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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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 was “ are 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?!”