On my first trip to the UK in 2014, I was invited to speak at a women’s organisation. I was invited to be a guest speaker. I had never done anything like that before. I was told that my talk would be like a window for the women to look through in order to learn about my world, my experiences and the visions that I had for myself and those around me.
This illustration of being a window touched my heart and I agreed. I arrived at the event and realised, after having introduced myself as South African and subsequently being asked if I knew a friend of a friend in Kenya, that actually I was a spot of entertainment for bored, wealthy, countryside folk.
I milked that situation and that milking started the journey that is now my performance career. I remember looking into the faces of those women, some of them having never, ever spoken to a black person before, and seeing that they had this need, a deep set want to help.
I waited for the question: “How can we help you?” and my answer was simple, “I need funding to put my piece on at The Cape Town Fringe Festival.” Tears slipped down from over-made-up, grey, blue and green eyes. I was convinced that I had it in the bag.
I returned home and received an e-mail from one of the women informing me that a collection had gone around and that they were proud to help me get into the fringe festival. A week later I was asked for bank details. 2 days after that an e-mail came through informing me that one of the women who ran the group, one who had not been there, had decided that it was a scam and that I had conned them out of their wealth and that I could not be trusted and the money should not go out of the UK.
Somehow I, me, Thola, was a scam and a trickster, something to be afraid and careful of. Someone who might take while you were not looking or find a way to worm my way into all of you millions of savings and family trust funds. Suddenly I was a mastermind who would and could destroy these women and their country.
Somehow a whole group of women had managed to justify their fear of me and turn it into the fact that I was an African and therefore I was someone or something that was there, designed to scam them out of their wealth. One woman had planted the seed and the weed had grown like a forest. Fear stopped me from being funded for the festival. ( Fortunately, I am and was, strong enough to wipe their bull===t off my shoulders and carry on without funding.)
Today I found myself in a position where I was the one with much to share and much to ‘supposedly’ fear. I have had a friend staying in my home, she left yesterday and so I found my fridge filled with things that I do not and will not eat for ethical and environmental reasons.
My first and only thought was that I should cook all of the food and hand it out to those who sleep on the streets, under the bridges and behind thick bushes around where I stay in Muizenberg. I cooked up 3 different types of meat, rice and veg. I bought paper cups in order to give the food out. I changed into clothes that were in no way revealing or easy to remove ( one thinks strange things, because one must.)
All that I was wanting to give away was prepared and packed up into pots and bags. And then the thoughts came. The fear of others, the sudden awareness of separation. The awareness of the fact that I had, and that those who I was wanting to give to did not. What if ‘they’ decided to take evertything? Was it a clever idea for me to be alone with ‘them’?
These thoughts flooded my head. This sudden othering of the very people that I wanted to help. All of a sudden I was afraid of ‘them’. Never mind the fact that I did not even now who ‘they’ were. I know that there are people who sleep on the streets and I know that without homes or regular money on must get hungry and cold.
I felt fear because society and the communities around me have allowed me to feel fear, have almost quietly encouraged me to feel fear. And I have allowed myself to digest these feelings and let them settle in my system. Fast becoming part of my methods of survival, like breathing, fear has become unconscious but necessary.
I hated this realisation. I acknowledged it, took a grip of it and used it only to empower myself. I packed the car, made sure I had no unnecessary valuables with me and left for the bridge in Muizenberg. There I was met with soft, alcohol infused hugs and appreciation.
I was ashamed of how much I had had to prepare myself to step out of my comfort and share of what I had in abundance with those who did not have any. I was ashamed that I had allowed other peoples perceptions and experiences to guide my expectation and possibly alter my own personal interactions.
If we are teaching each other to fear each other what is the point of being alive? I understand that one needs to be realistic, a woman alone needs to be street smart and aware. I understand that one needs to consider factors, but when fear alone is keeping you from sharing what you have too much of, I believe that this is the point where one looses their sense of humanity.
We can not be a people without other people. Find those around you who are in need. Offer them what you are able to offer. Extra blankets, black bags, food, easy open tins. Be human.