Today I waited until the kids weren’t around, until I was alone, and I cried. Really cried. Tears of gratitude. Because someone gave me a handbag. I know that make no sense but let me explain…
When I left South Africa I left many people behind. My mother, my foster sister, family, friends. And I left behind my domestic worker. I know many people who live in South Africa see their domestic worker as an employee, someone they see in passing and give direction to. But Lucy was not my employee, she was my friend that we happened to pay. Despite being miles apart in so many ways – age, culture, upbringing, language, income, race; Lucy and I saw eye to eye on so much. We would happily chat in the mornings, we would share stories and she would give me advice. When my first baby arrived she showed me how to rock him to sleep when he was inconsolable and would sneak in to check on me changing his nappy when he screamed blue murder. She watched petrified when I first used a snot-sucker on him, telling me I was going to suck his brains out, and then later calmed him saying “it’s ok mommy is helping you” when she saw it was safe. She brought me toast in bed when she could see I had stayed by his side the whole day and hadn’t eaten, not because I told her to, but because she cared. She was there when I found out I was pregnant with my second child, she held my eldest’s hand in the garden while I anxiously waited for the test to show positive. And she was the first person I told. She cried when I told her we were leaving South Africa. I tried to reassure her, I promised I would find her a new job and would send her money when I could, she lives off of the equivalent of about AU$15 a day, but she told me she was crying because she would miss us.
This woman, this amazing person who has lived through apartheid. Who didn’t receive the education she deserved. Who has lived a life of hardship and oppression but held no grudge towards me and the white privilege I grew up with. This wise lady who saw me as a person and I saw her. Who has so little money she struggles to feed her family. She bought me a gift, a handbag to send with my mother in law on her trip to see us in Australia.
I know she cannot afford this gift. I know she lives her life in donated clothes and does not buy anything for herself. This wasn’t just a gift, this was an act of pure selflessness. And in this crazy way it gives me hope for my home country. A country divided by racial tension, corruption, anger, violent crime and income disparity. Because from that country a friendship was born. And now two woman, one African lady in her fifties and one white woman in her twenties, love each other from across the world.