Page 31. Raising the money for FIFA part 2

It was now time for the FIFA 2009 South Africa Confederations Cup to start and still I hadn’t raised enough money for my FIFA license fee. I was still knocking door to door to raise the capital, and the FIFA officials were still allowing me to be part of the team. The money I needed to raise was not only for the FIFA World Cup license but also production and sales. In the meantime I also started my sample process for my World Cup bags. With the FIFA officials including me in all the licensee events and meetings, I got to enjoy a lot of perks, some were once in a life time experience like the FIFA 2009 Confederations Cup games. What an incredible experience that was. At the time I was a huge NBA fan and didn’t really understand soccer, that winter I got to understand why they call soccer a passion sport. Watching the fans and the emotions spread out in the arena was incredible. These were people from all over the world sharing the passion that they had for this sport. Strangers hugging strangers because their team just made a goal and men crying because their team lost. It was beautiful, and I had a new respect for this sport.

After the games I was becoming more stressed because of the money. The FIFA officials called me in and said they would lower my fee to help take some of the stress off and that helped a lot. Shortly after that meeting some of my moms friends also offered to contribute to my FIFA opportunity. Contributions were anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per person. The stress went down even more. John and Judy allowed me to stay with them to help cut costs. It was very kind of them and I was also starting to build my own unique relationship with them. I loved that, and the relationships meant everything to me. In some way they were filling a bit of that aunt and uncle void I had been struggling with.

By that time a lot of the money was raised, then my childhood best friend Natia gave me a call out of the blue. Natia knew a lot about what I was going through in South Africa, and she called to tell me that her mother was interested in investing. This was shocking because for almost 15 years I thought her mother hated me. Natia and I went to the same elementary and high school in Atlanta and lived very close to each other. We spent a lot of time together, that is how we grew very close. Funny, we didn’t hang with the same crowds growing up but we had our own unique relationship. We continued to keep in touch even when I moved to NY for college.

Even though we were close and I spent a lot of time at her house I always remembered her mother shouting and not being nice. Her mother scared me a bit and I always tried to stay away from her when I was around them. It was surprising to hear that her mother wanted to invest in me. She asked if it was ok to have a Skype call with her mother and of course I agreed even though I was nervous. When I called her mother told me how proud she was of me and how much she admired me. I didn’t know that Natia kept her in the loop with all the things I was doing and she wanted to help me accomplish my goals with FIFA by investing $20,000. I could not believe it, the last person I would have expected just invested $20,000. She also added that she wanted to stick it to my relatives on my fathers side for not helping me even just a little. How could they just watch me and not do anything? The call with her was truly touching.

I cried when we got off the call. I think I cried for many reasons, one I now had enough to pay for the license and to do a lot more with my sample production. Two, I was overwhelmed with the way people that I least expected came together to help make this happen. Three the factory I was working with in Los Angeles also contributed in tremendous ways. On top of all of that I had incredible support back in the US. I knew that I could do this! I still needed to raise more for production but I had enough to get the ball rolling. Especially with FIFA lowering my licensing fee.

I started meeting with the retail executives to ask them what kind of products they were looking for and at what price points. Then I continued working on my samples and loved every minute of it. Having accomplished all of that I still wanted to prove something to my family.

This experience allowed me to work with people from all over the world. There were possibilities for my work to be sold in other parts of the world. That was truly an experience of a life time and I learned so much first hand. Working with FIFA opened my mind in so many different ways.

It was time to get my samples ready and show to buyers. I remember ordering my first set of samples from the factory and they all came in wrong. I was devastated, then I made the decision to fly to China immediately and work directly with the factory so that the samples come back with me correctly for my FIFA showcase. I had all the support from my American and South African investors. One of the owners from the factory I worked with in Los Angeles travelled to China to assist me in translating what I needed to so that the product was executed correctly.

A lot was accomplished at that point and there was still a lot more to go. I was truly in my glory! It was time to take my first trip to China and work first hand on my samples. I couldn’t wait.


Page 30. Carrying Other Peoples Madness

Trying to secure the money for the FIFA World Cup opened so many different doors for me at a personal level and learning a lot about South Africa. Not all about South Africa but a handful. There were doors that I believed would stay shut for the rest of my life and they were opening one by one. I want to say I wasn’t ready but then again I think I was, it’s the process that takes a long time. The process, for me, started that year.

As I mentioned on (Page 27. Underestimating my Own Worth and Page 28. Raising the Money for FIFA) I asked my uncle to help, he declined and I still had to pretend that I was ok in front of the family. Most of the CEOs or Executives that I approached for funding were not really in charge just more of a front for white owned companies. Different cultures that came with being a South African and part of my family. The dynamics between both families. Unknown and unhealthy feelings were building up from all of it. I had an incredible support system, but I don’t think even they understood fully what was happening. They were always excited to hear my stories, and I loved telling them, the reality is everything that happened at that time was piercing very deeply. How were they supposed to know, If I didn’t get it myself?

While I was all over the place knocking door to door to raise funds, I also worked on maintaining my relationship with my family. My cousin Tabang on my mothers side and I were starting to build a relationship by having lunches occasionally. We never really discussed why I was treated so badly when I first arrived as mentioned on (Page 6. The Unknown), at that point having a relationship was more important so I left it alone. The relationships were very complicated because of the bad blood with another cousin that I become close with, Dineo. The two cousins didn’t get along, and they made it clear every time I was out with the other. I maintained being neutral because it was not my fight and I was still just trying to be part of the team.

On my fathers side I also had to try and manage the relationships there. Even though I was staying at my Aunt Amara’s house, I found my self-spending a lot of time at my uncle Perkins and his wife Linda’s home. As I mentioned on (Page 26. Diamonds) my aunt Linda was the nicest and seemed genuine out of all my aunts. She always wanted me around. I also enjoyed being around her. I guess it’s because in a lot of ways I felt like an in-law except I wasn’t. The rest of them have been together all their lives, and I was in theirs for a short period. I was constantly trying to fit in and be prefect, that in its self took up a lot of energy.

My older sister Lina would also spend a lot of time at my uncle Perkins and Linda’s home. The rest of the family did not like it. I was starting to feel how competitive the family was with each other. My aunt Amara made it a point to forcefully tell me that her home was my home and that is where I stay. She was letting me know that I needed to cut my time with my other aunt and uncle. It became so stressful going to visit my uncle Perkins and aunt Linda because I now was hiding it from my aunt Amara. It’s so funny as I write this today and I think about many of the things I did similar to this and today I can see I was carrying other peoples madness. As an adult sneaking around to see siblings who are keeping tabs on how much time I spend with the other? I wanted to fit in so badly I carried the madness.

What I can appreciate is I got to experience some of this with my older sister whom I was getting to know. In a lot of ways, she became the closest to a support system. Also, there were parts of me that were careful with her because she was new. What brought us together is we share a father, we were not part of the family for a long time and we shared the same pain. Even though the family tried to make it seem as if they wanted us to be close they did a lot of things to make us not like each other. It was about control and even though our upbringings were different for a long time the family treated us like we were not a part of them.

I remember a time when Lina was very cold towards me and I didn’t understand why. She was like that for weeks and then eventually I started to be cold towards her. One day we got a chance to talk and she told me that she was hurt I stopped by the building she worked in weeks earlier and did not come to her office and say hello. I was bit confused because I didn’t know what she was talking about and then I remembered that I was in the building to take care of some work needed for FIFA.

Basically, my uncle’s offices were in the same building as his wife’s offices and my sister worked for my aunt Linda. Their offices were in different parts of the building. I needed to make copies of some documents that FIFA required from me and they needed them urgently. I went straight into my uncles offices that day and asked his secretary to make the copies and I quickly ran out to the FIFA offices. This was an emergency and there was no time for visits. I explained this to her, and she proceeded to tell me that it was my aunt Linda who approached her upset and said to her, how could I come into the building and not even bother to say hello to my own sister. I knew that moment that my aunt Linda was a shit starter too! It hurt my feelings a bit because I really liked her and thought she was the mature one in the family.

My sister added to the conversation that my aunt Linda was beyond upset because my mother had not commented on the jewelry she bought me. I still didn’t know the full story behind my mom and aunt Linda’s relationship. I knew that moment her gift was about getting my mother to speak to her, for whatever reason. That very second the value of the earrings and necklace diminished. They were nice, but they no longer meant anything to me. I no longer wore them much and funny enough a few months later they were stolen from my suitcase while flying to New York from South Africa and I couldn’t have been bothered about it. The value, for me, was the relationship that I thought I was building with my aunt.

I ran into my aunt Linda that day and she asked to talk to me. She wanted to know why I was cold towards my sister the past few days. I said to her, she went around accusing me of not coming to greet her when I was busy taking care of something for FIFA. Remember, I knew the story and who started it as I am telling her but I didn’t want to throw my sister under the bus by saying I knew she started it. I blamed it all on my sister and my aunt Linda looked me in the eyes and didn’t try to make things right by saying she was the culprit behind it. She pretended like she knew nothing and allowed me to put it all on my sister.

From that day on my relationship with my aunt Linda changed. At times I became cold around her. Not because I was being mean but I was hurt, I believed so much in the relationship we were building and it was all a lie. Just like everyone else in the family she had her own agenda with me.

I am saying yes to new adventures!

A year ago I made the decision to learn how to be my own best friend.This meant setting boundaries and letting go of toxic relationships and holding on tight to the healthy ones. It meant no longer forcing relationships that need to be forced in order to exist. Most important it also meant learning to trust myself. For my journey it meant starting my new chapter by leaving what was familiar, so I could unlearn the many things I have been taught to be sorry for. It hasn’t been perfect, but It’s been a liberating experience. A freedom that I can never give back!

After meeting a woman named Lynne in her restaurant in Cinsta a year ago, I shared a few of my stories with her. She convinced me to do something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, but scared to do. That was to start writing my stories. Telling the stories wasn’t the scary part, I was just never confident in writing but she convinced me. She told me that I was a reminder of how wonderful growth and wonder are. That is how @growthandwonder was born! @growthandwonder has helped me overcome some fears, reflect, heal and be proud of me. It has reminded me that I have a suitcase with some sad stories and also some outrageous blessings.

The next phase was moving someplace far away from all the background noise so that I can learn to listen to myself. Living in a foreign place has allowed me the opportunity to learn so much about myself at a much deeper level. I have no choice but to trust myself here because it’s only me. The relationships I have here are mine and not forced. I am doing a lot of things by myself and enjoying it! I have learned to become my own best friend unapologetically. Learning who I am again for the first time has been the most wonderful experience.

As part of learning to be my own best friend I added somethings else to my bucket list. I love traveling and usually when I travel I know someone there or I travel with someone. I have never just taken a trip on my own without knowing anyone. In my bucket list I want to travel somewhere I have never been, where I wont know anyone, I will leave my laptop, and work behind.This trip is personal. I have picked two countries that have been on my radar for years and heading there!

With that said @growthandwonder will be taking a two-week hiatus to grow and wonder some more! The next @growthandwonder publish “Page 30” will be on Tuesday, October 16th.

Cheers to loving me a little bit more every day forward! Thank you to all the love and encouragement I have received from the incredible souls in my life! You know who you are!!!

“You were born to dance to the beat of your own heart; to roam without cages; with the innocence of a child, and the free spirit of untamed horses; I hope you laugh without stopping, live with abandon, and love like that’s all there is; stay wild, my wild, wild child.”

Wild Child (Kenny Chesney)

Page 29. The story behind the stolen children

I was so fascinated with the man calling us the stolen children, I later asked my mom’s friend John how the guy knew us? John told me the story about how my mother planned our move to the USA and that we were all over the newspapers after we had left. He also told me how that guy was the one who made the move possible, without knowing what he was really doing.

John wasn’t sure if the program still exists but back when we still lived in Swaziland, the government offered scholarships to people who wanted to study aboard. Apparently my father encouraged my mother to apply for the scholarship, thinking my mother would leave us behind. My mother applied for the scholarship and included her children. The program also paid to send families overseas, that’s how she was able to include my sister and me. She did not tell my father that she was planning on taking my sister and me because he would have stopped her.

When my mother was accepted for the scholarship, she didn’t just keep it a secret from my father. She kept it from her family too. The person who was in charge of the scholarships was the man who asked “ The stolen children?!” John continued to tell me that he had no idea he was approving a scholarship that was helping my mother to run away with her children. I guess if he knew, my mother’s scholarship application probably would have never been approved.

Even though I had an idea, for years, I never really cared about the plans and all the details of why we moved. That very moment I wanted to know more! I think in a lot of ways I was learning more about my mother. John’s wife Judie was also part of the conversation, and she added to the conversation by saying it was her sister Mary-Jane who made the changes to our passports. Mary-Jane worked at Home Affairs at the time and made the changes to our last name. I could feel my eyes getting bigger as I was listening to the story on the preparations to leave Swaziland. No one knew we were leaving accept Judie and her family. I am sure it was difficult for my mother to keep it from her family, but it was too risky. They probably would have tried to stop her.

They had described how stressed my mother was days before we left. Our passports never left her sight because they were our only way out and if my father and his family found out we probably would have never gotten a second chance.

My mother didn’t want to take a chance by presenting our new passports at the Swaziland boarder since we were a well-known family. She was worried that someone would recognize us and see we were using a “false” last name. That is why we had to hide in the trunk of the car to cross over the boarder into South Africa. Once we crossed over to the South African side, we were ok, since it is a much bigger country and chances of being recognized were very slim. I remembered spending a night in South Africa but didn’t know where, I vaguely remember that night. Judie told me that the house we slept in that night was her mothers home.

I wasn’t aware until then how complicated this process was and how much everything changed so sudden.

They also shared stories on why my mother left my father. Some of the stories I couldn’t believe because it’s difficult to believe human beings could be that way, but today I can believe every word and imagine it. We laughed as they shared the stories. It wasn’t funny when it happened but hearing the stories was just unbelievable. I am sure for my mother going through a lot of that must have been painful, lonely and frustrating.

For over a year John and Judie shared stories with me about my mother and father. I really enjoyed and appreciated them, especially because I needed to hear them. I ended up having questions I didn’t think I had and they were happy to answer them. I can also understand why my mother has not been able to talk about it.

John then told me how he was also very good friends with my father until they started helping my mother, sister and I. Shortly before leaving Swaziland my mother moved us into an apartment and I remember living there. I actually have fun stories from living in that apartment. What I didn’t know until John told me is that it was his apartment.

At the time Judie and John were newlyweds, and he moved to the UK to study while Judie lived on campus at the university she attended in Swaziland. Their apartment was free, and they allowed my mother, sister and I to live there. That did not sit well with my father, anyone that helped us become his enemy. It took my father 6 weeks after our escape to finally go to Julie and ask her about our whereabouts.

I thought I went back to South Africa for the World Cup, but the World Cup brought me back to slowly start pealing off the layers I never thought I had.

Page 28. Raising the money for FIFA (Part 1)

After my uncle said no to helping me with the capital needed for the FIFA World Cup some of my mothers friends got together in trying to help me raise the money needed. The thing about South Africa which I found different from the USA is that most people knew each other. If they didn’t know each other directly, they would know of each other based on the family name. Meetings were set up for me to meet with possible investors and organizations that provided funding for businesses.

I remember driving to several provinces trying to raise money for the FIFA World Cup. While trying to raise the money for the World Cup I also wanted to show my family that I was not upset they were not helping and that I could do it on my own. By being so determined to show that I was not upset or hurt things became very cloudy for me. My uncle would invite me to come by his office at least once a week to have such at a near by restaurant and I would go. It was tough because deep down I was hurting and all he would talk about were is successes and things he owned. I couldn‘t understand why at the very least he could not even offer me business advise or advise on how to empower myself in this foreign territory, especially because I proved that I had the potential. The other dynamic was I really liked him, at the time I though the had a great personality.

The relationship with my family was really about them. I was slowly becoming invisible in order to become a part of their world. I also could feel and hear little by little that people in the family were gossiping about be looking for money. I wasn’t sure if it was my uncle who said anything because my father also knew that I was sourcing funding. The only way that my father would fund my project was if he had full control of me and he wasn’t getting that.

Months would pass with me trying to raise the funding for the World Cup. I was always around my family attending events and dinners just to prove I was doing ok but it was hard. Fortunately, the FIFA officials were very patient with me, but I was still very stressed out. They could take the agreement from me at any minute because I hadn’t paid the required capital yet. They would include me in licensee events and treated me just like all the other licensees and I became part of the FIFA family.

The South African government put aside finding for the World Cup and I applied for assistance with the different organizations. I still had my South African passport and qualified for all the opportunities South African citizens were offered. That’s when I was introduced to the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). This was part of a law Nelson Mandela passed which is based on a point system. If companies want to get business opportunities from the government (contracts/tenders) they need to be 51% black owned. The points get higher if you are a woman and youth. What happened in most cases white owned companies would get, let’s say their driver who is black to own 51% of their company on paper. Sometimes it was just someone who is politically connected through a relative or friend. That’s how they are able to get some of the big tenders. A lot of these companies would give the black partner a nice car, house and other perks while they still controlled the companies. Not all companies with black owners are operated like this but a lot are. This is one of the reasons a lot of black CEO, Executives and Owners don’t know a lot about their companies because they are not in control. It just looks that way on paper, something I would learn more about with time.

In most cases it didn’t matter if the company had the skills needed for the tender as long as they met the BEE requirements as far as black owned and also their relationship with the political community. This made it difficult for companies that had the skills but not the political relationships. In most cases having the political relationships meant someone is getting a cut for approving the tender. These were areas I was very naive about, I accomplished what I had up to that point because of my talent and determination. That’s what I knew, and paying someone to get a project in my eyes is wrong.

I never got the funding from the government funds for the following reasons;
I was not willing to give a cut for my project being approved. Most cases I was asked how much out of the funding they would receive? I would just end up walking out of the meeting.
South Africa required me to manufacture my bags in South Africa. I spent months looking for manufacturers to make my bags in South Africa and honestly I would have loved for my bags to have been manufactured in South Africa. This was an event where there wasn’t much time to get a new manufacturer if there was one and the skills for what I needed just weren’t there at the time. Anyway, FIFA only approved the factories that were manufacturing my NBA bags.
Even though I was South African, to most I was not African enough. I didn’t represent the African image.

Things became cloudier for me because not only did I want to prove to my family that I could do this, I needed to prove to South Africa that I belonged there too. I couldn’t understand, the things that were required from me I didn’t find important. I guess this where ignorance came in, I was in a different territory from what I was used to. Things were done differently and people thought differently. I was thinking like an American.

My mom’s friends called friends who were in prominent positions and asked them to meet with me and discuss funding possibilities. Every meeting I went into I was always asked who my family was. I was starting to learn just how small South Africa really is and I thought if I gave people my fathers last name it would work to my advantage because of who they are. In the end it worked against me. To a lot of people when I would tell them my fathers last name they became confused on why I was sourcing money when I have such a wealthy family. It was a question that everyone asked. The other question wasare you sure you asked your family?” When I would say yes, they didn’t believe me and some would offer to go to my family with me. I always declined on the offer. I then tried to only tell them my mothers last name but they were still able to figure out that I was related to my other side of the family.

I remember once my mom’s friend called another friend to meet with me. The friend asked my mom’s friend to tell him more about who I was, and when he was given more information he shouted the words “ The stolen children?!” 

Page 27. Underestimating my Own Worth

While I was still not aware of my aunt Linda’s intentions on the jewelry she bought me, I was beaming about my extravagant gift. I would tell my friends back in New York about the time spent with her and the gifts she bought me. I was in such a weird place at that time. I think it was that need for acceptance. For me it was more than the diamonds, I made it personal.

As I mentioned before, I was happy to be with my family and at the same time very angry. Today I can make sense of what I was going through but at the time I was all over the place. I also felt ashamed for wanting to have a relationship with my family because too much had happened. I went from being this focused person to now having to prove something to people who I didn’t really matter to. For whatever reason I needed to prove that I was worthy of their love and respect. I know this made a lot of people who have been constant in my life angry. They couldn’t understand why I would reduce myself to such a level for people who for years showed they did not care for me at all.

I can also understand why the people who have been constant in my life had these feelings. It almost was as if I didn’t think their love and support was good enough. I didn’t choose my family and the baggage that came with being part of that family. These were feelings I never experienced before and I always told myself that I would never go back to them. Once I stepped into their territory I was hooked. I never knew myself to be the type of person that needed acceptance from people who didn’t really care about me. I was wrong, at the time I needed them to care. Why, I don’t know.

To be honest I think when I initially went back to South Africa the first time it was to prove something just as much as it was to become a FIFA licensee. With time, I think my need to prove my worth to the family out weighed my need to follow my dreams. It actually at a point became an obsession. I couldn’t admit to myself that I needed their acknowledgment and love, which in return created a lot of grey areas from me.

While I was back in NY I worked on my business plan. The plan that I worked on required me to raise about $200,000. I didn’t have that kind of money and fortunately some of my investors who invested in my NBA business invested more money for the FIFA project. It wasn’t all the money I needed but it was a start. I occasionally thought about asking my uncle since I felt more comfortable around him than I did my other relatives. He was the fun uncle and easy to be around. At the same time I also doubted that he would help even a little, but I thought about it.

My mother, Kim and some friends pushed for me to ask my uncle. I think we all knew he probably wouldn’t but hoped we were wrong. To be honest I wanted to do this without them. I didn’t want them to get the credit. I played around with other options in hopes that my uncle would not be an option. There were so many people who tried different angles in helping me raise the money needed for the World Cup.

The time came for me to return to South Africa and present the business plan to FIFA and hopefully sign the agreement. I was still short of the amount needed and made the decision to ask my uncle. I needed to pay the fee FIFA required from me when I signed the contract. At the end of the day I had to put my fears aside and prove that I wanted this very much. My mom and Kim were both anxious about what my uncle would say. I knew deep down he would not help.

I returned to South Africa and my first day back my uncle had a dinner at his place and I took the opportunity to pull him into a private room. The first thing I said to him was to please keep what I am about to ask him between us. At the time I honestly felt out of my fathers siblings I could trust him and he cared enough not to throw me under the bus by sharing what I was about to discuss with him. Even though I expected a no, I felt comfortable he would keep it between us. Especially because he knew how ruthless his siblings can be. I knew they would find joy in me needing help.

I explained to my uncle what I needed to raise to pay the FIFA royalties and the production of my World Cup bags. He asked me how much and I told him, he then replied by saying he didn’t have money at all. I would have respected him if he just said no because he didn’t owe me anything but saying he didn’t have money was not true. This is a man who owns a private plane, multiple mansions and countless cars. He is loaded. I wont lie it did sting but I moved on.

I remember my mom telling me that even though she didn’t care for them she hopped that he would have been able to put his feelings aside and made it about me. Kim’s response was it was unfortunate.

The thing about me is I was determined. Even though I was in a foreign country, that didn’t stop me from raising the money I needed to carry out my goals with FIFA. While I was a bit short with the money needed at the signing of the contract, the FIFA officials were generous enough to give me the time I needed to raise more money while proceeding with our agreement. This allowed me to start the production phase and made me an official FIFA licensee immediately. It took several investors from South Africa and The United States of America to make it all come together. Some people invested $5,000 to $20,000 and more.
Raising the money was not easy and required a bit of temporary insanity but I did it, again I had those mixed feelings. I was happy I did it without my family and sad I did without them. I guess the feeling sad for doing without them was the part that needed to prove I was worthy of their love and acknowledgment.

Page 26 Diamonds

When I arrived to my meeting with the FIFA officials, they informed that my contract was at its last stages. They called for the meeting to assure me and take away any concerns I had on me getting the agreement. They also said I needed to prepare my business plan for the World Cup because it needed to be included with the contract. My business plan would decide what my license fee would be. The officials didn’t tell me what the smallest requirement was on the amount they would accept in order for me to become a licensee. I needed to make sure that my plan met the least amount required without much information.

I still had another week left before heading back to the USA and spent most of it at my uncle Perkins home. My uncle was very busy and most of the time I spent with his wife, she was very intrigued with me. There was something about the way she looked at me and conversations we would have. It wasn’t uncomfortable but I remember wondering why was she this way with me? It was different from the way my fathers sisters treated me. They were nice to me too but something was different about the way aunt Linda embraced me. I want to say, it felt genuine. I couldn’t fully understand why she was the way she was with me especially because I didn’t remember her and my mother never talked about her. I felt like I could trust her more than I could my other aunts because of her warm embrace.

Aunt Linda would tell me stories about myself when I was a child in Swaziland. She also asked questions about my mom but I never answered her directly. When I was with my father side of the family, discussions about my mother were not up for discussion. With the history between my mother and my father’s family I didn’t think it was right. I would always respond by saying she was fine and give that polite smile. I also picked up that my aunt Linda wasn’t so popular with my father sisters. I was often caught between the crossfire. Sometimes I would be invited to places or given gifts because it was a way to stick it to someone else, without me knowing it. I learned more about that as I got to learn more about my family.

On one of the days while visiting, my aunt Linda took me shopping. We went to a popular store that my family goes to for jewelry. I remembered some of the pieces from Maru’s 21st, my aunt Arma borrowed me some earrings from her collection. I’m not a big fan of my Arma’s style but the earring she borrowed me were very beautiful. When my aunt Linda and I arrived at the jewelry store I thought she was going to buy something for herself. Instead she told me to pick a pair of earrings. I was beyond shocked, it was too much!!! She insisted I pick a pair. I picked out a pair of classic 3 carat diamond stud earrings. I still couldn’t believe it. She then told me to pick a necklace. I really couldn’t believe it, I told her the earrings were more than enough. I could tell by saying that I was at the borderline of almost insulting her so I went to look at the necklaces.
I picked out a 3 tier diamond necklace. Again, still in disbelief at what just happened and grateful at the same time.

She told me that her middle daughter Roslyn has the same ones. She was talking about my cousin who lives in the UK and the one they describe as weird, like me. Later that day my aunt Arma was having a celebratory lunch, I can’t remember what the occasion was. All of my family from Botswana and Swaziland travelled to SA for it. It seemed like my family travelled to SA every month for an accession. The funerals I could understand but sometimes it just felt like they were traveling to have lunch together. When I arrived at my aunt Arma’s place for lunch I pulled my father into a room and showed him what my aunt bought me. He seemed happy about it, I would later find out that he wasn’t. I also showed the gifts to my other cousins and older sister and they seemed excited too, at least I thought. It turns out I was the only niece who received such an extravagant gift from my aunt Linda and it didn’t sit well with the others.

During the lunch my father was one of the few selected to give a speech, I mentioned on “Page 13 Maru’s 21st” that my family is big on speeches. My dad started by thanking the family for welcoming me and brought up the wonderful gift that my aunt bought for me earlier. He made sure to not mention my aunt Linda’s name and only thanked my uncle. At the time I didn’t think it was intentional and felt really bad that he did not include my aunt. In my family being recognized is a big thing, it’s taken personally when a person is not recognized for their goodwill. I found out later that my aunt Linda and father’s relationship was not in a good place at the time and he purposely did not mention her. He took a kind act towards me and used it to hurt her. I was caught in the crossfire in a way that I shouldn’t have been. I felt really bad for aunt Linda and could tell by her facial reaction that she was upset.

The following day I went back to the USA and showed my mother the gift from aunt Linda. She never talked about her and I figured since she was an in-law the relationship wasn’t as bad between the two, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. When my mom saw the gifts she barely said two words and the conversation moved to something else. I knew from that moment aunt Linda and my mom had a previous relationship and clearly it wasn’t a good one.
After some time, I found out that there was more to the gifts my aunt Linda purchased for me. Again, I was caught in the crossfire and was clueless about it. This time it was between my mother and aunt Linda. Here I was thinking I was special and excited about what my aunt did for me, yet it was not about me. She wanted to give a message…

Tai Chi

In the morning when I head to the track, I always see older people practising Tai Chi outside my building and on the street. The first time I saw them I was fascinated. I would find myself smiling when I walk past them and feel such a sense of peace. A few weeks ago I decided the next addition to my bucket list is to stand next to them one morning and join them. Now that I have adjusted in my new city, I am taking lessons and will practice so that I check off the next item on my bucket list. Who knows maybe they will teach me a few moves too!

Our instructor Master Raymond in #hongkong #victoriadockside #tamarpark #taichi#newexperinces #bucketlist #myjourney

Page 25 Funeral Songs

After returning to South Africa from Botswana, I received a call from the FIFA officials asking me to come to their offices the following week. My fathers cousin passed away that same week from a long-term illness. Remember I mentioned on “Page 13 Maru’s 21st” that in South Africa 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins… are considered immediate family? I didn’t know my fathers cousin or of him until his death. Again, expectations were already assumed for me. The plans for this funeral were not going to take place in a rural area like the others but there were still traditions to follow.
The only thing that I was exempt from was serving all the guest drinks and meals throughout the week. Some of the relatives from Botswana and Swaziland travelled to South Africa for the funeral. A lot of people did show up. My father and I had to visit their home several times during the week to pay our respects and follow tradition.

Slowly that week I could feel myself getting overwhelmed. I think it was a mixture of the unknown in just a short period of time and the FIFA officials wanting to meet with me the following week. The FIFA officials were not clear on why they wanted to meet, I wasn’t sure if they were going to tell me that they were not able to draft my agreement and the opportunity was gone or if they had my contact and needed my signature. Not being able to share what I was going through with anyone was very lonely. The FIFA officials scheduled my meeting with them the day of my fathers cousins funeral. Fortunately, it was in the afternoon, and I figured since the funeral was taking place in the morning I would be able to make my appointment.

The week prior to the funeral also meant meeting more relatives, not what I needed because I was really starting to become overwhelmed with all of it! For my father this was still an opportunity to show me off and make people think he is this amazing father. Three funerals back to back and with different expectation and traditions was a lot! Yes, I was with my family but in a lot of ways they were strangers with very high expectations of me. No one ever asked if any of this was ok with me or how I was coping. I was just suppose to do as I was told. On top of it I was terrified if FIFA changed their minds and what would I do? My personality at that time did not allow me to process and feel what I was going through these past few months. I knew I was not ok but couldn’t recognize why.

Fortunately the funeral did not start as early as the others and it was not as long. I remember at the cemetery there was another burial next to my fathers cousins. At black funerals from what I have experienced in South Africa, there is a lot of singing. It can go on for most of the day. What usually happens is someone starts a song and when the song finishes someone else starts a new one. This can go on for a long time, in most cases it interferes with the service because when people start to speak they end up having to stop often because of the singing. The worst thing you can do when speaking is stop because it’s an opportunity for someone to start a song.The funeral next to us was mostly white and very different from what was happening on our side. I remember feeling so bad for them because they could barely get a word out with all the singing that was taking place. When someone on the other side stared to speak, someone on my side would start a song. It was not on purpose just part of the culture, but still…It was almost funny and I remember thinking, now how is this going to work out?

Imagine giving a speech at a wedding and every three words that come out of your mouth someone starts singing a song and then 50 more people join them. A speech that will probably take ten minutes ends up taking over an hour because of the songs. I think the other funeral probably started over when we left, because trying to say a full sentence while we were there was a lost cause. The singing continued until we got to my father’s cousins home. The different funerals that I experienced in just a short time also taught me that there are so many different cultures in the world from different countries, religion, race, and many other reasons. That is what makes the world we live in so amazing! If everyone and everything were the same how would we grow? The challenge for so many is understanding that we are all different just like the world we live in.

After leaving the cemetery I was under the impression that we were finished and I could head to my meeting with FIFA. That was not the case, my father told me we still needed to go back to his cousins house and rinse our hands. I couldn’t understand why, especially because I didn’t have to at the previous funerals and when I asked the only reason he gave me was that it was tradition. I became emotionally heavy and fought tears. I started to question myself, why was I doing this? What if my beliefs did not support some of the things I was required to do? Everyone was just telling me that it’s tradition but no explanation on what it symbolized. On top of it I was going to be late for my meeting with FIFA! I continued to hide my tears and followed protocol. Even thought I went back and followed the tradition that day I was not ok with it. It didn’t feel right, yet I chose to ignore my inner child.

In the end I made it to my appointment with FIFA on time.

Page 24. Ralph

We landed in the USA on June 13, 1990, Ralph picked us up at the airport. I remembered him from the Peace Corps in Swaziland. We met once, and I knew him as my mother’s friend. After picking us up from the airport we went to his place and he had a bedroom prepared for my sister and me. No one explained to us what was going on and what the plan was moving forward. Remember from “Page 2. My first true experience of courage!” I thought I was going to Archie’s world. That was not the case. We were moving to our new home in a different world.

With time I figured out that my mother and Ralph were more than just friends. It was difficult for me to deal with especially because there never any discussions and a lot of changes were happening all at once. Here we were in a new country, home, school and the English was different from the English that I was used to. I didn’t sound like the other kids and they would often laugh at my English.

The adjustment was not easy for me. I was eight years old at the time and my sister turned 5 the day we arrived in the USA. I don’t even know if my sister remembers our life before we left and if she was affected the same way I was. There were times when I would get so upset with my mom and threaten to tell my teachers that she changed our names in hopes that she would get scared and we move back to Swaziland. She would always respond by saying to go ahead and of course, I never followed through with the threats. Sometimes times I would want to write my father letters. I cannot remember why I wanted to write my father letters at that age, I guess because all the memories I have of him today are the ones that came after we left. At that time, I must have missed the life I had before coming to the USA and it was the life that made sense to me.

I started to forget little by little as the years past and began to live with the fact that Ralph was a part of our world and we were a part of his. He became the father figure in me and my sisters life. He would always pick us up from school and make sure we had everything we needed. I didn’t appreciate it then. I guess I was too young, angry and confused about so many things. We never talked about it, we just went with the flow.

Eventually, my mother and Ralph got engaged and I was so angry! I knew he was a part of our lives, but the engagement for me was officially closing the chapter of my past life. It made it real for me, and I wasn’t ready for that. The ring he gave her is the most beautiful ring I have ever laid eyes on. It’s a sapphire with diamonds all around. Similar to Princess Diana’s engagement ring form Prince Charles.

More than five years after moving to the States my mother and Ralph broke up. With no warning or a goodbye, Ralph was gone! Again, another meaningful relationship ripped out of my life with no explanation. Shortly after that point I mastered feeling numb and cutting people who hurt me out of my life. It was never immediate but when it happened it was like a switch turned off and a person no longer existed in my life. I know to a lot of people that’s abnormal, but for me, it’s how I survived and stayed in control of relationships. It was a way for me to stop the pain and rejection. This is what I had experienced from the relationships in my life, one day they are here and the next gone.

We did see Ralph about a year later. He took me and my sister out for lunch a few times and then he stopped. I didn’t know if it had anything to do with both him and my mother or if it was me and my sister? I never really thought about it until recently. Now I wonder what really happened?

After graduating high school I moved to New York to attend The Fashion Institute of Technology and I started looking for Ralph. I didn’t tell my mom because I didn’t know how she would feel and I didn’t want to hurt her. Since we never really talked about what happened, I also didn’t know how to approach her about it. I don’t know why it took years for me to realize how important he was and to start looking for him. I wanted to know what was happening in his life and share what has been happening in my life. With the technology that we have, I thought it would be simple and yet I have not succeeded in finding him.

For years my mother would keep the ring that he gave her in her drawer, and I would also always ask her to give it to me. She would only allow me to wear it on special occasions, and I would sometimes hold on to it if she forgot to ask for it back. Eventually she would always remember and take it back. One day, after I had obtained the FIFA license for bags and was a guest speaker at The Gordon Institute of Business Science, she handed me the ring and told me it was mine. I was so excited!!!! At the time I just loved the ring because it’s a beautiful ring, but today it means so much more. The only time I take it off is when I get it cleaned and it makes me feel like I have a part of him with me.

On March 2016, I wrote my mother a letter telling her what Ralph meant to me, the effects of him leaving and that I looked for him but never found him. My mother wrote back telling me she understood what I meant and that Ralph always knew my pain was deeper than what most people assumed. He also had a difficult time as a child with his family and felt a connection with me in particular. She proceeded by telling me that she did meet with him in Atlanta in 2012 and if there is one thing she knows is that he loved my sister and me very much. She told me how he cried and said how much he missed us and wished things didn’t end the way that they did. She ended by saying one day she will tell me what happened and why it ended.

At that moment I went through so many different emotions from anger to sadness and relief. How could my mom not tell me she met with him four years earlier? Did he want to contact me? I was also relieved that he was alive. A week went by after my mother’s response and I asked her for Ralph’s contact details. She gave them to me and told me that before they met in Atlanta he suffered a heart attack and she tried to reach him after meeting him and was not successful.

I emailed him first and the email bounced back. I then tried calling him and no one picked up, but after several attempts, a woman eventually picked up and said she didn’t know anyone by that name. I broke down crying in my bedroom. I don’t know if he is dead or alive but that moment was the first time I mourned someone who made such a huge impact on my life. I kept on thinking is he dead or alive? If he died was he alone? Did he know how much I cared? All kinds of things were going through my mind and I was angry and emotionally in pain. Shortly my best friend stopped by and as she got out her car in the parking lot I just fell in her arms and continued to cry. There was this heaviness in my heart, that day I must have released emotions that I kept inside for years.

I haven’t seen or heard from Ralph in more than 20 years and he still matters. When I feel alone sometimes I think of him and smile. I know he would have had my back, and I also know he would be so proud of me today. There so many things I would want to share with him. When I think about him today, he is one of the best things to ever happen in my life. I really hope he knows that where ever he is.

I am learning that somethings will never make sense and that I will not get answers to a lot of things from people in my life but Ralph is someone that I wish the Universe will give me answers to. Why did he not stay in my life a little bit longer?

Page 23. Judgement Zone

The following day everyone returned from Swaziland and they couldn’t understand why I just couldn’t stay with everyone else for one more day. To be honest I didn’t know myself why I reacted the way I did. All those years I thought I was ok and what happened didn’t matter. I was wrong, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. To make things worse I couldn’t talk to them about it because it would mean telling them stories that they would not want to hear. I also didn’t understand why I was so affected and struggled with the emotions. I needed to be able to express them to myself before I could anyone else. It was still very confusing…
The FIFA officials assured me again that week my contract was still being processed and I would become a licensee for bags. At that point, I started to panic because it had been months since the FIFA officials started working on my agreement. What was taking so long? That was something else I couldn’t share with my family because I had something to prove. This was such a weird time for me because I enjoyed having them around but at the same time, I wanted to stick it to them. Sounds crazy but that was the case. I kept my fears to myself. Hence the hives and nosebleeds every night.

My cousins from Botswana convinced me to come and visit them since I had some time while waiting for my FIFA contract. I ended up flying to Botswana later that week. They live in Gaborone, it’s about 40 minutes away from the South African border and a 45-minute flight. When I arrived I was taken to my aunt’s house and just like her siblings, it was huge! I have to say that house was the most subtle compared to her siblings. You could tell that they are wealthy but not as flashy as the others. I was happy to be there especially because it was a break from South Africa.

My two male cousins Baks and Bubs took me out that evening. Gaborone is a very small town and I just remember it having only one shopping center with a few restaurants. I really liked these two and they were so excited to take me out and show me around. I also didn’t feel like they allowed our past to dictate the relationship we were trying to build. They also introduced me to some of their friends and we really had a great evening.

The next day my cousin Lucy came over and wanted me to spend the night at her place. I don’t know what it was about Lucy but I always had this uneasy feeling about her. I think her comment when I first arrived where she asked other relatives “ if I was also as crazy as my sister” stayed with me and left a bad taste in my mouth. I went against my better judgement and agreed to spend the night with her. When we arrived at her place she really went all out and prepared a lovely lunch that we shared with her two daughters. I let my guard down a bit and enjoyed the moments. I could tell that she was very curious about me and the past. I always tried to avoid discussing the past with her because it meant talking about my mother, father and the grandmother that we both shared. I really didn’t have great things to say about our grandmother and my father.

Later that evening when her daughters were sleeping she started to discuss the past and how I reacted the day of Jojo’s funeral. First, she brought up my father, by saying I needed to forgive him and he didn’t know where we were all those years. In a polite manner, I shared with her stories that proved my father always knew where we were and he made the choice not to be in me and my sisters lives all those years. We moved a lot when were kids and he always managed to call us in our new homes. It was a total of five calls in 18 years. He would call once and then disappear for years. He also never provided for us in any way. I would think as a parent even if your children were far away you would still find ways to help in making sure they had all the necessities needed to survive. I found the conversation with Lucy “rich” because she grew up with both her parents. For her to tell me how I should handle my father’s choices was ignorant and judgmental.

Then she brought up “the white man my mother moved to the USA with” his name is Ralph. Ralph is an American that my mother started dating after my parents divorced while we were living in Swaziland. They both worked for the Peace Corp at the time and when we moved to the USA we lived with him. Family members address him as “the white man” as if he does’t have a name. Lucy started telling me stories trying to imply that my mother had an affair and that was the reason my parents divorced. I knew it was nonsense and told her that. She wanted more information about that relationship but I didn’t give her any.

Last she brought up our last day in Swaziland before we left for the USA. She told me how my mother beat my grandmother up and I stopped her right there… I told her that I may have forgotten a lot of things but that day I will never forget. It was our grandmother who got neighbors to start beating my mother up for collecting her own children. She then said the story that is known about that day is our grandmother was the one attacked. She mentioned that she saw how startled I was the day of Jojo’s funeral and told me that I needed to let go of my demons. I didn’t say it to her but that bothered me. I felt that the statement was very judgmental. This stuff naturally is affecting me more now because I am back and it’s in my face. This was new for me and I still needed to process it before I could even begin to deal with it.

I was never a fan of Lucy but from that moment I just didn’t care for her at all. She became that relative I had to tolerate.

I have learned that we sometimes react to things without even understanding why. Sometimes things can only make sense later in life and that is ok. We have to learn to be patient with ourselves.