagnose this until we run some tests. Susan needs to be hospitalised’.  But as a private doctor, he could not get her admitted. By now we were deep into November and what started as pelvic infection had turned into chronic diarrhoea. She needed constant care and could not keep nothing down.  In February she told me that she had Tuberculosis.  The lights came on for me. “Susan, maybe you should ask the doctor to do an AIDS test”, I suggested. “What do you have to loose? If it is not AIDS that will be wonderful, but if it is, you can at least get proper treatment for it”. “Okay Mandy, I will go”. She was beaten. “And Susan”, “Mandy?” “You don’t have to tell me or anyone else if you are positive. You do understand that?” “Yes Mandy”.

Two weeks later she phoned. “Mandy, I am HIV positive, but the doctor says that I don’t have AIDS yet”. I found that hard to believe.  “How do you feel Susan?” I was concerned about the community’s treatment of her because I knew how they felt about AIDS. “I feel okay. At least I know what is wrong and they gave me an anti-retroviral”.

The TB tablets made her vomit so she could not keep the anti-retroviral down.  She told her family that she was HIVpositive, not feeling the need to hide it from the community. I admired her for that. Other than her trips to the doctor and the hospital, she was bedridden most of the time. Every time we talked there was less of her.  By mid-March she couldn’t get out of bed and did not speak. At the end of April she died.

Lettie took it stoically and took care of the arrangements. “Nooi, Susan will have a headstone”. “Yes Lettie, she will”.

We were left with only memories.  Memories of a laughing woman in her prime. Beloved woman.  I am sad for Lettie who has outlived her baby girl.  I am sad for Tsepo who grows up an orphan. I am sad for me because I lost a friend.

oooOooo

Lettie is getting old but she still has two young boys to raise and water to carry from the communal tap in the village. I guess the RDP has not yet reached Jan Kemp Dorp.

She phoned the other day to tell me that she was coming to visit with Tsepo in June. “I took a video of the funeral nooi. I’ll come show you”. I am looking forward to her visit so that we can talk again like we always did.

My Lettie, your life has been hard but your reward will be great. I always tell you that when you arrive in the hereafter, you have the mansion and I will have the zozo.  You always laugh but a heart so pure and faith so steadfast will not go unrewarded. You say that I must not throw you away and my reply is this: “You have been given to me, and I to you, for always.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”

THE END