The room spins back into focus, my eyes adjust to the darkness and I try to move. An intense pain shoots through my whole body I cannot move .Oh God! Oh God! I pray silently don’t let anything be broken. I reach out to grab hold of a kitchen chair to try and stand up and my arm will not move. I try with my other hand and with the Lord’s Prayer on my lips I pull myself up. I crumble, I fall, I will not just lie here, and as stubborn as I am I try once more. The chair scrapes across the floor and I grab hold of it once more and try to stand up on one foot as I cannot straighten my other leg. “Oh my God I think what if he hears me, is he still here I wonder”? My question is soon answered as he storms in and unceremoniously with the viciousness of a lion tearing into his prey he yanks me by my hair and roughly pulls me up of the ground. I scream in pain “You bitch” he screams “now you want to try and attract attention, you always make me do this”. Holding me with one hand he punches me full in the face and once again and flings me across the room. I land in a crumpled heap. He bends down grabs me by the throat and tries to strangle me. “I’ll kill you whore”he screams “you are nothing hear me you’re nothing without me. Oh God I think please don’t let me die .I look at him and fix him with a defiance belying my weak state of body and mind. He stares back gets up and with a grunt of disgust kicks me full in my stomach. I cannot even curl up in pain because my body is so racked with pain that I cannot distinguish where it begins or ends. He looks at me spits onto my face and repeats “you not worth it “and storms out. I drag myself across the kitchen floor to the bathroom. Thank God this outbuilding is so small I think as I reach the bathroom and with the help of the sturdy sink pull myself up sit on the toilet and look at myself in the mirror. My face is swollen and my eyes are mere slits with different hues of blue, black and red. There is blood all over me. I cannot open my mouth properly to spit out the blood. My head feels like the size of a watermelon and I seem to have lost a tooth. The bitter bile rises in my throat as I vomit and I pass out.
Here and Now
I sit in my most favourite spot in the world my back garden watching the birds feed greedily from the birdfeeder while the butterflies dance and gaily move between my full rose bushes. I feel a tweak of jealousy for those who have the ability to paint this onto canvas and marvel at how peaceful and soothing nature can be to the soul. My best friends and I are meeting this morning at my home to discuss the formal launch of a social networking initiative which has been one of my dreams for a long time Girlfriend Network. Tumi as always has arrived first as punctuality is her forte leans across the table and squeezes my hand “Why now she asks? responding to my revelation that I was going to write a book called” Tears in my Coffee”. It is time I shared this with the hope that it will change someone’s life” I say. I saw this advertisement in the paper calling for women to write their stories or poems down and I thought Why not. After all one needs to be true to oneself and even though it may sound clichéd as life often is one person can make a difference. You know I believe that God speaks to us in signs and I saw this as a sign for the culmination of all that I have worked for. I realised that there are so many of us in this world that have cried bitter tears and yet like me have put on a brave face to the rest of the world. You know that it has always been at the back of my mind to write a series on some of these women so that we may inspire others to overcome their trials and tribulations. I could never do this if I cannot write about my own experiences for how do I get others to share their souls with the world if I cannot share mine. How many tears in her coffee do you think Winnie Mandela had while she raised a family and continued with the struggle or the late great Miriam Makeba or even you? There is strength in us women that can never be quantified. Always cautious which I guess comes with the territory of being involved in politics she warns me “that’s all well and good but ask their permission first and you have mine. Tumi has worked hard and brought up two daughters by herself while taking care of her parents and younger siblings yet this has just made her stronger. In a world of politics dominated by men she has made a respectful name for herself. Tears flood her eyes as she says “You should write”. I see you still don’t know how to use the computer she teases trying to lighten the mood and fails miserably all choked up with emotion. You know me I reply also trying to change the subject. I still believe that when you write what the heart and mind feel it flows through the soul and guides your hand. I know I know she mimics and you still write personal letters by hand because email is so impersonal. We look at each other and realize that we not fooling anyone with our feeble attempts at jocularity. In a forced attempt at brightness I say “remember now No more tears with our morning coffee, we are done with that. Life is what we want it to be. She responds aiding me in our attempt to change the sombre mood “Yeah right I have heard that from you a thousand times and I guess now you will add your other famous line”. That’s right I say “The only bitterness I want to taste in the morning is that of coffee not that which brought the tears, I say in a dramatic way imitating a bad actor. She shakes her head at my silliness and says jovially “You’re a jackass”.
I am reminded of this day and conversation as I sit far away from my beloved Africa and write my story the night before it is due. I have been working non-stop for the last two weeks on a personal project and my children ask “Why now mom?” Their concern stem from their love for me and the fact that I am to tired and as my son cheerily points out “Mom you too old to pull an all-nighter”. There is no need for them to read it for they never need to know the pain although they have been my friends, for many years.
I grew up in a poor township that was racially divided by a stupid Apartheid rule that tried for years to destroy our identities along with our spirit. Boy did they fail. It seems that the more stringent their laws of division were with incomprehensible laws like segregated living areas, segregated shopping areas , no inter racial marriages ,segregated benches and even segregated toilets the more our spirit of unity and strength grew . Life was difficult and money was always short so it was the common practice that after high school the girls usually got married so as to transfer the responsibility of her parents to her husband. There was no hope of tertiary schooling as this was reserved for the boys and was justified by the fact that they would have families of their own to support. So at sixteen having finished schooling early I was married to an abuser. He did not need a valid excuse to raise his fists to me. The trigger could range from anything to not having cooked his meat properly or if he felt threatened by any other man looking at me. The fact that I was a vegetarian and cooking meat was difficult for me was no excuse and looking good was a ploy by me to get men to look at me were his reasons to beat some sense into me. Now the fact that I had a burning desire to study and change the world and was not prepared to be just his wife I seen to have provided him and his family with the perfect excuse to abuse me. Back then I was too naïve and we did not have any real legal support system so abuse was commonplace. A wife according to my culture tolerated all of this as it was her place to do so and divorce was taboo. Well I was having none of that I wanted a divorce and I was going to university. This led to yet another fight witch left me having a broken jaw, torn knee ligaments, broken teeth, raptured ear drum and numerous other injuries throughout my whole body. After he stormed out leaving me in my broken state on the floor soaked in my blood I never wanted him back. I was branded a whore and he a hero for trying to come back. My parents could not take the shame and offered to ship me out to hide the truth. Having refused their offer they disowned me. All of seventeen with no family and nowhere to go and I had not even healed from my injuries.
A neighbourhood boy who liked me but could have never approached me due to the fact that he was of a different faith and the conservative nature of my family offered me a place to stay. Horrors of horrors word spread like wildfire I most certainly was a slut I just proved it by staying with his sister and her husband. I can laugh about it now but there was no humour back then on the irony that the only man I had been intimate with was my husband and here I was branded a slut. After some time my mother offered to pay for my tuition as they slowly came around. To protect my virtue so to speak he offered that we be married and that I could study. I mistook his kindness for eternal love and married the fool. He was foolish enough to behave like a teenager racing cars and bikes and cavorting with likeminded women. Needless to say our marriage succumbed and it was not the seven year itch although this is how long we were together. I walked away from this with two beautiful daughters whom I used to take to university with me later on in life when I tried to pick up the pieces of my tattered education and who today are soon to be graduates themselves an accolade I yet do not have.
Being very passionate and a political person in the eighties was not advisable combination or conducive for good grades .At University I challenged the old restricting regime that was in place one of them being that no non-white could enter the Rag contest. Why I asked and entered. I got the title of First Princess as it was explained to me that I wasn’t white so I could not hold the title. “Duh” as my teenager would say. The contest was huge back then as the winner was the natural runner up in the Miss South Africa. My white friends at university were supportive but there were so few of them back then that they could not challenge the system. I always think that come post 1994 many whites it seems have come out of the racial closet to proclaim such open mindedness to Black people that I wonder why we even had apartheid. Some of them that were openly racist have had such “amazing change of hearts “it’s no wonder that we are infamous when it comes to heart transplants. A case in point being that of the official hairdressers of the Rag contest who refused to touch my hair as it was beneath them and they would have to use gloves which hampered their expert skills as stylists. Today these very individuals have the largest clientele of people of my descent. I guess the power of money super cedes racial boundaries. On the Monday after the contest I got a huge bouquet of flowers and a note thanking me for having the courage to storm the regime and for winning from the president of the Black Sash Movement. The flowers were delivered to the campus which resulted in me being called to the rectors’ office. The disapproving stare he gave me when he handed the note which he had already opened and read was no different to the one he gave me when he called me back a few days later and advised me that I should deregister. Hell no I was going nowhere “No sir I respectfully replied you will have to kick me out. Life let’s just say became quite interesting after that. I never got my degree though but I sure did get an education that has served me well.
Later on in life I married again for you see as I explained to my mom I believe in love I am a romantic at heart. You just stupid she responds with bitterness she has natured over many years of being in a failed relationship herself. She however carried her woes as a mantle of martyrdom for she stayed “for the sake of her children”. “Unlike you girls that run at the first sign of trouble” she used to chastise me. I used to resent her for this until I realised what immense strength it took her to stay. He was a good and kind man who could easily love me as well as any other women who took his fancy. Now that did not sit well with me and after my son was born and was only three I moved with my kids. He did not take the rejection well and totally removed himself from our lives and moved on to a new relationship leaving no room for his son.
It was hard bringing up three kids by me with no financial support from their fathers but I would never change it for the world. Ah! The many roles I had to play that of father, mother, friend, disciplinarian, career women and even their sounding board when life became too difficult for them. God knows it was hard. We moved a lot and money was always in demand. Love however flowed between us with the strength of a flooded river. Women are like those hard African diamonds that my wonderful land produces. We have many facets to us and each facet and cut life inflicts on us goes on to add to the brilliance and quality of who we are. I became a television producer and journalist with no formal training and also had the opportunity of interviewing President Joseph Kabila. I have always had a deep respect for the earth and won an award for being an environmental broadcaster of the year for a radio talk show I did. I am nobody famous just an ordinary women who loves and believes in herself and all that she is .The love that I have for myself and with the love that God has given me through my children I have survived . I have taken strength from this love for I believe that God loved me enough to give me a life and no mere mortal was going to take that away from me. I will start a revolution one born out of love and empowered by love.
The Girlfriend Network is my revolution started with the prayer and hope that never again will women have to feel alone. The vision is that women no matter what their position in life they will network and help each other out in any circumstance. Whether a sister is looking for a job or a shoulder to cry she has help close at hand. There will be a list of safe houses and halfway houses for women to go to when they are abused or destitute. Girlfriends that have legal expertise can help arrange interdicts and ensure monthly child support. Never again will women who have been kicked out or abused stay with her abuser because she has nowhere to go. She will never feel that she is nothing or that she has no one because she has a Girlfriend out there who will help. I am hoping to start a lobby via this network to persuade a more stringent regime on child support and maintenance. I am so fed up with the fact that a man can be blacklisted for not paying his clothing account but gets away with not paying for his own flesh and blood. After countless court appearances myself to try to get support and watching men wearing designer shoes protest to clerks of court that they have no means to pay R200-00 maintenance for their children and then drive away in fancy cars has made me realize that we need to fight harder. Already by word of mouth the sisters are networking to help each other. Every time I speak of the vision a sister comes forward with an offer of help. Teachers have offered to tutor children; lawyers have offered certain parts of the day to help the women, beauty therapists have treated sisters having a bad time to a makeover to allow them to feel good about themselves. The network not being in competition with any other network welcomes everyone to come on board. The greatest thing about the Girlfriend Network is that it works on the following principles. It is powered by the spirit of Ubuntu and the concept of Simple Living and Higher Thinking and the sisters don’t Pay Back they Pay Forward. It is a purely an African concept that I would like to implement all over the continent for we need to find our own solutions. When more of us can live with these goals in mind there will be less of us who have Tears in our Coffee.
There lies a story in every-one of us but how many of us get the chance to share it or how many of us have the courage to open our hearts and let others in to feel our pain share our joys. It is never a question to me as Shakespeare says “to be or not to be” for in order to survive you have to be for if you don’t who will. However whether it is worth sharing is the question and on that you decide.