A ‘Step’ Back In Time

Written by an anonymous contributor

You know how we are always told that everything that is or going to happen was planned a long time ago, before you were even born or how you will never know the true value of a moment until it is a memory. Well I can say for myself that these past few years, I’ve come to an understanding to what those words really mean. Just by looking at how my life started to where it is now, I keep on asking myself, “how did I make it out alive?” I’m sure we can all relate to that question. From losing my mom at a very young age, having to go and live in another country with my grandmother as my dad was absent in the early stages of my life, to knowing and finding him when I was becoming a teenager and finding out that I have a half brother and sister was just too much for me to handle.

My life started in a very small but beautiful country called Swaziland. I used to stay with my mom in a town called Pigs Peak. We stayed there for about four years, we were like a small family of two but had a nanny who would come and take care of me while my mom went to work. I wouldn’t say I was spoilt but I was used to getting almost everything thing I wanted and always got away with a lot. My mom and I shared the same birthday which is another reason why we were close. Pigs Peak is a very cold place in winter which resulted to my mom catching a cold because she used to wake up very early in the morning to teach in a school out of town and didn’t take it seriously, which lead to serious health issues resulting to her ending up in a hospital bed. Unfortunately she didn’t make it.

That was the hardest time of my life because she passed on the month before our birthday which meant that I was going to spend my birthday without her for the first time and not just the first time but for the rest of my life. I stayed in Swaziland for like the first month after my mom passed on with my aunt who was very supportive throughout and I never felt the gap of not having a mom. Then this one day when I came back from school, I found my grandmother from my mom’s side of the family. “Sawubona gogo” meaning “hi grandma”, I greeted her. As I was about to go sit and have a chat with her since it has been a very long time since I saw her, my aunt called me to the bedroom. “Ngitokukhumbula nana uyeva, ungakhohlwa kutsi ngiyakutsandza uyeva” my aunt said, meaning that “I’ll miss you my child, don’t forget that I love you”, I didn’t understand why she said that but to later on find out that I’m leaving with my grandmother for South Africa and I had to go and say bye to my mom’s grave before I leave.

Well I wouldn’t say I was shocked but I can say I was sad to leave my life and everything that reminds me of my mom but what I was looking forward to was starting afresh as I didn’t really enjoy life in Swaziland without my mom. I stayed with my grandmother for about eight years in a place called KwaNdebele situated in Mpumalanga. At first I didn’t understand the people there and what they were saying because there would be a Zion Christian Church member who would pass by wearing the church uniform which looks exactly like the Swaziland police uniform but a different colour. ‘’Kgotsong’’, one would say while passing by and I would run away thinking a police officer is swearing or shouting at me.

As time went by I got to understand and adapt to how South Africa has a lot of different languages and religions. I got to know and learn the languages seSotho, isiNdebele and isiZulu. My grandmother was a very accepting woman, a lot of things didn’t really worry her, like what tomorrow holds but like any other Swati woman she was very strict, which was the opposite of my mom. If you did something wrong, misbehaved or being disrespectful, you wouldn’t get the chance to explain or say sorry. You get beaten up to a point where you know that you shouldn’t do what you did again. As for me, I was a very rebellious child, I would do things that I knew will get me in trouble but still do it for the sake of fun. If I wanted to do something, I would do it regardless of the consequences. Until a point where my grandmother understood what type of person I was and that actually made things better for both of us because we didn’t have to worry or be angry at each other over small things.

To be honest I never really imagined life with my father but still wished to experience and know how it feels like to have one. I literally got to a point where I thought, the only thing that is my pillar of school was education. Till this one day where I went out to visit my friend and went back home and found a white car parked in the yard “is uncle here?”, I asked myself. As I was walking in the house I saw a woman and a man that I’ve never seen before, “sanibonani”, I went passed as I was greeting. In my head I thought maybe it was one of the people from church. “Lethokuhle”, my grandmother called me and sat me down and started introducing the visitors and explained who they were and why they were there. At first it didn’t sink in that this was really my father and the lady next to him was my stepmom. As anyone would’ve done, I started crying, I wouldn’t really say it was tears of joy but misery. In my head I was just thinking that, this guy decides to show up now, 12 years later and now that he is here I have to leave my life that I just recently started, to go a stay with him. I had a very long talk with my grandmother before I left and she told me that if I leave now, whatever happens is Gods will as long as I get the best education, she will be happy.

I then decided to leave KwaNdebele and go and stay with my dad. My stepmother was very happy and excited. “Tanaka and Thato will be very happy to meet their new sister”, she said. “Tanaka is your younger brother and Thato is your little sister. I was also happy that I have a sister and brother I didn’t know of but was just tired and had a lot to process that day. I met them and Thato showed me where my bedroom was and my new mom showed me all the clothes and shoes she bought me. This happened in 2016 towards the end of the year. Everything went smooth and was great until we all got to know each other. My step mom started complaining whenever I asked for something and would say go and ask your dad or complain whenever I eat certain stuff. Like she would cook or make something that I don’t like or enjoy eating and when I asked to eat something else she would turn it into a big thing and go cry to my dad saying I think she’s going to poison me and my dad would talk to me and ask me why I don’t respect or like her, but because I’m not the dramatic type of person, I would just keep quiet or say sorry. If I had to explain myself it would be seen as back chatting or being disrespectful.

Also the fact that my stepmother and I are coming from two different cultures, it’s very hard to relate or understand each other. Like if I had to say “I don’t know” to her, she would think I’m being disrespectful in a way that I’m not interested in what she wants to say, ok that I understand. Like at my house there would be those moments by the family table where my little sister would be like, “do you guys remember that time when we went to America for the holidays’’ and they will all start to have a conversation and laugh while I’m just lost and having no one to share or remember the past experiences I’ve had in life. Also the fact that my siblings didn’t know that I’m their sister until now which limited me in telling them things I used to do or how I grew up.

It was a bit tricky especially for my dad, if he would do something for me and not the others and my step mom would see it as if he loves me more than his other two kids. So now whenever my dad does something for me, he would also have to do it for the others. Things weren’t that bad at first but there was just this one time when things went from worse to really, the worst. It was on this other day when we were actually trying to resolve our issues and she kept on asking me why I don’t want her in my life, why don’t I like or love my siblings and that I don’t appreciate my dad and what he’s always doing for me. I was shocked and felt offended, I thought why is she trying to guilt trip me and make me feel guilty for something I didn’t do?

I then told her I don’t like what she thinks of me and makes it seem as if I was an ungrateful little girl. All I can say was that, saying that was not a good idea, she got angry to a point where she went and told my dad that I said she was lying and she can’t live with me anymore. That weekend, just by looking at my dad, I could see that he was very stressed. I went to him and told him that, I can see that this whole family setup is not working. Isn’t it better for me to just go back to my grandmother? Knowing that I now know you and at least know how it feels like to have a father in my life.

Well that didn’t help because my dad believed that we can make it work and said to me, I can go there for a week just so he can try and talk to his wife. So I went and when I was there, I got to appreciate small things that seemed boring and basic the time I stayed there, like eating or having inkomanzi (sour milk) with puthu together as a family or going to the garden and picking vegetables or playing hide and seek in the dark. All of those things got me thinking about what I really want because I can’t go back and stay with my grandmother ignoring the fact that I have a father who loves and cares for me. 

Besides that I thought about my future in general, if I want to go back to a public school where the teacher doesn’t even know your name or stay with my dad and at least get a good education? I also got to understand that maybe my stepmom wasn’t just being dramatic because she has never dealt with a teenager before or she was still trying to adapt to how things changed just like that as she was also a victim of this whole situation.

This really made me see life in a different perspective. I started thinking of my goals as an individual and how far I want to go in life. Am I going to get the best of everything in a place like KwaNdebele? The answer to that was a no. If I backed out, what message would I be sending to the next generation of children who will also be struggling with step parents? That when times are tough or hard and things are not working as you wanted them to, you must run away? No, I wanted to be one of the few people who are able to say that life is beautiful. Isn’t it? How it all hurts but we never give up and maybe, just this once. CHANGE IS GOOD.

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi

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