Just learned that I have received my South African Work Permit– fourth try luck! WOO HOO!
Each Wednesday morning about 8, Lucy, our domestic worker, arrives trudging into our house lugging two stuffed shopping bags. Having a “home helper” is one of the luxuries we can afford while living in South Africa where there is an official unemployment rate of 26.6% and one third of the population living on less than R800 per month (about $80 CDN).
This week, I asked Lucy what time she leaves her house in Soweto to get to our place about 8am. I was stunned when she replied’ “5:15″, but ever cheerful, she added that it only takes about 2 hours to get home. Soweto is an hour’s drive from where we live, but when one has to queue for buses and transfer several times to get here, the journey expands to two to three hours each way. Thousands of workers make this same commute daily into Joburg.
Lucy used to work for Glen’s daughter, Eve. Prior to Eve’s departure with her family to take up permanent residency in Canada, she begged us to take on Lucy. At that time, I didn’t know their backstory.
When Lucy had worked for us for only a few weeks, I mentioned to her the good news that Eve had gotten a very good job in Toronto. Lucy clapped her hands and said she had been praying for her. All I kept thinking is that if anyone was in need of prayers, it would be Lucy, not Eve the wonder woman. Lucy is a single mom to three daughters ranging from ages 9 to 20 as well as a niece who lives with them. By working three days a week as a domestic, she supports them all. Those huge shopping bags that I mentioned: Lucy carries a supply of chips and other snacks with her that she sells on the buses to commuters on her way to and from work. What determination! As I am constantly reminded, African women are incredibly strong. If women hold up half the sky, then African women must sustain more than half of Africa.
Lucy is a deeply religious woman, thin as a stick, although she proudly tells me now that things have improved so much for her, she thanks God that she is gaining weight. She is a member of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) the largest church in South Africa with millions of members. The male members are easy to identify as they wear a military style cap and both men and women wear a plain metal star pinned to a piece of green cloth on their clothing. Lucy always arrives with her star pinned to her jacket.
The most powerful moment with Lucy came when we were again talking about Eve as I often show her photos of Joshua, Eve’s son, now age 1. Out of the blue Lucy told me and I quote “I was living in a trash bin until Eve saved me.” And then she burst into sobs and continued to tell me that her life was so incredibly hard until Eve hired her and helped her to get other work, so she could finally have a small income. Only then did I understand why Eve was so adamant that we hire her. Lucy thanks God every day for her blessings and I have no doubt that Eve is never forgotten in her prayers.
Last week, I was making split pea soup as it’s winter here and nothing is as cheap or comforting as a nice bowl of pea soup. Maybe it was the word “Canada” on the bag that caught my eye, but I had a good laugh when I learned what world travellers these very peas were. They could be from Canada or the US or UK with a few thrown in from France or Ukraine. Getting spit peas here in South Africa is clearly a convoluted matter but someone at Pioneer Foods in Paarl wanted us to know exactly where these peas might have come from.
Unfortunately, I am reminded regularly that I am living in a country where not everyone takes accuracy as seriously as Pioneer Foods of Paarl, South Africa. We live in a cluster of five townhouses. Today, for example, I texted a neighbour who seems to have some sort of decision-making power here, about the lack of an address on our complex making it very difficult for couriers and repairmen to find us. Our address is 64 – 12th Street. So I asked if the number “64” could be put up near our entrance gate to solve this matter. Her response was interesting saying that our address is actually 62 – 12th Street despite our lease saying we live at 64 – 12th Street. So no one is sure about the accuracy of all this, but having “62” will be better than no address at all.
This reminds me of a much bigger and more vague issue I came across when working at Soweto TV back in 2011. We worked out of a rundown old school in the township that was reputed to be the elementary school of a major anti-apartheid leader and, hence, could not be torn down. The station’s parent company wanted to buy the building and repair it, but no one knew who owned it! So much for accuracy.
Such are the challenges lived out by a Virgo and former production Production Manager in Joburg…. as Glen is fond of saying, “We’re not in Canada anymore.”