Luck comes before hard work “My tale of two lives”
August 13, 2013 § 31 Comments
*this is where I was born. Literally. I was not born in a hospital or clinic. I grew up here for the first 10 years of my life. The caption on the picture may seem to contradict what I have written, but I think it captures the point I’m making about hard work after the luck.
How can two people who started off in life from the same place, same village and school end up leading such completely different life styles? It is not always our brilliance that takes us out of poverty. Good luck and parents who saw further than others – only then does hard work come in to play.
In December of 2012, I went to my birthplace in Dutyini, just outside Mount Ayliff, in Transkei. December in Dutyini is a hot month, with crisp clear air in the mornings. In the nights, one can see all the stars one never gets to see when living in a big city like Johannesburg. The beautiful and imposing mountain of Ntsizwa stands proudly an hour’s walk to the base of the mountain, and another four hours to walk up to the top. I know this because I used to have to walk up that mountain when I was younger looking after my grandfather’s cattle.
I was standing outside my late uncle’s mud hut, which I had slept in. I was standing next to the door to catch the early morning sun; it was something I used to do as a young boy in the village. A young man walked past and greeted and I greeted back. He stopped suddenly in his tracks and said, “Khayalethu?” I knew he knew me because he said my full name. I also realized that he was probably someone I grew up with if he also said my full name. Sadly, I could not even fake recognizing him. I replied and I said yes I am Khayalethu. He was wearing black gumboots to protect his feet from the early morning dew, which tended to gather itself around the long summer grass which was just below knee high. His jacket was the overall-blue-coloured kind. He had been walking with purpose before he stopped in his tracks after recognizing me.
He said that he recognized me by my hairline because, as he said, I’d always had a distinct one. I believed him. Then he pointed to a silver German luxury brand parked up front of the house and asked if it was mine. I nodded and said yes. I was embarrassed when I realized that I had no idea where to place him even though it was clear he knew who I was. He talked about how we were in class together in standard three in the village, he also remembered that I had been two years younger than anyone else in the class. Something I have to admit had nothing to do with my intelligence, it’s just that my mother sent me to school when I was really young.
I remembered as we spoke that his name was Mongezi. He congratulated me on how well I was doing. I suppose he made that judgment call based on the car, as some people are prone to judge people by the material possessions they hide behind. Sometimes I feel that the more we feel like moral failures the more material possessions we adorn ourselves with. Yes, me included.
We spoke for a while. He told me that he has a wife. I do not. He told me that he has two children. I do not have any. Then he told me that I had been lucky to live in a home that understood the importance of education. I thought about what he said as he was saying it. He was right, I was lucky. Lucky to have left the village to go study in a good school, Little Flower Junior Secondary School, supposedly the best school in the Transkei at the time. A school my mother could scarcely afford. When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, I went to a white school the following year, a school my mother could barely afford.
The white schools I went to had libraries and swimming pools and all sorts of things that I didn’t know schools could have. The village school I’d gone to didn’t have a library. In fact, I don’t think the town of Mount Ayliff had one. The school had no running water and no electricity.
I remember going to the village during my school holidays as I often did with my sister. By then, we were both going to white schools. We got on a bus in the village to town (stop it), Mount Ayliff. My former standard three teacher in the village, whom we had all feared, got on the bus. She sat in front of us. Then my sister and I spoke English in the bus. We were children and we knew that it would impress the villagers. Of course, looking back, it was a childish act. There was a great deal of fascination, two black children speaking English. For the first time in my life, I realized that even though I was only 15 at the time, I spoke more and better English than the woman who had taught me in standard three. She spoke to us in English, it was not very good. That made me sad.
That thought made realize that that was one of the reasons Mongezi led the life he was leading – that all he could do was to make passing and deep insights about my life instead of being equipped to live the life he had hoped for as a child. His parents had told him to drop out of school and told him start working after standard six. They never saw the value of an education, all they wanted was the benefit of his work now, not later. Worse, the standard of teacher he had in the village was not great either.
When I left the village to go to better schools, he was left with ill-equipped teachers anyway. No wonder his life never turned out any better than that of his parents. Even though Mongezi wanted to have a better life, the odds were against him, plus, he didn’t have what he called, “your luck” of being born into a family that knew the value of an education, even in apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately, my village is still the same way it was when I left. The kids will have no better opportunities than Mongezi, but we can help one child at a time.
The luck Mongezi spoke of rings true. When I was nine-years-old, I had been smoking weed. It grew all over the place. I was bunking school with the older boys and smoking with them. Had it not been my mother’s intervention, my life would have turned out to be exactly like Mongezi’s. I would have been walking with him wearing my own black gumboots, probably forgotten a lot of the English I had learnt in school too. Mongezi is right, I am a very lucky human being.
Even though some may look at where I was born and where I grew up as the perfect ingredients for bad luck – I was very lucky to come from the family I came from. They gave me the opportunities and skills to succeed in life, there after, luck followed hard work. I’ve had to work hard to be lucky. The luck of my birth had a lot to do with how things turned out for me. This is why I can never blame the poor for their poverty. Only those who have never known it, seen it and experienced it can blame them.