Remarkable Women

10 Aug

Yesterday was National Women’s Day in South Africa. It is an annual public holiday in South Africa on 9 August. This commemorates the national march of women on this day in 1956 to petition against legislation that required African persons to carry the “pass”, special identification documents which curtailed an African’s freedom of movement during the apartheid era.  

In celebration of this event the South African Embassy here in Riyadh hosted a Women’s Day function and I was privileged to get an invitation. Seeing as though Olaf and I have toured America, the UK, a host of European countries, and spent a fair amount of time in Australia (in terms of time spent at social events in their Embassy’s in Riyadh) I decided that perhaps it was time to pay a visit to our very own Embassy. And after doing a quick calculation I realised that attending the event would mean that I got to spend 4 whole hours ON MY OWN whilst Luka and Dad spent the morning together doing boys stuff. I did not hesitate for a moment to reply to the invitation with a big ol “I shall be there – with bells on, baby. You just try to keep me away!”  I wore a dress that, get this, stayed clean for the entire event. Woohoo! Olaf and I get out regularly in the evenings together but being out in the day on my own felt different somehow and I really enjoyed it. It must be a side-effect of not being allowed to drive in The Land of Sand.

The Ambassador’s wife, Christien, hosted the event and kick off the morning with a speech about the strong, capable women of South Africa. She referred in particular to women involved in the 1956 march on the Union Buildings. The march was led by 4 women: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn.

 One of the women she spoke about was one of the 4 leaders, Helen Joseph. Helen Joseph was born in England, taught in India for a while, then came to South Africa and became involved in the struggle. She was a defendant at the 1956 Treason Trial: she was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956 then banned in 1957. On the 13 October 1962, Helen became the first person to be placed under house arrest. She narrowly escaped death more than once, surviving bullets shot through her bedroom and a bomb wired to her front gate. Her last banning order was lifted when she was 80 years old.

Helen had no children of her own, but frequently stood in loco parentis for the children of comrades in prison or in exile. Among the children who spent time in her care were Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s daughters Zinzi and Zenani and Bram Fischer’s daughter Ilsa.

There are so many men and women who fought for many years for the freedom of their people in South Africa and many who gave up their lives for the cause. What makes Helen Joseph remarkable to me is that she did so much behind the scenes. Raising children is not for the faint-hearted by any stretch. Doing such an admirable job, out of the public eye where you are not praised or lauded for your efforts, where you do not get mentioned on television or spoken about at public gatherings, where no one erects a statue to commemorate how well you handled the task is pretty remarkable to me. I know that Helen Joseph is a well know name in South Africa now and that she has had important institutions named after her but at the time I am sure it was not quite that glamorous.

The second remarkable woman I encountered was one of the guest speakers at the event. A woman who is a cancer survivor. Thursday’s event was the very first time that she had shared her story in a public setting. She spoke as though she was sitting with a small group of close friends. She was not openly emotional or overly dramatic but simply told her story as it was. She not only underwent the harsh and often debilitating treatment for cancer, she did it whilst witnessing her husband going through cancer treatment at the very same time. Talk about a huge burden to bear. She spoke with great dignity and such a sense of calm that she managed to take the fear of cancer and how it can change lives away completely – even if only for a brief moment.

I went along to this event not knowing a soul and not expecting to bump into anyone I knew. If  living outside of my comfort zone has taught me anything, it is how to mingle with a bunch of strangers and I have to say I relish the opportunities when they arise. Everyone has something interesting to tell. A woman named Di, shuffled in quickly and plonked herself down next to me as we were about to begin. She had been in The Land of Sand a week and was most certainly still going through the “what am I doing here and how soon can I get out” phase that most people go through. As the morning progressed she shared some of her story with me. She and her chef husband have 3 kids, two teenage boys and a 10-year-old girl. They adopted their daughter when she was 2 weeks old and later found out that she is autistic. Like many people the world over, they found themself in a situation where debt was  becoming a big problem so they decided that she would come to Saudi and nurse here for 2 years in order to get on top of their financial situation again. It was very clearly not an easy thing for her to leave her family to come and live alone in this harsh, difficult country and I found her courage and dedication to her loved ones remarkable.

Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) British poet and playwright
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8 Responses to “Remarkable Women”

  1. trapperhoney August 10, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    sounds like a lovely event. glad you got out on your own for a little while!

    • dustbusting August 11, 2010 at 11:13 am #

      It was thank you.

      Oh my, was it good to have some me time! I make it sound like my life is so hard when really it isn’t. I am actually a very blessed girl.

  2. jana August 11, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    I admire you for having mastered the skill of “mingling with a bunch of strangers” and “relishing the opportunities when they arise.”

    Though I am quite aware of how lonely the life away from home can get, I still find facing total strangers far more challenging. It was as if a light bulb lit up above my head when I read your “Everyone has something interesting to tell.” I never saw the answer to my problem in such clear, simple light. All one has to do is listen. Even though you might not have written this beautiful story with this message in mind, I am thankful for including it. It means more to me than I can describe.

    • dustbusting August 11, 2010 at 11:00 am #

      Wow, how very kind of you to say such lovely things. Thank you very much Jana.

      I can tell you that I have by no means mastered the skill of interacting with others, but it is a skill that our travelling lifestyle has encouraged me to work at. I think that I am also reaching a point in my life where I often think that life is just too short not to take the opportunities that cross our paths and try to get all that we can out of them. It is probably because I am having a break from the real world at the moment. I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to work, rush around all day and then try to fit my family in before collapsing into bed at night. I am lucky enough to get to stroll through life for a while and soak up the opportunities that I encounter. It has probably changed my perspective a little and if that is something that travelling has taught me then I am very grateful for it.

  3. A not-so-secret admirer :-) August 11, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    Lovely post. Here’s to all the great great women in our lives. And your new friends on this site.

    • dustbusting August 11, 2010 at 8:57 am #

      Ooooo, I know that email address. Can’t quite remember where I’ve seen it before but it rings a bell.
      Thanks for the compliment!
      Look forward to you stopping by again sometime.

  4. sarahnsh August 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m glad that you got to go out by yourself and mingle and hear about all of these incredible women. I’m like you in a social situation, I’ll go up to about anyone and everyone and just strike up a conversation.

    I wasn’t always like this, I was painfully shy as a kid but it’s amazing the discussions you’ll get into and the people you can meet when you open yourself up to stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking a plunge to start a conversation.

    • dustbusting August 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

      That is the absolute truth!
      You just need to put yourself out there a few times and you soon realise just how beneficial it can be. I think that it also makes us realise that our stories are just as important and interesting to others as theirs can be to us.

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