I woke up this morning to the notification light on my phone flashing and my heart stopped cold. Ever since 30 December 2014 – this day last year – the sight of that green light continues to fill me with dread and despair. And yes, I know it’s bad to sleep with your phone next to your bed, maybe next year I’ll get an alarm clock.
Instead of looking at the message I got up, put on my walking clothes, put a load of washing in the machine and took Pippa for a walk. When I came back, the worry was overpowering. I reached for the phone, opened my email, and saw a message from WordPress on my year in blogging.
Not what I thought it was going to be.
On 30 December 2014 at 6 AM I received an SMS from an unknown number. It read: “Jou ma se huis brand af” (You’re mother’s house is burning.) It was a neighbour, informing me that the modest little brick house I spent my whole life trying to escape had burnt to the ground. The thought of my mother and brother, unharmed physically but being hurt again and again by poverty, fate, noodlot or whatever, left me in a permanent state of paralysis that I haven’t been able to shake since that morning.
I haven’t been able to talk about it, write about it or, worst of all, do anything about it.
Denial, my best coping mechanism, kicked in. I got dressed and went to work, smiled, made jokes, carried myself with the confidence of a mediocre white dude. I hoped that maybe I, with my meagre journalism salary and boundless optimism, could rebuild my mother’s house, help, do something.
I realised my own inadequacy and failure this year.
The community pulled together, helped my mother out more than I could have done. She now lives in a flat and I pay her rent and send her money for food, but it’s not enough. It’s not a permanent solution. I, in turn, live with my husband in his parents’ house, and so the cycle of dependency continues.
This is why I’m going back overseas. I miss my life there, I miss the people, the food, the friendships I made, taking the train to work, reading books. And by going overseas I can make so much more money, I can help my mom, I can save for her old age, start thinking of saving for mine.
In 2015 I was a wimp. I scattered my self-esteem to the wind, I cried too much in traffic, I was unkind, I lost hope. I defended my own inaction – what could I have done? I’m just a junior journalist living in Joburg – and I punished myself over and over for it. Then budget cuts happened and my work contract wasn’t renewed, and I knew this is the end of an era.
No more. This is it. I’m leaving – for money and for love – and I’ll probably spend my 30s roaming the planet, chasing the dream. But it’s a helluva lot better than sitting and pining, and convincing yourself that pining is going to solve anything.
I’m excited, I’m scared, I’m doing it for my mom. I’m human, after all.