This is the second in a three-part series about fear. The first post is here. Reading it will put you firmly in the picture of the story I’m about to tell now…
After all the awful things that happened in late 2008, I was more than ready to pack up and leave South Africa. I was heart-broken about Riana… and The Fear constantly whispered various “What if’s” in my ear…
“What if… the same thing happens to you?”
“What if… somebody hurts your children?”
“What if… somebody shoots your husband?”
“What if…” “What if…” “What if….”
I felt such sadness (and anger) about what my mother and my sister had been through… and for Riana, her husband, her children. The despair played a huge role but The Fear was, by far, the most powerful emotion.
In early 2008 (before that awful night), Nick and I had been chewing on the possibility of moving to Washington DC in the States. Nick’s business partner, Joel, is a US citizen and, after living in South Africa for a number of years, he moved back to DC when he married his childhood sweetheart, Megan. Nick and Joel have, for the past couple of years, managed their business from two different continents. In 2008, we were wondering whether we should move to DC – for business purposes, but also just for a new family adventure.
Before the nightmare at Fisherman’s Village, I had never been a fearful person. I always saw the positive… before the negative. Beauty… before ugliness. Potential… before hopelessness. I always saw the best characteristics in people – long before their worst.
But after Riana died… there was a season when I, too, became fearful… bitter… angry… and very, very pessimistic.
“Why are we even living in this shit-hole?”, I remember ranting to Nick, “We have got to get out of here NOW. We need to go to DC… NOW. I am done with this country! Done!”
And so – we prepared to emigrate… to escape.
And, as things turned out… something else happened during that time. I had been contacted by Roz Thomas. She and her husband (originally from the UK) were living in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN for short). They were doing volunteer work with a number of communities there… and she was working closely with Sofi Cogley of Isibani Community Centre.
Roz had had an idea… and something she wanted my help with. She wanted to launch a creative community project which would help uplift the impoverished women of KZN. She also wanted to showcase Isibani Community Centre and the (incredible! inspiring!) work of her friend, Sofi Cogley. Finally, she wanted to promote the work of the Amangwe Zulu Beaders (women in the community who support large families by creating intricate beaded jewellery).
My first response was to try and think up an excuse.
I didn’t want to go to KZN (it’s a 5 hour drive from my home). I didn’t want to go and start any new projects – for anyone! I didn’t want to get embroiled in long-term projects and what-not.
I wanted to escape! I wanted to move to DC… the “safe place”… where the grass would be much greener… and where people didn’t shoot young mothers! (And yes, I’m aware of the irony in this statement, but I’ll go in to it in post #3).
I wanted to tell Roz: “Thanks, but no thanks!”
But then she posted me a short video about Sofi Cogley and Isibani Community Centre – and my heart was deeply stirred by Sofi’s compassion, dedication and her genuine love for people.
I was sold.
So… Nick and I packed up the kids and drove the 5 hours to Winterton in KZN in order to discuss the possibilities of this new project with Roz and Sofi. All the way on our trip down, I reminded myself: “I’ll just help Roz to get started. I’ll just help her launch. I’m not committing myself to anything. We’re going to DC soon. I’m not staying here!”
In early 2009, Roz and I launched Tapestry of Dreams… a year-long project that required my full-time dedication. You can find the full story (with lots and lots of photos) here – and here’s the story in the form of a mini-doccie (for international friends who sometimes ask what my accent sounds like – now you know!)
Here are a few photos of that project:
R.I.P. – beautiful Philile.
Tapestry of Dreams was the project – that – in a sense, saved me. Something happened to me during that time. Something I still can’t quite explain. I fell in love with Africa – for the first time. I fell in love with her beauty… her resilience… her resourcefulness and the ability of her people (and especially the women, mind you!) – to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and – as the saying goes – learn how to make lemonade when life gives you lemons.
In the townships of Khetani and Loskop, I visited and interviewed people in their homes and shacks and heard many, many stories of such terrible hardship and loss. Unimaginable poverty and suffering… and let’s not even get started on the disease! (AIDS)
But what struck me about all of this hardship was the attitude of these women. Whenever tragedy struck, they didn’t sink into an eternal mud-pit of depression. They didn’t whinge, grumble, complain about their lot in life. They picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, fixed themselves up… and made it work! If another relative or friend had died of AIDS, the orphaned children were absorbed into the community. It was not uncommon to find single, elderly women caring for 8 or 9 children (all orphans). Indeed, one of our Tapestry of Dreams “Role Models”, Lungile, raised 14 nieces and nephews after all of her siblings had passed away.
I would have to really question the humanity of the person who can sit in those homes… share a dinner with people like Lungile… listen to her story… and walk away, untouched and unmoved.
I was moved! But – not only moved – I was changed.
And… interestingly… (very interestingly)… with every, single visit that I made to rural KZN during that year (and there were quite a few)… it was like a chunk of The Fear would shrivel up… drop off my heart… and be gone.
And guess what it would be replaced with?
Gratitude! Bucket loads full of gratefulness!
Getting involved in the lives of others – who were far, far less fortunate than me – offered me the cure for my own sickness, my own selfishness, my own self-involvement, my own fear. And if those women could laugh… and dance… and give… and serve….those who had buried their babies… those who had lost all their relatives to disease… those who had been beaten up and trodden down… those who lived in shacks with no water or electricity… then what was my excuse?
And if my mother – who has seen and witnessed some unimaginable horrors in her life – could hold on fast to her Big Dream, and walk forward with a sense of determination and self-respect (in spite of all the doomsayers and their dark predictions) – then what was my excuse?
Tapestry of Dreams provided a turning point for me.
The Fears fell away completely – replaced only by a deep, deep sense of gratitude for everything that I have (and I have a LOT!)… and – of course, the next obvious question that I asked myself was this: “I have so much! What can I give? How can I help? What can I do that can ease the plight of others who have soooo much LESS than me?”
Tapestry of Dreams was a start… but it didn’t end there. It couldn’t end there.
With The Fear gone… I had a new sense of urgency – of determination – to do so much MORE than just survive this life for as long as I could. I didn’t want to survive anymore – I wanted to LIVE – and not just live, I wanted to make a difference…I was tired of whinging and complaining about the state of things… I wanted to BE the change…
Somewhere during the course of 2009, our plans to emigrate to DC went out the window… and all kinds of new, crazy dreams developed.
In 2010, I launched another project – this time, working with impoverished youth in the Zamdela township (this time, only an hour’s drive from home). The project was called VENT! – and it aimed to give permission and create a platform to youth who felt angry… disempowered… as though the world didn’t “see” them… or “hear” them – or even give a damn that they existed at all. I often wondered about the men who had shot Riana and Johan. I wondered what had set them on the path of such destruction. I wondered if a project like VENT! might offer… a different option… to angry young men, embarking on a dangerous, destructive path…
These thoughts were never far from my mind as I worked with 50 youngsters between the ages of 19 and 29. Here’s another video – this time about the VENT! project…
And here’s a photo (more on the VENT! website):
In 2011… I launched a non-profit organisation called WOODO (Women who DO!). This came in response to the many women who came to a turning point in their own lives – where they’d ask themselves that same question (that I asked myself in 2009): “What can I give? How can I help? What can I do? I have so much – and others have so little… I want to help, but I’m not sure where to start!”.
Here’s a few photos (I love photos – can you tell?):
WOODO is now in the capable hands of my friend Jo – as I embark on new dreams… new adventures… new projects… although continually powered by the questions: “What can we give?” and “How can we help?” and “How can we BE the change we wish to see?” and “How can we LIVE and THRIVE… instead of only ‘survive’ this life?”
It’s a liberating place for me to be in. I feel free. So very, very free.
Fear doesn’t keep us safe from The Monsters. Fear IS the Monster. It robs us of life. It robs us of beautiful opportunities. It keeps us imprisoned behind locked doors and high walls. It keeps us hiding in the so-called “Safe Places” – whether it’s the security of our own homes… or in the predictability of jobs that we secretly loathe…. or within the stagnant pond of The Known.
But life’s most beautiful moments are often found outside those comfort zones… away from the packaged, static, predictable routines that give us that feeling of safety…. that sense of security.
And besides, what is safety anyway? Is it just another feeling? You “feel” safe?
Well that’s nice – but does it mean that you actually are?
I’ll discuss this – and more – in the final post on the theme of Fear here.
Thanks for reading. I know that these two posts have been very long. 🙂