For some of us just landed and still in confusion, there can be a secret benefit to expat life depending which country you have arrived in. There might be someone who can help you with running your household, ease your acclimatisation just a tiny bit quicker than if you have to clean your bathroom, vacuum the floors or iron your own sheets.*
While you’re trying to work out how to connect the internet, buy the school uniforms and where to find the right ingredients in a plethora of new supermarkets and speciality shops, someone is at home – making it just a little more homely and welcoming for all.
In Hong Kong that someone was Gina, our dearly loved nanny, housekeeper and all around superstar. The third parent in my children’s lives, who ran our house like a machine, which we are forever grateful to her for. Gina was from the Philippines and so lived with us in our apartment in Hong Kong and became a part of our family and our lives over our six years there.
When we moved to South Africa, Gina came with us for three months, to ease the transition.** This was mainly for me as I transitioned from full time working mother to tennis morning, school run and mountain climber in training mother.
In South Africa we met Cindy. Where Gina was gregarious and outgoing, Cindy was shy and reserved. Where Gina was forthright, Cindy held back. She was initially overwhelmed by the boisterousness and noise of my children, it took quite a few weeks to have a conversation of more than three or four sentences with her. I am an extrovert, Cindy was an introvert. We had to take time to understand the rhythm of each other as with any new relationship. It was OK, we had some of that.
Cindy travelled to us from her home in a township every day in a series of taxis, two or three depending on which route she took and the time of morning. Taxis in South Africa are small mini buses that hurtle along the roadways at alarming speeds and ferry the workforce around over the course of the day. She was proud that she owned her own four room home and could provide for herself and her son Njabulo.
Njabulo was her pride and joy. Many of our conversations over the three years were about our parenting experiences. Regardless of the differences in our nationality, culture and economic situation, parenting has universal themes. Health and education were recurring topics.
At one stage Njabulo had a cough that wouldn’t go away, even after visiting his local clinic and being administered antibiotics. The fear was tuberculosis, prevalent in South Africa and particularly Kwa-Zulu Natal where we lived. We decided to take him to our children’s doctor and have chest x-rays done if needed. Njabulo came to our house with Cindy for the day and when it was time for the doctor’s appointment, she didn’t want to come. On reflection it was such a privilege for her to trust me with her 15 year old son visiting various doctor’s offices over the course of the afternoon. X-rays and spit tests thankfully revealed the all clear.
Next up was a girlfriend conversation. She thought he had one, what kind of things should she talk to him about? Safe sex obviously – with
any teenager anyone in South Africa HIV is an important topic. There are various statistics but African males in Kwa-Zulu Natal are extremely high risk. We worked on various opening gambits and reinforcement statements. I think it went OK, he insisted he didn’t have a girlfriend at the time but at least he got the talk.
The day we left our house in Durban, Cindy, Njabulo, Zanele (Cindy’s sister), Noluh (Zanele’s daughter) and a friend pulled away in a utility vehicle piled high with household items we weren’t taking with us. It was a happy parting of ways.
In December last year, I got a message from Cindy, she had been diagnosed with cancer and would need to undergo a month of chemotherapy. She was worried about Njabulo, she didn’t feel well. I kept in sporadic contact, she had the chemo, got very sick from it, there was no feeling any better.
On March 16th I received a message from Zanele, Cindy had passed away.
Njabulo is in his last year of high school. He no longer has his mother to take him to the doctor or to give him talks about safe sex practices, or talk to him at all. He is 17, the same age Cindy was when he was born. His aunt Zanele now has a teenager and a 2 year old to provide for with less than half the household income they had previously when Cindy was working full time.
Cindy wanted Njabulo to graduate from high school and if at all possible attend University. Our family has committed to help him do this. We aim to set up a foundation to provide support for his educational future. I am currently researching organisations or groups that can help provide mentorship and guidance on the ground in Durban.
The starting point is this year’s school fees. These fees need to be paid in order for him to receive his final examination scores and submit them to University for acceptance.
I invite everyone to share this story and help us to Educate Njabulo.
* What, ironed sheets? You’re right, I don’t iron my own sheets, never did, but nearly twelve months on I still miss the luxury of freshly laundered and ironed sheets on a bed I didn’t make myself. The ULTIMATE expat princess perk. Roll your eyes, mock me and then try it for nine years and see how easy it is to give up.
**Super expat princess alert