Mother’s day is turning out to be not such a good day for me and I don’t even have the pleasure of actually being a mom yet. A few years ago I was admitted to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy on mother’s day. That started a 4 week saga of hospital stays and a life threatening infection. All is well now and I’m perfectly healthy but will forever be reminded of my ordeal by the very conspicuous 4 inch scar on my belly.
This past mother’s day started off innocent enough and as the day was winding down, I was sitting at the patio table with a family I absolutely adore at their house talking, laughing, drinking wine and enjoying a long leisurely lunch. (The family lives halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria on a large plot of land surrounded by electric fencing). The lunch had started much earlier w/ a salad course followed by a delicious stir fry, dessert (two slices of apple crisp for me) and then a cheese platter. It had been a beautiful day and I remember thinking at one moment that I wish Jason could be there, he would really have enjoyed the company and the conversations. It’s amazing how a few moments can change the outcome of a day and tarnish the memory, no matter how sweet the other waking hours of the day.
What is the driving force in menace and violence; I will never know or fully understand. But on this night, 2 men decided that for whatever reason, their desire for cell phones, laptops and money was great enough to not care of the effect of their actions on others (we could analyze the 3rd world status of the country and poverty among other things but that will have to be another conversation). As we were finishing the cheese and engaged in a conversation that I can’t remember for the life of me what the topic was, these 2 men came out of the bushes off to the side of where we were sitting and caught us all by surprise. They had a gun and after one of us asked what they wanted, they shot it at us.
For the first minute or so, I thought it was all a joke. I’ve never heard a gunshot at such close range before (if ever at all) so I thought maybe it was a bb gun. Quickly I realized it wasn’t and got down on the ground with the other girl my age. Unfortunately for her she had been through something like this before but fortunately for me she was a calming voice in my ear as I held her hand and tried to stay calm. Only after a few minutes did we realize that our friend had actually been shot. A few minutes later the alarm finally started going off and the men ran and we were left to clean up their mess. While the men of the house got their guns and ran after them, the women were left to call for help.
I sat with my friend that had been shot. With some direction, I pulled my fleece off and tied it around her leg to try and stop the bleeding. We heard more gunshots farther away and got back down again. When we realized it was ok and got up, I went to the other side of her and realized her other leg was bleeding as well. I pulled off my over shirt and used that on the other leg. The men of the house came back from their pursuit unsuccessful and helped keep her awake and talking to us while we waited. There was a lot of blood; on my hands, my clothes, on the others, we were kneeling in it. After a while the police showed up and then finally the paramedics. We sat back and let them do their job. I sat back and cried.
In their wake those men left an imprint on my mind of the reality of life in South Africa. It may look like a first world country but don’t let the shopping malls and wealth fool you for the reality of the violence and what may drive it. My friend is fine; she’s had a couple surgeries to repair the damage in her legs but is in high spirits and came home today. But what she is going through I’m sure is much different that what I am feeling. She does so much in disadvantaged communities but those men didn’t know that. Couldn’t have known that. And it makes me mad. Mad that they hurt someone who lives her life to help others. Mad that they ruined such a beautiful day. Mad that they violated the sanctity of that house and caught us when we had our guard down. The last place on earth I expected something like this to happen was in the safety of a home.
I’m not packing my suitcases and running for my home but it does sober up my fairytale view of life, at least a little bit. I won’t become jaded but instead I have a clearer understanding that sometimes circumstances don’t care who you are, what you’ve done for the world or how much you love, sometimes bad things just happen. And so, as my dad told me a few years ago, it’s all about where you go from here and how you shape your actions from this moment forward. I am not exactly sure how my life will be shaped by this incident but for this moment I decided that I’ll stay in Johannesburg for another week before resuming the rural life. Not because I’m scared but because I want to be apart of this family life for a few more days. It’s isolating and lonely most nights out in the village and I am craving the warmth of this family and being surrounded by loving people. I’m not running away but temporarily putting up those defensive walls a little bit higher. I miss my friends in the village but it is evident most moments of my life there that I am an outsider and don’t quite fit it in. I need a few more days of blending in, anonymous living.
So I think maybe I should skip mother’s day for a few years. At least until I have my own children. My poor mother has had to receive frightening news on this day twice over so I guess the day hasn’t been so great for her either. The good news is I have an amazing support network here and feel that the families that have adopted me are a good substitute for the ones from home that I miss so desperately right now.