Smiling Sindi's dream
The first time I met Sindisiwe Mkhize, the first thing I met was her smile. A broad grin. The flash of white teeth. And a sparkle in her eye.
I was on holiday in South Africa. Sindisiwe, or Sindi as she prefers, was working as a domestic helper at the place I was staying. Something made me remember Sindi.
Last Christmas, two and a half years later, I returned to the same place for another holiday. Once more it was her smile that I met first, the flashing broad grin. And the twinkle in the eye that said I had not been forgotten.
Some people have a presence. There was something good in her. I could not quite put my finger on it. I was drawn into inquiring about the source of her goodness.
Here's what I discovered:
Sindi is a single mother of one son. Her son is 17. The father walked out on her and their son one day when the child was two.
Saddled with the sudden responsibility of having to provide for herself and her son, Sindi had no choice but to get a job as a domestic helper. It was the only work available to her.
She has worked as a domestic helper ever since.
"What's the most difficult thing about being a domestic helper?" I asked.
"It's very physically tiring. With a small amount of money for the effort you have to put in."
She did not mention the arduous 45km trip to her work from home that cost 50 Rand (S$4.50) and began early every morning. I did the math - it was a considerable portion of her pay just to get to work.
But the physical challenges were not her greatest difficulty.
"It's my son," she murmured. "The area we live in sometimes doesn't have good friends for him."
She went on to explain that their area was riddled with gangs and violent crime. There was a murder recently at the local high school. A gang had killed four or five boys.
Sindi, at great extra cost, had elected to send her son to another school.
"The new school is in Northdale." A pause. "A 7 Rand taxi ride. One way."
The people of her area struggle. Those with jobs work on farms. Opportunities are narrow.
And crime? "Yes," the eyes lost their twinkle for a short moment before darting back to life. "They broke in one night. Stole our radio and TV. And the laptop." A lot of saving had gone into the laptop.
I went on to learn that Sindi suffers chronic illness and is an asthmatic, unsuited for physical tasks. She lives in one house with her mother, two brothers, sister, niece and son. She didn't have to tell me that some of them rely on her to bring food home.
And yet, so happy.
"Why are you so happy?" I was bursting to know.
I accept myself the way I am. My family makes me happy. I choose friends well who have the same dream as me.
"What is your dream?"
Sindi went on to tell me that she had just graduated with a university degree in social science after six hard years of pain and after-hours studying.
Having missed some high school qualifications, she had had to do a whole extra year just to qualify to start the degree.
She failed some courses along the way. But never gave up. The university lost some of her marks and she didn't get credit for work she had done. But she never gave up.
Finally, she made it. A graduate. With a degree.
Her plan, armed with a fresh degree, is to do social work in the local community, particularly foster care for those affected by HIV/Aids, as well as counselling. She also helps at a forum that assists the elderly to do beadwork with their hands.
A degree promises a better job. A better job will be dedicated towards her son getting a degree. Providing him with what she never had will break the cycle of wretched opportunity.
"What do the other women do in your area?" I asked.
"Mostly sit around and drink beer," she said matter-of-factly.
So many people are so busy asking Life for answers and explanations. Yet sometimes I think Life is asking questions of us.
And every now and again you come across someone like Sindisiwe Mkhize who seems to have come up with the answers.
It might not be everyone's version of a success story. But it is a victory story. And I'd rather be a victor than a success.