“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” ~Nelson Mandela
Ever thought, “Life is so unfair!”
Is it, really?
Has life given you circumstances that keep you in a deep, dark hole of disadvantages that seem impossible to clamber out of?
Has life decided that you need to live in abject poverty and watch everyone in your life suffer from being denied everything a human needs to be human?
Has life put you in a position where you wouldn’t dare to dream of something better, for yourself, for your family, about anything, ever?
My story is specifically about my home, Cape Town, South Africa.
A place so breathtaking, it reminds you constantly that a higher power must truly exist.
A place filled with the friendliest people, with a strong sense of family and community.
People who smile easily and see the bright side of even the darkest realities.
And, under it all, we have all been touched by the far-reaching hand of hardship.
Elders have seen extreme poverty and prejudice, while raising large families as best they could under unrelenting circumstances.
Families have lost loved ones in struggles for a better world at the southernmost point of the African continent.
And the struggle continues.
In 2020, the struggle persists.
Sixty million voices go unheard every single day, with a slew of injustices hurled at them every so often, for good measure.
Senior citizens have no means to support their modest lives, and no one to care for their needs.
Unfair, with a lifetime of regrets.
Able-bodied, competent, grown men and women are forgotten by the system, and left as easy prey to life-shattering temptations.
Unfair, with daily desperation.
With an unemployment rate pushing 30 percent, what will they do, and what will become of them and their families?
The youth stare a bleak future straight in the face.
Unfair, with overwhelming depression.
Children lack the little they need to blossom into the future of this world.
Unfair, with blissful oblivion.
How long must they be happy in the little they all have?
Every family has a story to tell.
And sadly, the vast majority all sound like a broken record, playing the same tune over and over again.
My family’s story is no different.
Grew up in poverty, shared a home with ten other people, had very little to eat, had no gas or electricity, no vehicle, walked long distances in harsh conditions just to get to school every day, no telephone, no television, no appliances, no hot water, problematic plumbing in an outhouse, no healthcare, no dental care, one pair of shoes per person, worn until their soles were irreparable, clothes made from offcuts by the matriarch of the family, left school before the age of fourteen, helped support the family by taking on manual labor, stayed home to take care of eight to fourteen growing children…
And the list of unimaginable challenges goes on.
Sounds like a village situated in the remote parts of an undiscovered jungle somewhere, forgotten by time and progress.
Yet, they survived.
And tragically, so did the circumstances.
In the age of social media, digital business, and limitless telecommunications, harsh circumstances still exist.
While some miraculously overcame unbelievable odds, beat the system, and thrived, others were left at the mercy of history chasing its tail in a vicious cycle.
And today, millions of people in South Africa still live this way, with no way to step out of the madness.
As a kid, I remember both my mother and grandmother employing domestic workers who lived in an informal settlement (either with their families, or apart from their families who lived in a faraway state), in a makeshift dwelling that could go up in smoke, literally, at any moment, from a neglected candle.
As an adult, I do the same as my mom and gran before me, and the very same set of criteria exists that has existed for four whole decades.
No one has come to the rescue.
Delving into the lives of those loyal domestic workers, it is not hard to imagine that the younger generations of their families walk the paths they always have.
Unfair, hopelessly so.
Same story goes for the gardeners, and brick layers, and handymen, and janitors, and security guards, and petrol attendants (who?), and car guards (huh?), and caretakers, and garbage collectors, and…
But wait, there’s more. Devastatingly, there’s more.
Add to the list, that layer of society who, until now, have managed to live marginally above the breadline (living pay check to pay check) and have a relatively “comfortable” life, who have now lost their gainful employment and don’t know where to start to earn a living wage to keep their families fed, clothed, and cared for.
How do they get to win and rise above these life-altering, unexpected curveballs?
The only immediately viable solution for them all that I can see is compassion, kindness, and generosity.
Compassion from others, kindnesses from strangers, generosity of family and friends.
And let me just assure you right now, in case you’ve ever wondered, that there is enough to go around on this magnificent planet.
Interest in the well-being of others—the children, the youth, the family men and women, the seniors.
Thankfully, this place called Cape Town has scores of beautiful people who practice compassion as a part of everything they do.
Parents and siblings protect each other from the wolves at the door.
People make the best of their dire conditions, and are grateful for all that they have, even if all they have is their health.
Families and friends check that their family members and friends are “okay.”
And would you believe that, even though you now know almost everyone’s story, they’ll do all that they can to convince you that they actually are okay?
There’s a term for that: “making do.”
They make do with what they have, they make do with what has been given to them, they make do with what they receive, they make do with what you can spare them, they make do with how they live, they make do with what they get paid for their hard, often physical, work. They make do.
Their dignities are intact, in their minds at least, if not in reality.
Unfair, to you and I, definitely.
To them, it’s just life.
And it’s in all of our hands.