Chronically ill… Fibromyalgia

The long, unexpected, unimaginable journey with Fibromyalgia began in 2009 as I was busy with my honours degree in history. As difficult as the year was, I managed to pass the degree cum laude. The diagnosis was only confirmed in February 2010. I recall in 2009 as I was preparing for my winter exams; I had to go home in Ladysmith, which is about 420KM from Bloemfontein, because I was in such excruciating pain and needed the intervention of my parents. I got home, in pain and couldn’t explain what was happening. At that moment, the pain was mostly on my upper left back. The pain would be so severe sometimes that it would affect my whole left side, i.e. neck, arm and leg, and I’d have excruciating headaches. One time I woke up and couldn’t move my left leg. I cannot tell you how terrified I was. I started going to a physiotherapist, but had to stop when my medical aid got exhausted. Not that attending physiotherapy helped in any way.

I then went to the family Doctor, who only gave me light pain medication and some ointment that my mother would use to rub my back. So when I got back to Bloemfontein, there was no-one to help massage my back. The pain seemed to get worse. It occurred to me that this may be due to the mounting work at Varsity. In December, I went to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg (all alone) but there were no beds available, so I was booked for January. I decided not to go because there was a lot to sort out in Bloemfontein. At least that Dr ruled out a stroke.
I continued to go to doctors, I continued with the medication; until January 2010 when the pain was almost unbearable. This is when I was referred to a Neurosurgeon who performed all the tests one can think of; put me under these big machines (MRI scans) to check whether I didn’t perhaps have a brain tumour. His diagnosis, after all the very expensive tests, was a de-generating cartilage on my neck. According to him, this would get worse with age and probably when I’m about 50 years old, I will need an operation to replace the cartilage. Like any person would, this alarmed me. He then admitted me into hospital so that he would perform a procedure for pain block. However, for a day procedure, I was in hospital for about six days. I figured this is because doctors still couldn’t pin point exactly what was wrong with me, so they needed time to conduct a few more tests. As tiring and draining as it was, I had to persevere because I wanted to know what was wrong with me. It didn’t help much when my curious self, discovered that my admission documents stated that I had a brain tumor. I was almost sure that I was dying; but then a part of me still maintained that the doctor was wrong. A neurologist saved the day when he diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. He explained the syndrome to me and we together went through all the symptoms when we discovered that the only one I didn’t have was the thyroid symptom. I remember when I was in hospital how the evening nurses would keep me company when I couldn’t sleep. They did try to make my stay as bearable and as comfortable as possibly can. When I look back now, I realise how strong a person I am because I was away from my family. It is however important to note that my friends at the time were very supportive. This evil ailment is so crippling, yet will keep that smile on my face. It isn’t often easy for a person to tell that I’m in pain just by a mere look. Probably where the frustration of having to explain oneself, creeps in.

The neurologist prescribed Tramacet (which I’m still on), Celebrex and Cymgen. At first this medication made me terribly sick and I lost a tremendous amount of weight. My body was getting used to the medication when I had to stop because my medical aid got exhausted again. It was a battle once again. I had to use whatever was available to me so I could at least regulate the pain. My parents were getting frustrated with me, especially my father whose medical-aid had to pay for all these medical procedures. When the medical aid got exhausted, I didn’t want to bother him anymore; so I used whatever I could put together to get medication. Sometimes even headache tablets were enough to betray my back pain. When I started working in December 2011, getting medical aid became priority.

I am a black South African (who happens to be cultural), so we have quite a number of beliefs and customs, especially on our ancestors. So my family believed that this sickness was nothing medical; especially when my left arm and leg would get swollen, numb and at times totally give up on me. They highly believed that this could only be explained by traditional healers. So that’s when I started my journey with prophets, sangomas (Traditional healers), priests, etc. Of all the twelve people I visited, they all told me different stories. I remember the first man I visited in Johannesburg told me that someone had bewitched me at school, which is why my left side is so painful. I paid a lot of money, out of desperation of course; however, not even my faith saved me on that one. I remember he gave me water that he had prayed for. I used that water religiously. I dabbed a bit of it into my bath water, I drank some of it and also would sprinkle a bit of it in my room to chase away bad spirits – because I also used to have bad dreams. In all honesty, the bad dreams stopped for a while, but the pain never went away.

The next person I went to, told me this was due to jealousy from my extended family members. He also told me that I wouldn’t be able to bear children. It was nothing new, as the neurologist had told me that if I thought of having children, I would have to change the medication I’m on as it would not be good for the foetus. I remember he also told me that I would have a painful pregnancy due to the severe back pain. I honestly wasn’t worried about making kids at the time. In any case, the man I went to, gave me herbs and some concoction to drink. I would steam a lot, pray – asking the divine powers to heal me – and did all he said I should. I got better for a week or two – in all honesty, period pains stopped; but the pain still didn’t entirely leave my body. He however stressed that I should be weary of people who will want to mislead me into initiating/training as a sangoma. According to him, that would be a way to get my desperate self, to pay amounts of money to them. Of all the things this man said to me, I highly appreciated this one. I do not want, in any way to belittle traditional healing; I have so much respect for the practice. The only reason I keep going in and out of these places, is desperation and that ounce of belief left in me – I should stress that this has been enough to carry me through tough days.

One lady said I should not let doctors perform any operations on me, and prophesied that one doctor will actually take me to a “mad house” because they will think I’m demented. It was in 2012 when I went to a psychiatrist. She told me that she will admit me into a hospital so that they could run some trials on me. Little did I know that I was going to a psychiatric clinic. I felt trapped and betrayed because I had not prepared myself for such. I had to be in the “mad house” for two weeks. The first two nights in there were terrible; I cried because I felt like no-one believed me. I felt like they think I’m crazy for saying I’m in pain. It was then that I realised that one of the prophets saw this coming. To this day, I do not understand why that Dr took me in. I came back still in pain; no psychologist saw me; and I had my laptop the entire time, so I still did my work. I felt lonely and out of place. I listened to other people go on about their problems, what they’ve had to endure and not once did I share with them personal testimonies. When we didn’t have to do group activities, I sat and watched TV. The ladies even had a nickname for me. I remember on the first night I even called a friend and asked her to come break me out. Security was too tight, so I was afraid I’d get arrested. They put it in bold that this was a criminal offence. The only sessions I’d look forward to, were with the physiotherapist. I still go to her even now. She understands my body more than any other doctor; she also believes in miracles and tells me that she prays and hopes one day I’ll get healed. The psychiatrist prescribed Epleptin, Trepelin and Zolpidem. On my sick note, she wrote – Severe Depression. Yes, maybe being in so much pain depresses me, but I doubt I’m severely depressed. I however am thankful for the sleeping drugs. I was on these for about 4 months when I realised that they only tired me up and made me eat too much. So I stopped taking them because they weren’t doing any justice on my pains. She didn’t check up on me after I left the clinic. To this day, she doesn’t even know whether I’m alive or dead; this makes me think it was all just about money.

And then it went on and on. I went to doctors, pastors, traditional healers, chiropractors; I did yoga, let my faith take over. One time, a colleague invited me to her church. I attended every Sunday and it was a happy space for me. One day I decided that when the pastor called the sick to pray for them, I’d be brave enough to go to the front. I did as planned. There was one lady who was blind, he prayed for her and after that, she testified to seeing shades. He then went to pray for a lady who had demons. He cast them out of her. When my turn came, he asked me to point where my pain was. I held my back, then he prayed in tongues and blew some air. A minute later he asked me how I’m feeling. Now at this moment, I was still in pain, so I was honest with him. He continued to pray and the third time asked me to sit down in sheer annoyance. I could sense that he wasn’t pleased with me. I still see his displeased face to this day. After that, his whole sermon was based on believing, so you can be healed. Basically, he was telling me that because I do not believe, I will not be healed. I went back home, praying to God, asking for His forgiveness so that I may also find healing. It was a difficult time for me, but I was also angry with the pastor who insinuated that my faith wasn’t strong enough. After this, I decided to go back to my home church – Anglican Church. I however realised that when people learn of my sickness, they often preach to me about my faith and the power of healing. This makes me introspect a lot, but then angers me so because these people have no idea what they are talking about. One pastor on Facebook even told me that I’m not a believer.

It was in December 2013 when my grandmother decided to intervene. Everyone at home decided to be sad all over again and question why God would allow pain to go on for this long. I wasn’t even phased by this because they do it all the time; none of it consistent. I’ve decided that it is because they get fed up and seriously do not have enough patience for all this dilemma. The lady my grandmother called, spoke about the source of this being family – not in terms of witchcraft. It then dawned on me that the two psychiatrist I visited, kept asking me questions about my childhood and the second prophet I visited also alluded to such, as well as a traditional healer from Ladysmith who even said I should perform a ceremony on behalf of my mother. Due to the sensitivity of all this, I will not dwell much on it. However, she stressed that it had an emotional bearing on me and subsequently on my health. This stressed me a lot more. Childhood memories kept crumbling back, almost suffocating me. I remember I got into my car and just drove; totally got lost, and returned to drive my grandmother home. She kept telling me not to be resentful; all that just went in through the one ear, and out the other. Everything just suddenly made sense. I knew then that maybe this was more emotional than anything. We are the sum of everything, after all, our souls and bodies are intertwined.

Along the years, I’ve tried YOGA. It was too painful and actually made the pain worse. I also started wearing pain patches, which didn’t help much even combined with my tramacet. I also at some point went on a gluten free diet, cutting on almost everything. This was very expensive and showed no significant results in the two months, so I stopped wasting my money. I sometimes have terrible muscle spasms, almost like epileptic fits. I had two episodes in a period of three months. I’m not sure whether it’s the medication, or anyone else with fibromyalgia has had such an unfortunate ordeal happen to them. It terrified me so much, after those episodes, I’d avoid sleeping, although I was extremely exhausted from all the severe spasms.

I have very few close relationships. I hate having to explain to people what is wrong with me, or even having it reduced to back pain. My family also help at times, but I often don’t tell them when I’m too sick. I think they get fed up with this. It’s a hype for a little while; you will have everyone praying and volunteering to massage my back, then a week later, everyone is close to giving up and I must continue the fight all on my own. It’s been a difficult battle, but in everything, I try to look for the silver lining. I love working, although there is too much pressure at work, but it gives me joy knowing that I managed to finish something all on my own. Something about it just says super woman.

Early 2014, my grandmother took me to the lady in Johannesburg. She made me do so many things and had to bath in hot water, while she prayed for me. Also had to drink something she put together. I must say, that medicine she gave me, helped with my iron levels. I was able to donate blood for the first time in May 2014. I had to tie a belt around my waist which she had prayed for. She told me I’d have to wear it for three months then come back to her. She also prayed for my wellbeing and that I find a stable relationship. I prayed with candles as she told me, went to church and things seemed to fall into place, but the pain wouldn’t go away. In July, I had a severe breakdown. I was a walking zombie. I actually do not remember what happened in those two weeks. My colleagues tell me I couldn’t even speak properly. But funny enough, I managed to do all my work. I then went home to recover. My uncle took me to another lady from Zion Church. She gave me something to drink for the few days that I was home. My pain went worse. I couldn’t sleep, I even cried at night because it was unbearable. My uncle told me that this was the pain leaving my body. I believed him and continued with the medicine. Before I went back to Bloemfontein, she gave me a string to wear around my waist. Now at that time, I had two that I was wearing. When I got back to Bloemfontein, two days later I got into an accident. The lady from Johannesburg told me to come back to her so we could finish what we had started. When I got there, she told me I wasn’t supposed to go so long without finishing what I had started. I then had to apologise to the spirits for breaking the rules. She also told me that I need to grow my hair because no female should have a shaven head. I told her I would do so, but also stressed that I do not like hair. She gave me a white string for my waist and told me never to remove it. So when I got to Bloemfontein, I burnt the one I had received from the lady in Ladysmith.

Pain hasn’t left my body. My medical aid is exhausted now and I still owe doctors money for some procedures that my medical aid could not cover.
In December 2014, my Chiropractor told me about a certain Homeopath that I could visit. So I did pay her a visit as suggested. She consulted me for about an hour, which I honestly appreciated as it suggested that she was patient with me. She asked me about myself, my life and what period in my life was the hardest. In the end, she told me that she believes my fibromyalgia stems from certain events in my life when I was growing up, which I haven’t dealt with. A whole lot of emotional pain which I need to deal with, otherwise I’ll never heal because it will keep coming back to haunt me. She said we would focus more on them in my next visit. She used a machine that would relieve me off pain for some time and gave me so much medication. I will call it medication because I don’t know any other term for it. It was about 12 little bottles and about 3 sets of pills. But this medication tastes like sugar water and then one bottle which tasted like something a sangoma would have given me. It was all so bitter. She told me the medication would focus on my liver, my kidneys and give me energy. In all fairness, I left that house with no pain in my body, unfortunately it was short-lived as it returned about 2 hours later. Sadly, she doesn’t accept medical aid (which at that time was exhausted anyway); so that meant I had to separate with R1800.00. Oh how my heart sank. Since visiting her, I have had bad dreams, the pain has been mounting, but my faith at the same pace too. I have a supportive partner – so the lady’s prophecy has been fulfilled. Although I think this may also be too much for him. He certainly didn’t sign up for this and at times I do not want to bother him with my stories of pain.

I hope this doesn’t affect me for the rest of my life as previously said by doctors. I’d like to heal so I can also have healthy relationships with people close to me. For a long while, I tried to convince myself that I don’t ever want to get pregnant, but I know that this was only so that I start to believe it in my mind and heart. At the moment, the thought of pregnancy still terrifies me as I cannot imagine how much more pain I’d be in if I were to fall pregnant.

I hope that this awareness makes the Doctors realise that this “disease” is real and they should take it seriously. In South Africa, there isn’t as much knowledge on the sickness as there is in first world countries. I really wish there was a support group I’d go to, especially of people that would understand more on the African perspective. There is still so much to tell, and I think my story is unique when it comes to the cultural beliefs. Having most people think I’ve been bewitched or I perhaps have an ancestral calling has made this, although interesting, but more of a high mountain to climb. My family still believe that I can be healed through divine powers and that a miracle is waiting for me only if I practice certain ‘rituals’. No-one understands the gluten-free diet, no-one understands why I don’t party or drink anymore, no-one understands why I choose not to have babies and they just don’t understand the pain that I have to endure. I however don’t expect them to, nor seek their pity. I have been fortunate to meet a few people on twitter that have the syndrome. It reminds me that I am not on my own, someone understands my pain, and there sure are people with far worse pain out there. This is my journey with fibromyalgia. A journey of desperation, tears, pain, despair… but a journey nonetheless. Many people have said that I haven’t been healed simply because I do not believe. In the past, I would have wished that they experience just a bit of this so that they know exactly what I mean; but in all honesty, I could never wish this upon my worst enemy. This is one of the worst things any human being could ever go through. It’s expensive, it’s bearing emotionally, financially and basically on one’s quality of living.

The worst thing you could do to a person who has a chronic ailment, is tell them they are not healed because they do not believe…

She remains Silent… Part 2

We are in Ladysmith now, we get off the taxi and I want to help her with her luggage, totally neglecting my own in the process. I ask her if I should take her half-way, she guarantees me that she’ll be fine. “Wait, you didn’t get my number”, she proclaims. Silly me, how did I think I was going to get ahold of her. I give her my number because all my phones had died at that moment. She then introduces herself as Nondumiso. “Nondumiso, I am Ntando, very pleased to meet you. I take my astonished self to a taxi to Steadville, still cannot believe my luck. At this moment I’m sure I really have to write this book, this lady is so heaven sent.

I get home, I’m hoping she sends me a message or calls me; however, a part of me is fine with her not saying anything at that moment; I think maybe I should give her some space to take it all in and probably heal from opening her wounds. But this is also just for myself – I want to take it all in, maybe write whatever I can remember from the conversation, but of course I am home, there’s only so much work I can get done. I’m also in so much pain, I really just want to lie down on the sofa and relax. Nondumiso sends me a message on Whatsapp. I did not have her number, but the picture of her daughter gives it away. She tells me she had a nice chat with me. I’m very excited at this moment. We plan to meet as soon as possible.

 

I plan a trip to Ladysmith, a few months after our first encounter. Nondumiso and I decide to meet on a Saturday. We make arrangements to meet at a friend’s place; I will have to fetch her from town because she doesn’t know where it is. A friend and I were planning to go have lunch in Drakensburg that day, so he asks me not to take long. Totally oblivious to his request because I am so anxious. I eventually fetch her from town. She is standing chatting to a guy. Her smile is so sincere. She automatically spots me, “Wow girl, you are driving hey”. I wasn’t even driving; my friend had lent me his car but got someone else to drive me because he didn’t trust me with it. Personally I figured he just didn’t want his girlfriends to spot me driving his car. We get to the house, the guys leave. I’m a bit embarrassed because there’s nothing to offer her. She asks for tea, my friend only has green tea; we then settle for coffee, yes, coffee in the middle of summer.

 

In an attempt to make this as informal as possible, we start with a general conversation. With girls, general means talking about men. I go on and on about my ridiculous love life at the moment and how it’s all been a painful, exciting, silly, stupendous ride. In my attempt to find love, I’ve found myself in the arms of the wrong people. She tells me how young I am and have so much time to get someone worth spending my time with. I felt so much like a teenager for even complaining in the first place.

She talks about her children a lot. I feel bad because she left her youngest child with her oldest daughter. She seemed relaxed though, so that made me feel a bit comfortable about the whole situation. In the midst of all the chatting, I realize I could never be a talk show host because I don’t stick to the questions.

She talks about University, how she is left with only one subject. She has no idea how she failed it. This in a way dampens everyone’s mood. “You know I was certain I’d start working this year and take my daughter to the best school; now all that seems like a dream. I had the job, but when they realized I failed one subject, they wouldn’t let me sign the contract. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I would have had to go work in Nquthu, that place is very rural. No-one knows where the school is and getting hold of the principal proved very difficult, which means that area has no network coverage… You know I cannot wait to find a job, be independent and take my children away from my mother”. I ask why she would want to do that, “are they not taken care of”. She says “no, my mother abuses them. I just want to take them away. My youngest stays with me though, the other two stay with her because of school”.

Ntando: Where are their fathers, can’t they take care of them?

Nondumiso: They are around; they just don’t support me financially, so I have to take care of the children myself. My mother also helps financially; but she is such an angry woman and she projects her anger towards my kids; so she has proven not to be reliable.

We are abruptly interrupted by a phone call, it’s her mother calling, asking her where she is. She tells her she is with Ntando to which she reminds her that she left a small child at home. She says she’ll come back when we finish. I feel so bad after this. But she simply throws her phone on the sofa, sips on her coffee and tells me to proceed.

Ntando: Aren’t you worried a bit?

Nondumiso: No, my child is fine; my mom is just being mean. I’ll go when we finish. So where were we? She asks, sounding excited. Yes… the only man in my life is the father of my last born. It’s also complicated with him because his family hasn’t accepted my son. I have never been to his house, but they know about me. The fact that there is another woman in the picture – whom the family approves of – makes matters even worse for us. But in any case, he loves me and I love him, it’s all that matters.

Ntando: So what if the family never accepts you, what’s going to happen then?

Nondumiso: I don’t know, I really don’t know.

I observe the sadness in her eyes. She looks away, shrugging. At this moment, I wish something smart could come into my mind just so I can make her feel better. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes to mind; the mood of helplessness befalls me. Now I wish I could get a phone call or something, just to cut the tension a bit. Once again, she saves the day and asks me about my boyfriend. “Well, we’ve known each other for a while now but only made it official just a little while back. He has a child which I’ve never met, and I think he also has another woman, but story for another day”. I say this not only because I want us to get to her story, but because it makes me really sad.
 

In the midst of all this talk, we discuss abortions. I have no idea how we got to that, but I know it helped a lot because it is interlinked to her story. I’m at this point very relieved because I realize we are running out of time; I however hate myself for not being professional enough to initiate the conversation. “I’ve had two terminations; this becomes an addiction, like the easier way out. When I went there the second time, there was a lady who told me she had been there six times already. It sort of becomes a contraceptive. You don’t even think about the damage it might cause you. The first time I had an abortion was because I had a three year old baby. My boyfriend at the time was working at Spar, I wasn’t working then; my mother was taking care of my children. I could not afford to have another baby at that point. I told the father of the baby that same day after I had committed the deed. He had no say in all of this, only had to accept what I had done”. I ask if he did not resent her for what she had done. “No, he seemed fine with it; well at least I think so”. “What transpired the second time”, I ask. “The second time I had the abortion was after my boyfriend at the time raped me. I had not realized that I was pregnant. Only found out four months into the pregnancy. I wouldn’t have been able to live with that child; it would have been a reminder of what I went through. I was so torn, didn’t know what to think. I was so cold when he did it (rape), actually very shocked that I became numb. I couldn’t believe that he of all people was doing that to me. He held me down and raped me after I told him no. I just lay there and he did whatever he wanted. Funny enough – she giggles a bit – it didn’t even last that long. It was only a few seconds, but those seconds were enough to get me pregnant”. She abruptly switches to the abortion discussion again; “You know an abortion doesn’t even take that long. They give you a pill, I’m guessing it’s to kill the fetus, then they clean you up and you go home like nothing ever happened…” I interrupt “really? I always thought it was as painful as giving birth”. “No, but maybe different people have different experiences, but it wasn’t painful for me, both encounters”.

She says she forgave her ex-boyfriend for raping her. But why would she forgive him only? What about the other rapists? Why not forgive them as well? What is so special about this guy? “I forgave him because I don’t think he meant to rape me. He also apologized. You know once you’ve been raped; you become this sex object that everyone wants a piece of. I cannot explain it in a way that you understand, but once you have been raped, you become a target. It’s like these men can see that you are a vulnerable sex object. It’s quite rare that you’d find a person who’s been raped once; most people will confess that they have been sexually molested more than once”.

She refers to her brother who first raped her as my mom’s son. The brother passed away in 2006, he was shot during a robbery. Before his death, she told her mom about what he had done to her. Her mother took his side. At that time he was in jail, charged with rape. According to her, this was perhaps the perfect time to let her mother know of the unfortunate ordeal that befell her; seeing as the brother had proven that he is a criminal. She resents her mother for this, and says she could not play her role well as a mother. “I cannot tell you how much that broke me. This is one of the reasons I haven’t been able to speak about the rapes. I mean who would believe me if my own mother couldn’t. I however told my grandmother; who was very sympathetic and she kicked my brother out, told him never to step a foot at her house. You know when he passed away; I couldn’t even cry at his funeral, I had so much hate in me. I was actually glad that I didn’t have to see him anymore because every time I saw him, I would be – without fail – reminded of what happened”.

“He raped me twice and told me no-one would believe me if I tried to tell on him. So I kept quiet and when my mother validated his statement, I saw no reason to speak about it ever again. I’ve been trying all my life to please my mother, trying to be the good girl, but it all seemed to be in vain. She always loved her son more than me. I’m only living for my children now. I can’t wait to find a good job and be out of there for good”.

I ask if she knows of anything that happened to her mother when she was a bit younger; maybe there is an explanation for her behavior. It turns out her mother’s sister had an affair with her father (Nondumiso’s father) and her mother has projected her anger towards her. Nondumiso’s mother was also raped by her older brother who was also a product of rape when his father raped Nondumiso’s grandmother. It’s all just a vicious cycle. Did she inherit all this? Is she a victim of her past? I wonder if her mother and grandmother weren’t probably raped more than once. This happens in our South Africa, probably to your neighbor, a friend or even a family member. At this moment, I can understand if Nondumiso fears the worst for her daughter. But in her words, “this cycle ends with me”.

Our trance is rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of my friend. Although he sits quietly outside under a tree and goes on about his business, I’m still a bit uneasy about all of this. Nondumiso asks if I want us to carry on the next day because she also has to go. I’m a bit relieved that I don’t have to tell her all this. We keep the ball rolling on the conversation while I get dressed. “You like short dresses I see, they make you look like a little child, that’s why I call you nana – meaning baby. They suite you though, because you have a small body in any case”. I blush at her comment. She helps me zip up my dress –which I hadn’t worn before. Apart from the ghetto claps, this is our first real physical encounter. I feel like her younger sister. How I wished for that moment to last a little longer. I get my shoes and handbag, and then take out my purse. She looks at me with wondering eyes. I take out a R200 note; she immediately refuses it, telling me she doesn’t want my money. I tell her this is for the little kids; she must just get them some goodies from town, and also for her trouble. She bluntly says NO. I get goose bumps immediately, so embarrassed. How could I be so foolish? “Please, don’t see this as me paying you, it was rather a kind gesture for all your time, please take it, I insist”. At this moment, I wish my cell phone could ring or maybe my friend budge in, I can’t take this tension anymore. Her pride wouldn’t let her take the money and my pride wouldn’t let me back down. Eventually she tells me next time I see her, I should bring the goodies for her kids. That’s a better suggestion although I still feel like a buffoon.

 
At an attempt to make me feel better, she asks if I’m free the next day. “Aren’t you going to Church? I would love to meet tomorrow”. She immediately says “no, I don’t go to Church, I don’t believe in God”. At this moment I’m trying to close the door, I drop the key, a bit dramatic I know, but I’m really shocked. I think to myself why didn’t we get to this topic earlier, it is so interesting. We proceed to the car slowly. My friend already has the engine running, such an impatient man. We walk very slowly. “If there was a God, he wouldn’t have allowed all those things to happen to a nine year old. A powerless nine year old girl; NO, there is no God”. So what does she believe in? What keeps her going? “The universe keeps me going. I’ve performed my duties; I went to Church as a young girl, that can’t be forced unto me anymore”. A lot is going through my mind right now. I want to tell her that so many people have been through worse yet they believe in God. I stop myself because I don’t want to end this meeting on a bad note and I realize it would be so insensitive of me. So I tell her I will buy her a book to read. She says “I hate those self-help books; they are so cliché and unreal. You are welcome to buy it for me but I can’t guarantee you that I’ll read it”.

We get into the car, totally oblivious of my friend’s presence and carry on with the conversation, when I’m reminded by the sound of the car to put on my seat belt. “I do go to Church sometimes, but I don’t participate, I just sit there”. “You know what, I’ll pray for you”, I proclaim. She giggles. “Where should we drop you off?” “You can leave me at the mall, I’ll be okay there”. I insist once again that she takes my money, she says “in case you didn’t realize Ntando, I have my purse in my hand, you are so stubborn” she says with a smile on her face. Oh dear God, I embarrassed myself again. We drive off. I immediately take my note-book and start to scribble. I cannot forget most of the important things she was saying. I was writing as we spoke, but I still need to write what’s fresh in my mind. Shame, my friend starts complaining; I pause a bit, and then proceed with the writing. In that instant, I don’t want anything to disturb me. “Actually the reason you came here was so you could have an interview with your friend, you didn’t come here to see me,” he says. I am so livid, how can he possibly say such a thing, I came here for him and for Nondumiso. “Are you being serious? The whole weekend I was sitting in the house alone, I spend three hours doing my own work and you have a problem with it. You were in a business meeting until 45 minutes ago, you didn’t hear me complain, yet you want to complain about three hours, three hours, really?” I am so mad, I try to calm myself. He is quiet; there is absolutely nothing to say after that. I continue to scribble for at least the next 20 minutes until he asks that I give him attention. Well, I was actually done, I was just writing a poem at that moment – just to prove a point that I can be as busy as he is. I put my book away and we continue with our journey. Terrible friend I am right?

 
About an hour later I see Nondumiso’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) status update I don’t deserve the title mother. She also puts up a picture of her seven-year-old son. I’m automatically alarmed. I give her a ring; she is crying. For the first time I hear her cry. It is so painful; she asks me to call her a bit later, she cannot speak right now. I am so saddened by this. We start chatting on BBM, as expected my friend complains at how rude I am. Meanwhile, I really don’t care, I actually want to go back home. How am I supposed to enjoy such beauty when all I could think about was that phone call. She sounded so sad and so helpless. She explains that her child was beaten up by her mother because he “stole” some peanut butter and was jumping on the bed with his friend. She says “she hit him for peanut butter that I bought. I’m so sad that I couldn’t protect my son”. I ask if this took effect when she was with me. Felt so selfishly relieved when she told me it occurred when she just got home. It would have been hard learning that it happened while she was with me. Meeting tomorrow is clearly out of the question; should I have any more questions for her, the interview will have to be done telephonically or via BBM. We continue to chat, I try to comfort her; but she is so sad, I don’t do much to assist her. She says a lot about how she resents her mother. How she has failed her in the past and continues to do so with her grandchildren. She feels there’s no part of her that her mother loves. “When she looks at me, she is reminded of the rapes and my father’s infidelity”. Spending her whole life trying to prove to her mother that she loves her and can be a good daughter that she’d be proud of. I feel her pain, I honestly do. A few days later I try to access our conversation, but it’s not there, I remember that I had taken out my media card and put it in the friend’s phone so we could play my kind of music in the car. So I have no records of our conversation. I sink into my chair, stare into space, I want to cry but there are no tears. Such important information – I want to blame someone, and of course I blame my friend. DAMN IT

She remains silent… Part 1

It’s October, Bloemfontein is abuzz with people coming to MACUFE (Mangaung Cultural Festival). People are excited. I’m on my way home early on a Friday morning; I won’t be attending Macufe because I have to attend a friend’s funeral. Bright and early I’m at the taxi rank by 7 o’clock. We wait for about 30 minutes for the taxi to fill up. I hear a lot of people speaking isiZulu and I’m automatically excited that I don’t have to speak my broken SeSotho. The lady next to me is unfortunately Sotho speaking; I greet her with a smile, answer whatever it is that she asked me with a eya Mme (yes Ma). Hoping she picks up on my broken Sesotho, I turn the other way.
Taxi leaves, we are on our way. I immediately take out a book by Emma Mashile – Scars have followed me all my life. This book certainly makes my journey a bit bearable. It doesn’t help that I have a sore back – I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2010. I’m still not sure what this illness really means. Been attending prophets, traditional healers (iZinyanga and iZangoma), specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors – you name them all, I’ve been there). In any case, we stop at Senekal to get refreshments. The only food outlet one can buy from is KFC, so I get myself that and eat. Almost everyone in the taxi got something from KFC. Taxi turns quiet, almost everyone is sleeping; music on the background – taxi driver is playing Tamia’s music. After eating I get on with my book. It’s unlike any I’ve read. I must say though, after studying the TRC for such a long time; I’m not fazed by stories that aren’t brutal. This is wrong because it means I’ve become numb.
We finally arrive in Qwaqwa. I have to get off and take another taxi to Ladysmith. Luckily only a few people still need to get on. We wait for about 20 minutes when a lady with a baby walks in. I was reading and suddenly stopped because I felt I should move for her. I ask her if I should move, she tells me no it’s fine. I then offer to help her with her bags; she gives me a smile. Taxi driver comes rushing to us, reprimanding us for not moving for the lady with a baby. “How do you expect her to sit by the door when she has a baby”? I offer her my seat and I take the seat by the door – so uncomfortable I think to myself and my back keeps complaining.
“Do you have a baby” the lady asks. “No I don’t, I reply with a smile”. It’s just that not so many people would have acted the way you did, offering to help me with a child; you certainly have a mother’s instincts, maybe you should have one of your own soon”. I don’t even have a boyfriend, a house nor a car, how can I afford a baby? Almost said that out loud, I stop myself… We start talking about babies; she speaks a lot about her baby boy. He is so beautiful, I want to hold him. But I’m scared in case the baby cries; that would kill my bravado.
Ntando “So where are you going”
Lady with the baby “I’m going to Ladysmith”
Ntando “I’m from Bloemfontein, I am so exhausted, I cannot wait to get home”
I tell her why I’m going home. She shows her sincere sympathies. “So what do you do in Bloemfontein?” I tell her that I’m working but at the moment I’m busy with some research whenever I get time between work. “Interesting, I also work for the University of the Free State, only part time. I give lectures in English.” It makes sense why she’d be an English lecturer, she speaks so well.
 
I wish I could remember how we got to speak about rape; but before I knew it, I had my mouth gagged; I cannot believe this lady has been through so much. Raped by her brother, then her boyfriend, and then and then – I cannot believe all of this. I ask her if I can write some of the things she is telling me because I’m doing research on rape. She says it is well with her. I don’t even get time to scribble because I’m trying to listen attentively. The taxi is making so much noise I don’t think anyone can hear what our conversation is about. Or they probably do when I make my shocked self-known to everyone.   Aibo unamanga oe, are you being serious – is all I could say at this moment.
 
Her older brother raped her when she was nine years old. She wasn’t sure what was happening to her at the moment and he told her not to tell anyone. Scared for her life, she kept it to herself. “He raped me more than once and every time he did it, he told me to keep it to myself and threatened me with a lot of things”. I ask if she did eventually tell anyone at home. “Yes, later on in life I told my mom, but she didn’t believe me. She actually took his side and called me a liar. But I told my grandmother and she was very supportive. I’ve been through so much in life. I was also raped by a guy I was dating. He knew about the rapes, I had told him, but he turned around and raped me as well. But I don’t think he meant to rape me”? I’m confused at this point. Is this a victim mentality maybe? Is she blaming herself for what happened? “Why do you think he didn’t mean it; I mean you said no, so he should have listened from that moment on”, I lash out. “We have had sex before, so I’m not sure exactly what happened then. I told him I didn’t want to have sex, I told him no, then he pressed me down. When I realized what he was doing, I just lay there, cold and let him do whatever he wanted”.
So many things are going through my mind at this moment. I want to ask her so many questions. So what happened after that? What did he say? What did you say? She laughs and tells me how innocent I look. “I was mad at him obviously and we broke up after that. He apologized for what he had done. I was so angry that I had told him about the rapes but he turned around and did the same thing. I didn’t understand why he would want to hurt me so much. He apologized though, and I forgave him. The sad thing about all of this is the fact that I had to have an abortion”. “What, you got pregnant?” I whisper into her ear; but I wonder if I actually did. People are looking at me very funny. Maybe it’s my hand gestures, I can exaggerate a bit, and my facial expressions are too dramatic. So I may have been giving out a lot because I sat facing her. There was enough space on our seat.
We are abruptly interrupted by the guy sitting next to us. He starts to have epileptic fits. She gives me the baby and tries to help the guy. Everything is happening so fast. I’ve been exposed to someone having fits before but I still don’t know what I’m meant to do. Everyone in the taxi is shocked; taxi driver stops the car for what seemed like ten seconds. She takes off his blazer, presses him down so he doesn’t hurt himself. He becomes calm and she lets him rest on her shoulder. Such motherly love, I think to myself. It’s also very difficult to communicate with this guy because he is deaf; his phone also has a security code, so if we wanted to call someone for an emergency, that would have proved difficult as well. No-one can speak sign language amongst us – such a bunch of useless people in the taxi. So sad we cannot help him; but so proud of this lady for assisting him.
I’m holding this beautiful baby in my arms, he is so joyful. He has no idea of what just took place. I’m so happy he doesn’t cry, for at least the next 15 minutes. We talk about the baby and his father. She speaks about how she conceived him; again, I am shocked. I think I have used this word too much in the book that it’s starting to get too much; I should visit my vocabulary a bit.
“I guess I was trying to fill a void left by the baby I aborted. I couldn’t keep the baby; I wasn’t going to give it the love it deserved because of the way it was conceived. Luckily my boyfriend wanted the baby, so we made this boy. You know I didn’t enjoy sex until I had sex with my current boyfriend. He makes me so happy”. I see it in her eyes, she glows when she speaks about him. Then she looks down, I also look away because I’ve been trying to detach myself from the emotion; trying not to see her soul through her eyes. Eventually I have to look at her; maybe I’ll sound more sympathetic. “So before your current boyfriend, how was sex for you”? I ask innocently. She says “I just did it for the guy, never quite enjoyed it. I have three children and experiences with my previous boyfriends haven’t been so great”. I want to ask her why she would have sex just for their enjoyment alone when she tells me “you know the fact that my virginity was taken away from me at such an early age, the fact that I didn’t have a say in what happened, has caused all of this. I automatically think sex is for the enjoyment of the man only”.

At this moment I want to ask her so many things but also trying to stop myself from making this so formal. I ask her if we can meet again so we can sit down and talk more. I really would like to hear her story and tell it. I feel the need to explain why I want to share her story. I continue “You know rape is such an underreported form of human rights violations, that’s why I took such interest in this topic, maybe your story can help someone else out there. You know a friend of mine recently sent me a message on facebook because of a status update I had put up about rape. I had no idea she went through that; I will soon interview her, maybe if you want to share your story you can let me know”. Without hesitating, she tells me she’s available, I should just let her know when I want to meet.