Unlearning all of the things you were taught to be sorry for is probably the most difficult journey and the greatest gift of all. It is the only journey that allows you to realize who you are at the deepest level!
The week of Jojo’s funeral I expected to get my contract from FIFA. It didn’t happen and the FIFA officials assured me that I would get the contract soon and the Singapore offices were still working on it. Finding the loop whole was a bit more complicated than they thought but feasible. Honestly, I was ok with it because we had to do a lot of preparations for the funeral. Midweek all my cousins arrived from Botswana along with their parents. I don’t want to lie it was nice being around these people that I was a part of in some way. I mostly felt bad for my father because he was very close to Jojo. Jojo was like a son to him and you could tell that he really lost someone he cared about.
When Friday morning arrived we all drove to Swaziland so that we could help set up for the funeral and view the body in the evening. When we arrived in Swaziland we checked into our hotel. We later drove to my grandparent’s old house, which now belonged to my uncle. He purchased it form his siblings when my grandfather passed away. Even though it belongs to my uncle they still say it’s the family home.
When we pulled up to the neighborhood I started to get uneasy. I saw the houses that my mother, sister and I ran past when we were running away from my grandmother. It all looked the same. My grandparent’s house looked different but had features that I remembered. My uncle renovated the house a lot. As we drove into the driveway there was a plasma TV playing on the garage wall and one in almost every room. More rooms were added to the house. I remember thinking to myself it looked like a house from Cribs but in Swaziland and in Swaziland of all places! When I walked into the house all the rooms I remembered where still there but the interior was very different.
Just like my cousin Lazy’s funeral, everyone wanted to see me. I was known as one of the “stolen children”. They would tell me stories about how my grandmother cried for months after we left and how close we were. Even my mother tells me that I was my grandmothers favorite and how close we were, unfortunately, my memories are of her trying to take me away from my mother. I don’t know if that will ever change. Hearing people tell me about my relationship with my grandmother only made me upset, especially because I could not relate.
After meeting everyone we went to my father’s house. More people were there to pay their respects. I remember the priest in particular, he made very uncomfortable. In South Africa and Swaziland, it is custom/normal for people to kiss on the lips when greeting. The kiss should just be a quick peck. This priest was introduced to me as one of my grandparent’s good friends and a family friend. He leaned over to kiss me, it was very inappropriate and in front of his wife and my father. My father did not flinch at all. I couldn’t believe it!!! The culture, especially in my family, is you do not challenge authority or prominence. The priest is considered to be a prominent figure within the family.
I went to my uncle and without telling him what just happened, I asked him not to leave my side while the priest was there and the next day if he saw the priest near me. My uncle just giggled and understood what I meant. Of course my uncle went on to other things. I was on my own.
The next morning we were all dressed and ready by 5 am. Just like My Darling, the funerals in Swaziland start very early. We started at the service and then the cemetery. I wasn’t myself that day, it was very unsettling and I didn’t have anyone to share what I was feeling. When we arrived at the cemetery my cousins showed me my grandparents tombstones. Jojo was laid to rest between my grandparents and his father. The uneasy feeling I had just got worse by the day. I thought maybe it was because I had to be near my grandmother’s gravesite. As much as I enjoyed being around my cousins and relatives it was still new and uncomfortable. Not having anyone to share that with made it even more difficult.
After the gravesite, we went back to my uncle’s house. Even though they call it the family home, I would hear other relatives stress that at the end of the day it’s really your uncle’s house. That doesn’t sit well with some of his siblings, but it is the case. My cousins and I had to go and greet the elders who attended the funeral. One of the elders was the priest from the previous night and my cousin Lucy went to greet him first. My father and her father were sitting next to us and watched as we went to greet the priest. He greeted my cousin the same way he did me the previous night and none of our fathers moved to push him back. You could see that Lucy was very uncomfortable. Now it was my turn and when he leaned over I placed my had in front of me and moved my head back. I basically gave a side hug. The look I got from him, it was as if I was being disrespectful. When I looked at my father and uncle they smirked a bit and looked the other way. How could they not say anything and allowed that to happen? I couldn’t believe it, especially because of how prominent my family is in Swaziland, South Africa and Botswana. I would have never thought that they would be afraid to stand up and say that was not ok!
As the day progressed my anxiety got worse and I wanted to leave. The plan was for everyone to spend the weekend in Swaziland and leave Sunday, but I just couldn’t stay another day. I went to find everyone and told them I would be leaving. I still had no idea how I would get to South Africa because the people I came with were leaving the next day but my mind was made up! The whole family tried to convince me to stay but I refused. I needed to get out of there. Fortunately, I found someone who was leaving that day and I got a ride with them.
For so many years after that day, I thought the only reason I wanted to leave that house was because of the incident with my grandmother but it was so much more than that. It’s really amazing what we are able to suppress as human beings. My grandparent’s house symbolizes so many painful memories and I managed to block them for almost 30 years. I am learning that part of the journey is a process and the layers only start to peel off when I am ready. Not a minute before and not a minute after.
My father and I drove to My Darling the day before Lazy’s funeral. My aunt Grace and my father remained really good friends after my parents divorced. She was the one who would keep him posted on what was going on with us in the USA on a daily basis. I am not sure how my mom felt about her sister keeping in touch with him but it doesn’t seem to have affected their relationship. This would be my first road trip with my father and it gave us time to get to know each other a bit better. It was nice.
When we arrived to My Darling we got lost and I couldn’t really direct my father because there weren’t any street names and it was all grovel road. When we pulled over to ask someone where the house was all we had to do was tell them my sir name and they directed us to my grandparents home. I was shocked that a sir name was enough to get you directions to your locations especially when I am used to getting directions through street names.
We couldn’t even pull into the yard because it was packed with cars and people. I then found out where people were going to sleep since there were no hotels near by. Many people slept in their cars (including my father) and neighbors allowed other guests to sleep in their homes. As you walked into the house people would start singing songs and you could smell the meat from the slaughtering. This time I was wearing a dress and when I went in I would greet everyone in Sipedi. I later joined my cousins with helping serve everyone food and drinks.
The singing continued through out the night and I started to wonder since we have to get water from outside how are all of these people going to wash in the morning?!?! Especially since the service is scheduled to start at 5am. 3am my aunt Grace wakes up my cousin Dineo and I to go and wash. I am just following the lead here because I still don’t know how this is going to work out. We go into the bathroom and there are three big buckets full of water. My aunt gets in the tub and Dineo and I each get in a bucket and wash. As uncomfortable as that experience was, I was so grateful we were the first because the thought of having to go behind other people and follow that process grossed me out.
Around 4:30 am the singing got louder and we started the preparations for the service. I made sure to wear a dress with a shawl to cover my shoulders and a wrap to cover my head. A large tent was setup outside on the street for the 5am service. Fortunately it was cool at time and we headed to the cemetery at 6am. I still couldn’t believe the amount of people that showed up to the funeral.
They buried Lazy next to my grandparents. For years I did not know that my sir name “ Matlhako” was spelled wrong. I noticed when I came back earlier that year that my cousin Dineo spelled her sir name “Mathlako”. When I looked at my grandparents tombstones “Mathlako” was spelled the same way as Dineo’s sir name. Only later was it explained to me that my mother switched the letters so that if my father and his family tried to find us it would be difficult if the spelling was different.
It’s now around 7am and the sun is rising!!!!! All I could think about is shedding the layers of clothes. I was sweating bullets but when I looked around everyone else was fine. No one else was bothered by the heat. I did manage to keep it together. After the burial we went back to my grandparents home and had lunch. I also got to catch up with some of the cousins and meet my mothers older brothers sons. My uncle passed away when I was very little but I did remember my two cousins. I don’t know why but the boys in my family were just easy… I found myself laughing a lot when I was with the male cousins.
Later on that day my father and I said our goodbyes and hit the road for Johannesburg. The following week I found out FIFA was drafting my agreements. Before I could celebrate my aunt Anna called me and my other cousins into her room and she delivered the news that my cousin Jojo has passed away. I found her delivery a bit cold because she didn’t even look at us but we all handle grief differently. Just like Lazy, Jojo was 36 and we were very close when I lived in Swaziland as a child. He was also very close to my father and was like a son to him. I also suspect he died of AIDS. I soon learned that when someone has AIDS no one talks about it. Even in your own family.
In the eighteen years that I have lived in the USA, I never attended a funeral and already after being in South Africa a few months I was heading to a second one and back to back. The expectations of me were very foreign and when I think about it today unfair. Jojo’s funeral would be in Swaziland the country where we ran away from my family and moved to the USA eighteen years earlier.
It’s the Saturday before Lazy’s funeral, my aunt Shila and her daughter Tabang picked me up so that we could go to My Darling and help prepare for the funeral which was the following Saturday. We were just going for the one night and would return the following Friday. About an hour into the drive Tabang asked if I packed a skirt or dress?!?! I told her no and didn’t think it was a big deal. In my mind we were going to help with preparations and there wouldn’t be anything formal until later in the week. I also asked her why she didn’t say anything when she picked me up because I could have changed then. She thought I knew that when there is a death women must wear dresses or skirts until after the funeral, especially within the family. At that point there was nothing that we could do so we continued on the journey.
When we arrived in My Darling, from the gate into the house it was flooded with people. Even though I attended my cousin funeral years ago, I didn’t remember what the custom was when it came to funerals. In the USA I never attended a funeral, at best I went to a former classmates home to pay my respect when his brother died but the funeral itself was for immediate family and close friends. You would think a celebrity passed away it was so packed. There were first, second and third cousins from every side. Relatives that were not really relatives, by the time they explained how you are related it was confusing because you weren’t? I literarily needed a stack of index cards to keep up with who was who?
We had to greet everyone and of course all the women were dressed in skirts or dresses. I was so annoyed and slowly my confidence level dropped. When I didn’t speak Sipedi it was another strike… I felt like I had the word disrespectful or she thinks she is better written on my forehead. We eventually made it to my aunt Grace who was sitting on her bed in her bedroom. Just to give an idea, there were chairs outside, all over the house and in my aunts bedroom with people sitting on them. In my aunt’s room people would rotate so that everyone would get the chance to see her. When one group finishes another enters the room. In most South African cultures if a man dies the wife or his mother has to stay in her bedroom on the bed with her head covered and sometimes shoulders. It’s a mourning ritual. In some cases they have to stay that way till the funeral and other cases they can’t leave their home for a year. It differs based on the culture. Since Lazy was not married my aunt had to be the one to stay in the bedroom while people came to pay their respects.
The other part of the culture that honestly till this day I don’t understand is people will come to the house every day throughout the day until the day of the funeral and the family in mourning is the one who has to serve tea, coffees, scones and meals the entire time. The reason I struggle to understand this is because you would think it should be the opposite, people should be making it easier for the family in mourning. Some of the guest were very arrogant and wanted a different brands of drinks. I was so shocked and confused by it all. Being a family member I automatically became a server. Imagine every person I interacted with was staring at me because I am not wearing a skirt and I respond in english. Sunday couldn’t come fast enough!!! Eventually that evening my aunt gave me a piece of cloth to wrap around my waist. There were friends of the family who assisted with the labor as well but for the most part people were waiting to be served.
Another big tradition in the South African culture for funerals, weddings or any type of celebration people slaughter cows, sheep and/or goats on the property as they prepare the meals. All you could smell outside was raw meat and smoke because the cooking for the most part was outside. Family and friends donated money or live stock for the rituals and funeral expenses. It’s great that so many people helped with some of the labor and expenses but for someone like me I looked at it differently. I thought about the expenses of feeding a massive group of people all week! The more people means the more funerals and traditional ceremonies that I would be expected to participate in because all these people came to my cousins. With time I realized that in South Africa most weekends you are attending a funeral, wedding or ceremony because that is what you are suppose to do. It’s mostly for the relatives that you are not related to but told you are related to. South Africans will travel far to attend funerals. I must say that I also found it fascinating.
Since I don’t like to cook I took on the role of serving coffee, tea and scones. It doesn’t sound like much but doing that all day by the end of the day you are finished!!! Each time I served I had to speak to people which was dreadful and stressful since I would respond in english. Even when I would respond in Sipedi people would laugh because I pronounced words with an American accent. A few people would even tell me that I didn’t pronounce my own name properly. We couldn’t stop serving until the last person left and people stayed till the wee hours of the night. This would continue until the day of the funeral.
I eventually asked one of my cousins, isn’t this stressful? Having all these people here to serve when you are suppose to be grieving? She explained that the purpose of all these people being here is to prevent the grieving, your too busy for it. It didn’t make sense because you are just delaying the grieving process. Even though I still don’t get it I also respect and appreciate that it’s been the custom for centuries. I don’t have to follow it and my mother is very clear that she also has no interest if following the tradition. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok.
I was then informed on what to do and expect at the funeral the following week. I was told to wear a skirt or dress. I had to cover my head and shoulders because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the cemetery and people have been turned back for not following the custom. Friday will be the viewing of the body. The funeral service starts at 5am Saturday and we head to the cemetery at 6am. I can’t remember why the funeral was so early but I’ll put money on it that it’s because of the heat! Then we all come back to the house for lunch which the family will be serving.
Sunday evening we headed back to Johannesburg and I felt sorry for the remaining relatives that had to serve guests day and night for the entire week. I was also wondering how all the people coming to attend the funeral and did’t live in My Darling could attend the ceremony at 5am when the nearest hotels were almost two hours away. I did’t ask and would find out the following week!!!
Now that Dineo and I were back in Johannesburg and FIFA was finalizing my agreement I managed to spend sometime with my mothers side of the family. My cousin Lazy was also back in the hospital and extremely ill. No one discussed what his illness was nor did I get a straight answer when I asked. It also allowed me more time with my other cousins and it wasn’t nearly as awkward as it was when I first came. With everything going on whatever issues we had were not as important. The main focus was Lazy and his health.
My aunt Grace ended up coming in from My Darling as well because of Lazy’s health. It wasn’t until she arrived that the family dynamics started to show. It seemed as if my aunt Grace and Dineo were at odds with the rest of the family. Each side would tell me their side and my only options were to pick sides or just be supportive to both sides without getting involved. I decided to just be supportive, especially because I wasn’t there when it started and there are always three sides to every story.
If there is one thing that I have learned the painful way is never take sides, especially when you have a relationship with both parties. I also didn’t want to gamble with anyones feelings based on different truths. This was one of those situations where just being there was more important than being right.
While Lazy was in the hospital he wanted to be taken to a Sangoma in hopes that he would heal. A Sangoma is a “traditional healer”. When I think of a Sangoma I think witchcraft, at the same time I do have a respect and appreciating for those who believe in the powers of a Sangoma. Lazy never made it to the Sangoma because shortly after his request he passed away. He was the same age I am today, 36.
Lazy’s passing was difficult for me for many reasons. It reminded me of my cousin Angel who passed away at the age of fourteen. She was my mothers older sisters youngest daughter. When Angel died we were already living in the USA and she was the cousin I was closest to. She was a year older than me and we would write letters and send cassette tapes of our favorite songs to each other. She was my best friend.
My mother and I flew to South Africa for her funeral in 1994. I don’t remember much about the funeral but I do remember having a great relationship with my cousins and they were so happy to see me. There was this other cousin Lerato that I immediately connected with at the funeral. She was probably four years older than me and I was around her all the time during Angels funeral. We didn’t communicate much before the funeral and I don’t know what it was but after we left for the USA Lerato and I kept in touch the same way Angel and I did. She didn’t take Angels place but she did fill a void and was a connection that I had to the family. About a year later she was killed in a car accident.
When Lerato died I was fourteen years old and by then I had lost so many relationships in traumatic ways. We never talked about it and I dealt with it internally. We didn’t attend Leratos funeral but I have to imagine that it had a huge impact on me. Around that time I started a pattern of detaching myself from relationships and with more time it escalated. Through out my teenage years and adult life I had gained the reputation with family and my mothers friends of holding grudges and not forgiving. I really struggled to understand why it was such a problem for people because to me it was normal. In a lot of cases I was bullied in hopes that I would deal with pain the same as everyone else. It really made me feel like I was difficult to love. How can you change for others if you yourself can’t understand what the problem is. I was surviving…
When Lazy passed away it really hit home because he was another one who was very kind to me and I had a soft spot for him in my heart…just like that he was gone!
I believe now that the reason I can detach from relationships when I am extremely hurt is because I lost so many relationships with out explanation and they were all sudden. I handled things based on how I processed them as a child. This journey has taken me back to places where I am learning to unpack what has served it’s purpose in order for me to fulfill my journey. So much of what I carried on my shoulders was never mine to carry, today I have the ability to communicate better and at the same time not allow other peoples truth about me become my truth.
On my third trip back to South Africa, Dineo and I went on a road trip to visit my aunt Grace in My Darling. My Darling is about four and a half hours away from Johannesburg and in a different Province called Limpopo. The road trip was different from the ones I was used to in the USA. I was used to exit stops every ten to twenty minutes from most highways. Not on this trip! There is only one exit before the next big city which is three hours away. Until you get to the next town the scenery is just open land and mining fields. The heat was unbearable even with the air conditioner on. The sun was just beaming straight through. You literarily stay on same road without having to make any turns for at least three hours. Our first stop was in Polokwane aka “town”. Polokwane is a very small town in Limpopo and considered the big city for all the neighboring communities in Limpopo.
After stopping for a break and bite in Polokwane we headed to My Darling. I didn’t think the heat could get worse but it did the further north we went. The scenery of mountains after leaving Polokwane was stunning. I knew we were getting closer because cows, goats and pigs were just wondering all over the streets and houses started to look different from the ones in the big cities.
Dineo explained to me that the animals roaming around the streets belonged to people in the communities. The amount of animals each family had determined their wealth within the community. I asked her how do owners keep up with the animals if they are just roaming around freely on the streets and other peoples yards. She told me that each household has a signature stamp on the animals to help identify them. In the later part of the day owners go out to look for the animals and bring them back home. Since these are small communities the chances of anyone stealing them are slim but some do get run over by cars.
I was fascinated at how different it was and the way people lived. For me to go to the mall, banks or commercial outlets it’s easy access. Here a lot of people try and arrange car pools once a week or month to go into town. I believe at the time only one bus came early in the morning and later in the evening to take people to town and back. It is literarily a day trip just to go to the bank, mall and restaurants because of lack of transportation.There are small shops to get some necessities in the communities but for most essentials you would have to make the trip into town which is about one and a half to two hours away from My Darling.
We eventually made it to the home that once belonged to my grandparents and now belongs to aunt Grace. My aunt was so excited to see me and I was excited to see her. The first thing I asked was are the toilets in the house? She laughed and said yes but we still have to get water from outside. There were lots of buckets full of water in the house and she baked lots of cookies for me! Part of the house looked familiar and other parts I didn’t remember. My grandfathers shop was no longer there. That used to be my hang out spot and I would always get treats from him.
I used to spend a lot of my holidays in My Darling as a child. I remember chasing the peacocks around my grandparents yard. My first year at FIT most of my projects were inspired by peacock feathers, maybe it’s because it reminded me of My Darling!
Fortunately from the beginning my aunt Grace and I embraced each other the way that I had hoped and that made me comfortable. The only entertainment for me in My Darling was bonding with my aunt. There was no where to go for entertainment. My wifi and phone network for the most part was poor. We did have a really good time together. I caught her up on what was happening in my life and she caught me up on her life. She would occasionally poke fun at my American accent. I no longer sounded the same.
The following morning we woke up to breakfast in the kitchen. Eventually the neighbors and all the people who knew me when I was a child came over to check me out. Even though I was uncomfortable it was no where as bad as meeting some of the strangers I met on my fathers side. I think it’s because I had a relationship with my aunt Grace prior to coming to South Africa and I felt safe telling her my insecurities when meeting people I didn’t remember. They would tell me stories about me when I was a child and of course I didn’t remember them nor the events but I maintained my polite smile.
The other thing that bugged me is people didn’t like me speaking english and most cases made comments about it. South Africa has eleven native languages, I can speak three well and a few others I can understand. Both my parents are Pedi and our language is Sepedi. When we went to the USA we stopped speaking the South African languages but I never forgot them. It’s just that after not speaking the languages for eighteen years I no longer had the confidence to speak to the locals in Sepedi, SeSotho and Zulu. I could understand what people were saying but they didn’t like me answering in english even though they could understand english. My aunt would constantly have to apologize for me by whispering “ she comes from America”. I don’t know whats worse, hearing what people are saying about you or not knowing what is being said?
After three days in My Darling we headed back to Johannesburg. It was sad saying goodbye to aunt Grace because my visit with her was nice. I did tell her that my future visits cannot be more than three days, my Darling was just too rural for me! We both laughed! Little did we know then that I would be back within a few weeks to burry her son and my cousin Lazy.
The journey back to South Africa has shown me just how colorful my life is. I am very fortunate to have the exposures from both the USA and South Africa along with the many different dynamics that both worlds have taught me. This was a journey of answering questions that I never knew I had.
While I was in New York working on the business and NBA range of handbags the FIFA offices contacted me saying the agreement would be ready in a month. As a requirement I would also need to provide them a business plan so that they can structure my agreement based on my projections and target retail categories. The FIFA licensing process was different from the NBA licensing process. Both processes were very intimidating and motivating at the same time. It was very educational for me, especially because I was still in the early stages of running a business.
Now that I was back in NY I started to promote the NBA bags. I prepared press packages that included information on my company, the product and also included a sample of the bags. A few months later ESPN magazine had a contest and a feature that included my LeBron James bag as the winning prize. I also managed to get the bag in one of basketballs top magazines Slam. The best part is the NBA flagship store on Fifth Avenue featured the bags in the front window display and mannequins!!!
When I was a student at FIT I used to dream of having my bags featured in the front window displays at the NBA flagship store. I would go to the store every week worried that some company would come up with my concept and beat me to it. To have my bags retailing in the NBA flagship store and displayed for everyone outside to see a few years later was a very big deal to me. I had a lot to look forward to and the FIFA licensee was going to be a great addition to growing my business.
The NBA and FIFA were not the only projects consuming my mind. My family started absorbing a lot of my mind too. I found myself thinking about them most of the time. Some of the thoughts were happy thoughts and others were negative thoughts. There were days I would brag to my friends about reuniting with the family and then there were days I would find myself walking down the street in Brooklyn fuming, thinking why couldn’t they have reached out to me?!?!
My mother was also starting to pick up that I was embracing the relationship with my fathers side of the family and it didn’t help our relationship. Her insecurities started to kick in and with our lack of communication I did not lean on her for emotional support. I really tried to managed the relationship by sharing the bad stuff because I knew the good stuff would not fell good to her. My mother has never really spoken much about my fathers side of the family and sometimes thats enough for a child to know the topic is off limits. The deeper my relationship got with my fathers side, I would see sides of my mother that I never saw before. This wasn’t just a journey affecting me but it also affected my mother in ways that I never could have imagined and probably never will get to fully know.
Then there was Dineo, with her brother very ill I would check in on her regularly. Lazy was out of the hospital but still very ill. Dineo and I planned for my next trip to visit her mother, aunt Grace. My aunt Grace I remembered very well. She was my favorite aunt and she would call us often while growing up. My memories of her were very positive. She still lived at my grandparents home in a small village called “ My Darling” located in there northern province of Limpopo. Even though I was not thrilled about going to my darling because it is a very rural area, I was looking forward to seeing my aunt. One of my last memories of my darling was that the toilets were outside and we had to fetch water outside. It was going to be the experience. Granted this is now eighteen years later, surely there should be some improvements.
At that particular time I don’t know what was consuming my mind and time the most. Was it business or the family? I found myself trying to build a company, managing new personal relationships and dealign with countless emotions all at once. I just managed everything that was happening without stopping to process and deal. You can say my survival instincts took over.
Growth can only come when you are uncomfortable. This was the beginning of me being uncomfortable for a long time. I was growing. The beautiful thing about growth is that it has taught me options about life that I never could have imagined possible.
With Lazy in the hospital I spent more time with Dineo and my mothers side of the family. I wasn’t looking forward to it because it was uncomfortable meeting them earlier. It was a different discomfort form my fathers side of the family. My first encounter with my fathers side was more welcoming and they were nice to me. They avoided discussing the past. Granted, the elephant in room was also making me uneasy. I was mostly uncomfortable with them because of the history between my father and mother. I couldn’t understand why they never reached out whenever they came to the United States, especially NY. There were lots of South African friends who would come visit us and share all the nasty things my relatives would say about us. The price being paid for my mother and fathers relationship was largely by me and my younger sister. The truth is, naturally I had a lot of mixed negative feelings while enjoying being embraced by them. My fathers side embracing me was something that I was not prepared for.
On my mothers side of the family I received the opposite treatment. Dineo and her brother Lazy were really excited to see me and made my experience a little easier. With them I felt like I belonged and protected. Everyone else gave me the cold shoulder. At the time I really didn’t understand why, which is why it was very difficult. I remember my mothers older sister Shila, being aggressive asking me why I never call and why I didn’t contact them? I am sure she meant well and her feelings were hurt but I didn’t receive it well. Why did that matter? I am here now. At the begging I found myself fighting tears when I was around my mothers side.
The other thing that made the experience difficult is there were dynamics within the family that I knew nothing about and I was thrown into them. The difference between American and South African families, in South Africa everyone gets involved. I’m talking about parents, siblings, cousins, second cousin, friends and the list goes on and on. If you don’t participate you are being disrespectful or selfish. If you didn’t grow up in that environment it’s overwhelming. I did my best to stay out of it, my goal was to support Dineo the same way that she supported me during my time in South Africa. While Dineo was still dealing with her ill brother and family dynamics she still managed to find ways to make me comfortable in that environment.
The welcoming I received from my fathers side of the family was the one I expected from my mothers side and the welcoming I received from my mothers side I expected from my fathers side. You can say I was thrown off…lol
Eventually the time came for me to return to NY and I still didn’t have a contract from FIFA. The FIFA officials assured me that I would get the contract and not to worry. Once I arrived in NY, I couldn’t wait to go back to South Africa. I believe thats when my need to belong came back. This was a hard feeling to identify with because for almost two decades I always told myself I did not care. How can I miss something that I never had? That wasn’t true, for the first 8 years of my life I had it. There was a need for those relationships and it would take another 7 years before I fully understood why the need was there. By recognizing my need to belong, it helped be learn that some environments I just don’t belong and that’s ok. It’s got nothing to do with me. The beautiful part about that is being ok with it and who I am as an individual.
I went to South Africa to obtain the FIFA 2010 World Cup licensee and little did I know the universe had other plans for me. It was to discover my true self! This happened by dealign with feelings that got neglected for so many years. In just a matter of months I was dealing with countless emotions from anger, pain, confusion, anxiety, joy and many more. These were feelings I couldn’t share with my mother because I wanted to manage her feelings. As supportive as my support system was, I don’t think they also fully understood what I was going through. Especially since I didn’t know what was happening. It took years for me to understand the affects and price that came with me returning to South Africa.
This wasn’t just about the culture, environment, my father, his family or my mothers side of the family and their treatment, it was also about how our move to the United States affected me, my sister and my mother. For example, when I am really hurt by someone I can just cut them out of my life. As if they never existed, could that be because at a very young age a lot of significant people in my life where were gone in one day and we never talked about it? I learned to cope on my own. Returning to South Africa helped me unlock and understand a lot about some of my feelings and actions through out my life. Feelings I struggled to understand, which made it difficult to make changes. A lot of things started to make sense to me, especially the kind of human being I am. The most beautiful thing that my journey back to South Africa has taught me is that NO ONE SHOULD EVER DECIDE FOR ME WHO I AM SUPPOSE TO BE! We all have different journeys that require different explanations and experiences. No one can walk through that journey for you, so never let someone take way what you are suppose to discover on your own journey away from you. The journey will be painful, lonely and beautiful. When you are suppose to pay attention you will…
The day after Maru’s birthday bash Dineo received a call that her older brother needed to go to the hospital. She quickly got dressed and left. I stayed behind at my aunt Anna’s house and spend sometime getting to know the rest of the family. It was a full house and I had a lot of people to bond with. The male cousins were so easy to chill with but guys tend to be like that. I immediately flocked to them because they weren’t as curious as the women. They were more interested in the present than the past.
Through out the day I would run into my step mother and it was so awkward, I just did’t know what to say and what we would talk about? Where do we even begin? In fairness I bet she also had the same insecurities that I had as well. Eventually I would spend sometime with my older cousin Lucy from Botswana. She was nice but also very intrusive and entitled. From the beginning I was uncomfortable in a negative way with her because she was one of the relatives asking around if I was crazy like my younger sister Magrett. I think because of that naturally I just never cared for her. To keep the peace I gave her my polite smile and answers that I though she wanted.
I later got a call from Dineo saying that her brother was in the hospital and not doing well. I offered to come and she told me to come the following day. I forgot to mention in my earlier blog“ The Unknown” published November 3rd, about my encounter with Dineo’s older brother Lazy (I am laughing as I think about how the western world is pronouncing his name…lol). The day that I went to meet my mothers side of the family Lazy was also present. With the exception of Dineo, Lazy was very kind and welcoming to me. I remember him running to me and just picking me up with excitement. He wanted to know everything about me with no judgement. I felt safe with his approach.
The following day I went to see him in the hospital. Lazy looked very different from when I saw him a few months earlier. He looked very fragile, lost a lot of weight and couldn’t speak. I couldn’t understand how the same guy who picked me up just a few months earlier could barely lift his hand up when I reached out to hold him. I didn’t know why he was so ill. I don’t want to lie, I thought, is it AIDS? Because this is the stereotype, in South Africa if you lose weight suddenly the first thought is that you have AIDS. It was my first experience seeing someone at the hospital in such a grave state. I thought to myself I was looking at death. I left the hospital very sad that day and didn’t know if I would see him alive again.
At that time Dineo and I had built a very good relationship. We even kept in touch when I went to the US. I really cherished the relationship we were building and I wanted to be there for her through this difficult time. Even though Lazy was my cousin I still felt like and outsider vs a family member going through this ordeal especially because I was never around and didn’t know him well. I also didn’t want to overstep boundaries. The universe works in amazing ways, thinking about it now we both needed each other so much during that time and we were there for each other.
I want to thank everyone who has made me smile and to wish you all a New Year filled with Laughter, Forgiveness, Growth, Wonder, Love, Laughter, Tears, Peace, Health, Forgiveness and many more treasures that your heart desires! Thank you to all of you have showed me Laughter, Forgiveness, Growth, Wonder, Love, Laughter, Tears, Peace, Health, Forgiveness and many more treasures that my heart desires!
I leave you all with the lyrics from my all time favorite song… I hope you dance!
GrowthandWonder will be back on Wednesday the 3rd! Cheers!!!!
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance (Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance (Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance (Where those years have gone?)
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance (Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance (Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder?)
Lee Ann Womack
It’s the night of the Marus 21st birthday and all the immediate family are at my uncle Perks and auntie Linda’s house for photos. I had never seen anything like this in my life. My father, uncles and cousins in tuxedos and aunts and cousins in evening gowns all dolled up for the evening; and there was a professional photographer to take different set of pictures, some with the whole family, others with the cousins and others with siblings. Afterwards we headed to the venue where the party was held. Upon our arrival we were assigned seats and I was seated with the female cousins along with their better halves.
My older half-sister walked me to my stepmother and introduced us. I cannot accurately express what that moment felt like because earlier when I ran into my father and her for whatever reason he did not introduce us. I was very nervous and I now believe is was because of the anger I had towards my father, thus didn’t know what to do with that relationship. We greeted each other and she was nice but I didn’t entertain any idea of us having a relationship. I had the same attitude with her as I did with my younger half-brother. I wasn’t as drawn to them as I was with my two older siblings. I am sure it had to do with the fact that our relationship with our father was almost identical and we could relate more to each other.
I believe there was about 200 people at the event, which meant meeting more relatives. I remember meeting Uncle Sam, who is my father’s cousin, neurosurgeon and prominent member of the family. I found him to be very funny and sweet. He is actually one of the doctors who took part in separating the first Siamese twins to ever be separated in the world. In South Africa he is considered my uncle, which was confusing to me because in the United States he would not be considered my uncle, but second cousin. I was then taken to meet my dad’s aunts and uncles whom I was told that they were my grandparents. This was also a bit confusing because I looked at them as my great aunts and great uncles. Earlier in the week I had met my cousin Lucy’s daughters and was told that they are my nieces. Ughh!!! Addressing them the way I would in the United States was offensive to them and in time I learned to address them the South African way, which entailed responsibility on my part and was exhausting. I was also taken around to meet family friends and I was overwhelmed by hearing people that I didn’t remember tell me things about myself when I was much younger. I just gave my polite smile and couldn’t get to my seat fast enough. It was too much!
Eventually I made it back to my seat and engaged in casual conversation with the other cousins. Thank God Dineo was there because she made the discomfort a bit easier. There was a professional photographer moving around the venue taking pictures of the event and the food was amazing. This was better than my junior and senior prom. This event was the first of my families events that I would attend.
There were many speeches given and I had never experienced so many speeches in my life before. Both Maru’s friends and family members gave speeches. I learned later that the decision concerning who would make a speech was a serious process, including meetings with family members to decide on things that I naturally would have taken lightly. Granted, my aunt Amara and grandpa Eve (my father’s uncle) were always selected to give speeches. With my family there is a hierarchy and protocol and my aunts, Amara and Cercei are at the top of the hierarchy. Even if it’s not their immediate family’s event they still have final say in most cases on invitation list, who will give speeches and where the event will be held. I was really amazed by this hierarchy and that failure to observe protocol would result in negative consequences since most of them are successful and wealthy. It was the first time in my life learning that money isn’t power. All these wealthy people in the family but afraid to go against the norm. Overall the party was lovely and I enjoyed myself. I am an old soul, so I left early while the rest of my cousins stayed behind to party the rest of the night.
I eventually ended up being the rebel child since I could not abide by their norms because of the combination of my character and upbringing with knowing what I observed about the family.
May the season bring you the music of laughter,the warmth of friendship, and, always, love.
GrowthandWonder will publish the next page on Wednesday!
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
I didn’t realize how big my cousin’s 21st birthday party was going to be, even though I was told we had to be dressed formally. As I mentioned earlier, a few days after meeting my younger half-brother my father introduced me to my older half-sister, Lina. Although I was nervous, I really liked her. She also came to South Africa for the 21st birthday and stayed at my Aunt Amara’s. This gave us time to get to know each other a bit. We had a lot of sad and upsetting stories to share about our experiences with our father.
My cousin’s 21st was such a big deal that relatives came all the way from Swaziland, United Kingdom, Singapore and Botswana. The experience was overwhelming for me because I was meeting all these relatives that I was not even aware that they existed before the party. It took courage to be around these relatives as I was full of fear and very anxious. My father’s side of the family is very big and they are very close. It always felt like me against them, especially since I had not been a part of them all these years. One thing that I appreciated at the time is that Lina and I shared that in common. She wasn’t always with them and we shared the feelings of being outsiders. Our experiences were also different from each other and we were affected differently. At the time we had each other and I will always be grateful for that time.
I also started to observe how Lina was treated differently from the others. My experience with the family upon my return was very different from hers when she first met the family. She was treated badly by some of the aunts like she didn’t matter to them. My father never defended her from the hurtful things they said about her, and she was aware of that. I was treated better than her, making it more painful for her. As terrified as I was, I received a warm welcome; they threw dinners parties for me, took me around and everywhere and bought me gifts. She shared with me that she never received that kind of treatment. I felt sad for her, but I did not respond to her nor say anything to my family. Not to make an excuse myself, as much as I liked her, I was protecting myself. Could I really trust her? If I openly sympathized with her, would she later choose them over me? I didn’t know what to do as I didn’t know what I was dealing with.
Before all the other cousins arrived from other parts of the world, I would hear how some were asking around if I was as crazy as my younger sister amongst other things. I suspected that there was a lot of negative and ignorant gossiping about me. Hearing about the gossip made my fear and discomfort worse. I started building another wall on top of the one I had already build before meeting the rest of the family, although I still pretended by hiding behind a smile.
A few days before Marus 21st birthday, her older sister Sphie who lived in Singapore arrived. Sophie was actually the cousin I remembered the most and had lots of memories of her from my grandparents house before we left for the US. A part of me was looking forward to meeting her. Like the others, she was nice to me and I got to spent time with her. I later met the middle sister Roslyn who lives in the UK. I went with her mother, aunt Linda to fetch her from the airport. She kept on warning me not to get offended when I meet Nthu because she doesn’t talk to anyone. She would tell me stories on how she never leaves her room and it made me laugh because my mother used to get so angry with me as a teenager because I never wanted to get out my room. It was always stressful when she wanted me to come out and meet people. I never understood what the big deal was. My aunt was right, she barely said a word. Funny enough even though we didn’t speak much I was most comfortable around her. I have always preferred silence better than noise because it’s my way of setting my own boundaries.
Later I got to meet my relatives from Botswana which included my aunt Cercei, uncle Sunny, their children, Bako, Bubs, Lucy and her husband, Boi and their two daughters. This event was becoming bigger than I imagined. The grooming and preparations felt the same like when I was preparing for my senior prom. The preparation was a distraction and took some of the pressure off from facing all the family members, whom eventually I would have to face. Fortunately for me, they also said I could bring someone with me to the party and I brought my cousin, Dineo from my mother’s side of the family. As we were leaving to take formal photos before the party at my uncle Perk’s house, I ran into my father and a woman I never met before. My father said hi to me and somehow it was very awkward because he did not introduce me to the woman he was with, and after a few minutes of this awkward silence they walked passed me. Only later that evening did I find out from Lindi that the woman with my dad was my stepmother. He couldn’t even introduce me to her!
It was now March, and I was planned my trip back to South Africa later in the month. Part of my plan for this trip was to learn more about the country since it was still foreign to me; and I also hoped that FIFA would have organized the contract. Spending more time with the family was a given, especially since my father offered to also sponsor this trip as well. One thing I knew about my father is that he will only assist if it was beneficial for him. His benefit was getting to show me off to the family and his friends. Because I wanted to know my family better, I would have taken the trip even if my father did not pay for the flight. Taking the trip was part of my growth.
I remember when I got accepted to FIT, I contacted him to request if he could assist me with supplies for school, and he agreed. On my first day of class, I received an email from him informing me he didn’t want a relationship based on money. I was very upset because I didn’t ask for tuition but supplies. Education is not a luxury but a necessity parents are responsible for. He couldn’t even send me a box of pencils however two weeks prior to my graduating at FIT, he called asking if he could attend my graduation. I told him no… I mean really? I know if the 2010 World Cup was held in another country he would have not have offered to pay for my flights because there would be no benefits for him.
My father accompanied by my younger half-brother, Tummy, picked me up at the airport. It was the first time meeting him. Meeting siblings when you are older and whom you never knew existed before naturally creates mixed feelings, especially when he had always been in my father’s life. I felt like my father was capable of being part of his child’s life and left more questions for the one who was neglected.
A few years prior to me going to South Africa my younger sister, Magrett went to South Africa and found out that we had two older siblings. I was not my father’s oldest child as I thought. I was his third, of his five children. To make things worse, my older brother was born in the US and lived just a couple of hours away from me. Like my younger sister and I, he uses his mother’s last name. My older sister was born in Swaziland and lives with her mother. When I found out about my older siblings, I asked my mother if she knew about them, and if she did why did she not tell me? Her response was, “she knew about my brother but suspected about sister, but my father and his family denied that he had a daughter older than me. When my brother was 11 he was supposed to come live with us in Swaziland. My father went to fetch him from the airport and returned a week later without him. It was only when we were living in the US that my mother found out from a friend who was my brother’s mother’s friend that my father never showed up at the airport to pick up my brother and he was left stranded at the airport. It took months before his mother could get him back to the US.
Shortly after I found out about my US brother, I sent my father an email asking him for my brother’s contact details. Upon receiving my brother’s contact detail, I called him. He was very nice and I found out he was about nine years older than me with two sons. I wasn’t eager to meet him yet, and I thought it would be best to continue getting to know each other on the phone first. He said something very interesting to me, that all these years he always believed that Magrett and I were the two children that my father took care of since we the only ones who came from marriage. I can only imagine the resentment he had towards Magrett and I all those years. I told him he never took care of us and we were all in the same boat. I later learned that in South Africa, in most cases only the children that come out of a marriage are the ones recognized by family.
I made several calls to my brother within a period of a few months but he never initiated the calls. However, he was always nice. After a while I decided that if he really wanted a relationship with me he would also have to make an effort and call me too. I also wanted to respect his space, because it must have been difficult for him too. Once I stopped calling him he never called me….
I returned to New York really excited about my reunion with my relatives. I was also faced with a really difficult challenge, how was I going to share how I truly felt about the trip with my mother? She was very supportive when I left for South Africa but I am sure that my getting along better with my father’s side of the family instead of her own was difficult, especially after everything that happened in the past and their lack of involvement in our lives. It has to be tough for a single parent to be the one to sacrifice everything and then poof just like that! my father gets a pass. I felt like I was breaking an unspoken code of solidarity.
I shared just a few of the things that happened on the trip with her because I knew some of the things would be hurtful to her. I also think because we never really talked about it growing up I just didn’t know how to accurately express what I was going through. And in fairness I also don’t think I fully understood the feelings that I was experiencing. When I think about it today I can see how I went to South Africa as an adult but came back more like a child. The relationships with my family members were experiences that I would have had as a child if we did not move to the U.S., but was having them as an adult. Whatever I buried inside me all those years was slowly awakening and it was time to face it head on.
I was able to share my experiences in South Africa with Kim, Stu, my good friend from FIT Lutisha and a few others. They were all supportive and encouraged me to keep working on my relationship with my father. I really appreciated their support because at times I felt guilty and like a hypocrite because there was a time I didn’t care if I ever saw them again and all of a sudden they were these incredible people. My support system was amazing and there was no judgement while I was trying to figure it out.
I also needed to focus on my new business designing bags under NBA license. Fortunately, prior to leaving for South Africa I obtained some angel investors to assist me with production for the NBA bags. When I told them about my quest to obtain FIFA license they were interested in increasing their investment to include the FIFA project as well. I was very excited about that and the pressure was on. I felt like I was on top of the world and that I was getting closer to my dreams of building a global brand.
The other thing that I always made sure was to stop by FIT every time that I was in New York to let Vasilios and Sarah know what was happening with me and my company. After all, they taught me so much about what I know in the accessions industry and I felt that it was important to let them know the impact they had on me. The interesting thing is that during my time at FIT I didn’t really have much of a relationship with Vasilios, although I was his student. However, after graduating I kept him posted on what I was doing and we developed an incredible relationship. I have come to learn that most people are clueless on the type of impact they have on people unless they are told. Sometimes just a conversation or giving someone a smile can change how they feel about themselves. I know I’m always shocked when people tell me things like, I made them feel better because of something I said or did.
A few weeks after I returned to the U.S. FIFA informed me that the NBA bags arrived safely and they would be in touch once the legal team have drafted a contract. They felt positive that they would be able to find a loop hole so that I can get the license.
While I was in NY I wrote letters to my aunts thanking them for the time we spent together in South Africa. My cousin Nio and I also kept in touch. What I liked about Neo is he didn’t allow the dynamics to interfere with the relationship that we were building. At least I didn’t feel that way and I think because he was 15 at time it just didn’t matter to him. It was a pure relationship and I felt safe. I started looking for a formal dress for Maru’s 21st birthday. Outside of my prom this was the first formal event that I have attended. I was really excited but not because of the formal event, because I felt a sense of belonging.
My last week in South Africa I went to meet with a lawyer to prepare my non-disclosure agreement. My previous non-disclose agreement was 2 pages long, but for FIFA it was 15 pages. I remember how nervous I was about meeting with the FIFA licensing official and to my surprise he signed the non-disclosure agreement. I couldn’t believe it when he continued signing from page to page. I feared that he would find a clause that he didn’t agree with and change his mind about signing. My hands shaking when it came to my turn to sign the document. I left the samples with them. When I got into the car I looked over the agreement just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and realized that I had signed my name where the official signed his.
Later that day I met up with my father who asked if I could spend my last few days at my aunt Armas’s house so that I can get an opportunity to know the family better and I agreed. At the time he was still living in Swaziland. I didn’t see it clearly at the time, but I was walking into dynamics that I knew about and also didn’t know about. My dad literarily took me around to every relative that lived in Pretoria, from my great uncle to his siblings and cousins. A lot of the people I didn’t know but was told they were my relatives. The one thing about South Africa that is very different from my experience in the US is that you are somehow related to everyone (I am being a bit dramatic but you almost meet a new relative everyday).
My family was very nice to me but the experience was also every stressful for me internally. I remember every night, at the same time I was staying at my aunt Anna’s, I would get really bad nose bleeds and break into hives. Same time every night!!! As the days came closer to my departure, uncle Perkin arranged a dinner for me at a local restaurant and invited all the family. Inside, I was psychologically wired up because I enjoyed what they were doing for me but was also very uneasy. I guess it was a lack of trust. Looking back, I think deep down I wanted to belong but I knew I didn’t. Sometimes when we want something bad you tend to ignore all the signs that point to the inevitable. I was different from my relatives for so many reasons;
“I was the daughter of the women who run away with us to the U.S.”
“ I didn’t grow up among them”
“ I didn’t sound like them”
“ I didn’t think like them”
“ I didn’t have their culture”
“ I wasn’t what they expected”
“ I wasn’t a screw up”
Many other reasons came to light later during my South African journey
During my stay at aunt Anna’s house, Cercei my father’s older sister who lives in Botswana came to visit. When I went to greet my aunt Cercei she gave me a look like she didn’t trust me. I vividly remember it like it happened yesterday. Cercei’s family is one of the most prominent families in Botswana. I was very polite to her and like everyone else she had lots of questions. The other thing I battled with as well was trying to prove to them that I was not after their money because I am sure some of them believed that was the reason I came to South Africa. The next day when I woke up there was a note next to my bed with money saying “buy yourself something nice, aunt Cercei”. I was touched but still had my reservations.
The night before leaving for New York my aunt Arma threw a dinner party for me and invited all family members that were in town. My family is very big, mainly because they include second, thirds, fourth cousins etc. At the party, they asked if I could show my NBA bags and they also gave speeches. I was annoyed with my uncle Pius’s speech because he mentioned how we were taken away and how sad they were, but they always loved me. I couldn’t understand if I mattered so much to them, then why was I invisible all these years. It was like out of sight out of mind. I thought they were being kind so I allowed my need to be accepted to not make the past important. But the truth is until you face your demons your past will forever haunt you. Most of the time we are not aware of our demons and how they affects us or how we function and value ourselves as individuals.
After visiting my aunt Amara, my father took me to my uncle Perkin’s home a few blocks down the road. As we walked through the door my heart started beating uncontrollably from fear. After all, I was walking into the unknown. My uncle immediately, then his wife, aunt Linda and their youngest daughter Maru, whom I didn’t really remember came to hug me. I only remembered her two older sisters from when we lived in Swaziland. They were all very nice to me and asked a lot of questions but I was a little uncomfortable. As kind as they were, emotionally, I was in a weird place because I was still fearful that it was only me against all of them. I was very guarded although polite. They told me stories about me when I was a child, which annoyed me a bit because I grew up feeling like I did not exist to them. I never received letters or any type of communication from them, yet they seem to know where we were in the US. I didn’t let my annoyance show. Through the years I had learned to suppress my felling very well.
They also wanted to know what I was up to. I told them that I had a company that was a NBA licensee and manufactured bags for the NBA; and that I was in South Africa to pursue the FIFIA 2010 World Cup license for bags. I then handed my uncle my business card and he pointed at my last name, “we need to change this’ (remember I stopped using their last name when we left for the US). I looked at him and smiled and thought to myself “it will never happen”. They informed me that Maru will be turning 21 in March and asked if could attend her birthday party. I accepted the invitation because I figured that if I obtained the FIFA license I would have to make several more trips back to South Africa. They were very excited when I agreed to attend. Afterwards my father took me back to where I was staying and asked if he could see me again. I agreed. I was starting to forget all the neglect he did during my upbringing. My father and his family never kept in touch with my sister and I. I would always say to myself growing up, “You can’t miss what you never had.” The truth of the matter is I did have it once, I just locked it away deep inside me. At the time I did not realize what was going on with me, but I now understand that this was the beginning of losing myself.
I continued on my quest to find the FIFA offices. Fortunately, one day when Dineo was taking me around we stopped at her place of work because she wanted to introduce me to her boss. At the time she worked for the First National Bank (FNB), which was the FIFA 2010 South Africa official bank. His boss was kind enough to give me the South Africa FIFA office contact details and said I could use his name when trying to secure a meeting. Immediately afterwards I contacted the official in charge of the FIFA licensing department and begged him for an appointment. He agreed to meet with me the following week but I told him that I was leaving for the New York in 3 days and asked if he could see me before I left. He said he will meet with me the next day!
At my presentation I brought some of my NBA bags, which they loved!!! However, I was told that unfortunately they just granted the license for bags to an Australian company. They asked if they could take my NBA bags to their legal office in Singapore in order to determine if they can find a loop hole that would allow me to become a FIFA 2010 World Cup Licensee. I asked if they would be willing to sign a non- disclosure agreement. I was terrified that they would say no because in my past experiences companies would try to take my product without signing a non- discloser agreement, resulting in me walking out. Surprisingly, they agreed! I was so thrilled and shocked. I learned that there are companies that can do the right thing. My lawyer in New York would always say to me “a non- disclosure agreement is standard and if they don’t want to sign it you walk out without leaving anything, and when you stick to that the right companies will respect you and sign”.
After my meeting with the FIFA official, I extended my trip another week and obtained a lawyer in South Africa to prepare my non- discloser agreement for FiFA to sign so that I could leave by samples with them to take to Singapore.
14 years later in 2008, I went back to South Africa in January 2008, after I had been there for a very brief visit in 1994 for my cousin’s funeral when I was 13 years. I convinced myself to book a two week plane ticket to South Africa on #FlySAA, enough time to apply for a FIFA 2010 World Cup license for my bags. I hadn’t spoken to any of my relatives in years and new very little about the country. My mother made arrangements for her sister’s daughter Dineo to pick me up from the airport; and I would stay with her friends who had visited us in NY several times. I knew my mother’s friends more than my family and felt more comfortable with them since I had spent time with them during their visits to NY. I also reached out to my father to let him know that I would be coming to South Africa. He offered to buy me the plane ticked and requested if he could see me while I was in South Africa. I agreed. During the 18 years in the US my father only called us 5 times, so I really didn’t know him well too.
This was also my first time leaving the United States of America since we first arrived in 1990. I remember that just before landing, I dropped my plane ticket and a woman picked it up and said, “Here you go Mokgadi.” I was taken aback!!!! It was the first time in 18 years that someone pronounced my name correctly without me having to correct them. I soon came to realize that Mokgadi is a very common name in South Africa. I spent most of my life in a country where I was the only Mokgadi around, but in South Africa, especially the northern part, if you call out my name a dozen girls will turn their heads.
Upon arriving to South Africa, I didn’t know where the FIFA offices where, but I knew I would eventually find them. On the way from the airport I told Dineo the reason for my visit and she offered to take me around during my stay and help me look for the FIFA office.
The idea of meeting both my families was more frightening than presenting my bags to FIFA executives. To a certain extent, they were strangers to me and there were so many dynamics!…some I wasn’t aware of at the time. I started out with going to visit my mother’s side of the family, her eldest sister and her family. They were a bit cold when we met. I found out later it was because I wasn’t staying with them and had not given them advance notice before my trip.
While in the process of trying to find the FIFA offices, I met with my father. We went for lunch and during lunch he asked if he could take me to his sister’s and brother’s homes. I agreed, even though I had mixed feelings (resentment and fear), mainly because we have heard some the horrific things his family had said about us. And also, my aunts and uncle had made several trips to the US and my aunt Anna had received several awards in NY and my cousin went to school a few hours from us but they never contacted my sister and I. We would always find out they were in NYC after they left. I now realize that from the time I was reunited with my father’s side of the family, I had to be the brave one. It’s funny how when we are afraid we think we are the weak ones, but it’s the opposite.
I arrived with my father at my Aunt Amara’s house and I felt like I was on an episode of MTV Cribs. Her house looked like a hotel. There was a Bentley, Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes, etc. parked outside …it was like nothing that I have ever seen in real life. Inside I was introduced to the staff and then we went upstairs to meet my two cousins, Danny and Nio. They were nice and very curious about me. I felt like a frog being dissected in a fifth grade science class.
After a while my aunt arrived. She was very theatrical and flamboyant, wearing every designer you can think of. Immediately, she started telling me how she had just arrived from a trip hosted by Richard Branson to his private lodge in Mpumalanga in his private jet. She complained how she hated being in on safari. I am not going to lie I was blown away! Richard Branson!! She then asked my how did I lose all the weight and what I was up to? I told her about my NBA license and I was looking for the FIFA offices to obtain FIFA world cup license. She purchased a few of my NBA bags I had brought with me. I think she still had her guard up about me and I also had my guard up about them.
Although my main motive coming to South Africa was to pursue FIFA 2010 World Cup License, it really ended being the beginning of losing myself and finding myself. This happened through facing my family, the country and my dreams head on. We do not choose where we are born but we do choose who we are and where we end up.