FunDza and Cover2Cover have the shared goals of encouraging young people to get reading and making relevant, local stories accessible to them. #LOVEREADING collects popular pieces from FunDza’s mobisite as well as discussion questions and writing activities for reading clubs and classes. Enjoy this excerpt and sharing the three stories with a young reader this weekend.
Stages of happiness
by Nandipha Tshabane
Nongayindoda (almost a man), Ntombikayise (daddy’s girl), Bhuti-Sisi (Male Female), etc. those were some of my childhood names. Names were just a small part of growing up lesbian in the township. The beliefs though took this to another level as I was always asked to show my second private part.
Growing up and ‘playing house’, I would play the role of a father: that seemed natural to me. Come soccer time, my name changed to “Ace”. Ace used to be one of the greatest football stars in South Africa, so of course I was proud. That gave me a sense of belonging with the boys.
However, my poor mother tried to bring me closer to girls by buying me dolls. Boy, did I break their legs! Then she gave in and bought me cars, which I cherished with my heart.
The name-calling only started to hurt when two humps started growing from my chest, then it hit me that I belonged with the girls. At the time I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I was a girl, the humps turned into big melons or ‘breasts’ as my mother referred to them. Menstruation put a nail in the coffin, I was indeed a girl.
My family did not make coming-out any easier. My mom and sister referred to being gay/lesbian as “fashion, like a pair of jeans” and I would “soon get over it”. Then my dad sealed it by asking me the “So tell me, why are you sleeping with your friends?”
After that the questions continued. Here are three questions that I despise the most:
1. So, who is the man in your relationship?
2. So tell me, how do you do it as two ladies?
3. Did you always know you were lesbian?
Being gay means that you not only have to find a way to accept yourself, but to also confront those who find it hard to accept you as you are. The community gets involved. Some people look to culture and use the “ancestors are cross” myth. Once you think there is no more that can be said about that, then religious people start going on about it being a sin to be gay or lesbian.
But if God dislikes who I am why did he make me this way, when I did not choose to become lesbian? The most amazing part about that is that I love God with all my heart and have complete faith in Him. I truly believe He will never forsake me.
The older generation also contribute at this stage. This comes in the form of my granny who suffers from memory loss asking where my children are, yet I have never had any encounter with a man whatsoever.
The list is long and endless. It has been a tough journey but I have finally found and embraced who I am. Hopefully one day I can share more on this through a book.
The question I’ve often asked myself is ‘Do I regret everything I went through?’
Well, my answer would be I chose the route to happiness, I eventually found it, so that means it was all worth it in the end. Never be afraid to fight for happiness – inner happiness – for it is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. You don’t choose to be gay but you do get to choose the route to happiness, always.
Nice smile bad hugs
Feeling scared is nothing new to me. I’ve always been scared of something. Hugs were scary. Handshakes were scary. Smiling made me shit scared! You can probably come up with your own list of ten random things right now and you’ll find that I grew up scared of at least one of those things. That’s how bad it was.
One of my earliest experiences with fear was when I was seven. My mother was a business woman travelling long distances for her business. It hurt me every time she left. I remember one night in particular. She was gone the whole morning and afternoon. Eventually, it got dark. But she was still nowhere to be seen. My nanny’s son was bullying me, punching and pulling me in all directions. All I could think about was that if my mother was there none of the bullying would’ve been happening. When she wasn’t coming back I feared she’d abandoned me, left me behind with the evil nanny. But, no. she came back. At midnight she came back.
Sadly, I didn’t learn a lesson from that night. I didn’t learn about how my fears were crazy or that bravery is one of the reasons why a lot of people are successful and happy out there.
Instead, while in the Eastern Cape, in grade 6, my fears got to a new level. I was so scared of being bullied that I bunked school a lot and my days absent totaled 44 days for the whole year. Bullying brought my little world to a stop. Each morning I would get so nervous about facing up to my group of bullies that I ended up not wanting to go anymore. I was determined to not try and report them to my teachers again. I knew they’d deny it like they’d done the previous year, in grade 5, and my teachers would, once again, think I was being some drama queen who couldn’t play well with other boys. I was paralyzed by fear and loneliness.
There was only one person I could turn to - my mother. She, being the superwoman that she’d always been, took matters into her own hands. She first advised me to stand up for myself, to walk taller and hit back at them with my own brand of teasing and punching. When that didn’t work and my absenteeism from school got worse, she took me to a sangoma.
Going there, I still felt scared. But deep down I forced myself to believe that it could work, that the sangoma would prick me with some magical needle and let me walk out of there braver than I’d ever been. I wished he would tell me to chew some root or smear myself with some secret lotion that would make every moment of doubt, fear or nervousness fade away completely. But it didn’t happen. I walked out of his hut feeling the exact same fear I felt going in there.
My mother was so hopeful afterwards. Feeling the weight of her excitement, I had a new desire. I desperately wanted to make her proud, to make sure that the money she’d spent (which was our last real money) wasn’t wasted. I woke up the next day, still feeling scared, but the desire to not disappoint her was way more powerful. It made me bounce back in a big way. I stopped bunking. And at the end of that year I was given a certificate for being one of the best learners in the school. When I left for Cape Town at the beginning of the following year I felt like I’d found some peace. I was ready for a new beginning.
Arriving here in Cape Town, I was confronted with conversations over girls, sex and partying. It seemed like my life would no longer be about doing well in school, watching cartoons, playing soccer and fearing bullies. Suddenly, girls (and boys) told me my lips were too big, my teeth too crooked, my thumbs and feet too big, that I’m awkward and funny-looking. I went through high school believing I wasn’t worth hugging, smiling at or even kissing. I put my hand in front of my mouth and looked down whenever I smiled or laughed. I was hiding my smile.
Getting to university changed things. I started meeting people that didn’t care about how beautiful or ugly my smile was. They were more fascinated by my intelligence. But two of those people (Nosicelo and Nosiphiwo) were interested in my smile. They encouraged me to smile more and stop looking so serious in my pictures. For the first time, I realized that I had a nice smile. I started liking myself more and more. Hugs still made me nervous, but I practiced. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I practiced (not only on these two new friends of mine, but in the mirror as well).
Eventually, I got to a point where even if I stress about the little things, it never turns into the fear I grew up having. If it does turn into fear, I’ve surrounded myself with strong people who believe in me and encourage me until I overcome that fear. I now refuse to let fear control my life again.
by Morena Maoka
This is a short story, written in a colloquial, chatty style, which makes it more amusing and ‘real’. It was one of the winners of a competition where the theme was: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
So we just got home from church. I see my gran conversing with the lady from next door.
“Heeey, Nelly! Where’s your ma, Charmaine? She hasn’t been to church in a while hey! Greet her for me okay.”
My gran walks in and I know what’s going to happen next.
“Woooo that one! My friend Charmaine - I think she’s become an atheist I tell you. I’m sure it’s that DSTV she had installed last month, she can’t get enough of it, hey! She even skips church now! And she has no time for her friends either! (claps once)”
Yep, exactly that.
Here’s my story. I come from a small township called Katlehong. People in my community, they love church. I live with my gran and she raised me in such a way that I think of Sunday as ‘thee day’! So if ever I swore on a Sunday as a kid, I’d quickly go down on my knees and ask the Lord for forgiveness.
“Yohhhh, pleaase God, don’t punish me, don’t make me a mute, I will never swear again on a Sunday, I will stop on Saturday. Askies, Amen.”
During the week I’d wear nothing but my dirty shorts, I’d save my best clothes for church. From Monday to Saturday we ate pap, and Sundays, you know mos, ‘Sunday Kos’ – rice, chicken, and vegetables. So imagine how long 2kgs of rice would last us.
We go to church, nod our heads at whatever the pastor has to say and chant hallelujahs. We listen to everything but there’s that one phrase we implicitly seem not to agree with: ‘only God can judge me’.
I know for sure that we do a whole lot of judging in Katlehong. I think it’s just in our nature, you know, black communities. We really don’t care what your story is. We will judge you.
If you have a slight cough, you have TB. If you’re skinny, you have HIV, and if it’s cold and you’re shivering, you’re a junky. Yes, often the judgements we make are totally wrong. Hence they say, do not judge a book by its cover. You see, every procedure that Judge Masipa had to follow during the Oscar trial is just irrelevant.
“Haa Guilty!!!” is what we would say.
“Hy het haar geskiet, voetsek!! Vat ook die bene!” we’d shout, no questions asked.
My gran reads a note from church saying that there will be a funeral next Saturday but it does not say whose funeral. She puts the note aside.
After we’ve digested our Sunday kos, we chill on the stoep and watch people walk by. We have one of those 900mm high gates. Let me tell you what happens in Katlehong when you walk past a house with a low gate and with people sitting on the stoep…
As soon as you walk past you become the subject matter. Either you or we will greet first – township procedure – whether or not you know the people, you just have to greet. You will get the most random compliment and as soon as you’re out of sight, we get down to it, until somebody else walks by, of course.
“Helllooo young man! Gosh you look so pretty! Your ma must be proud of you, keep up the good work with the veggies.”
Now that Sibu and his veggies are gone, my gran says it like it is: “Lincoln!!! I don’t want you to end up like that boy, on the streets, pushing trolleys, wearing torn jeans and probably smoking nyaope too! Luister jy?”
For argument’s sake I always have to respond, “ja gran.”
What my gran didn’t know was that I knew the guy, Sibu. He matriculated with five distinctions. He is very smart and business-minded. In fact selling veggies out of a trolley is one of his numerous business ventures for the holidays. No, he is not into nyaope and those torn jeans are probably kak expensive – today’s fashion. I didn’t even bother telling my gran that she was wrong about the guy.
It was the funeral today and Gog’ Charmaine made it to church… in a coffin that is. Turns out she has been sick, hence she hasn’t been attending. She died and we didn’t even know.
Earlier on I heard my gran praying, I think she’s done with the assumptions and the judging, for now at least.
“God, I know you are a forgiving God. Forgive me for jumping to conclusions about my friend Charmaine. Forgive me for judging her for no reason, and for not checking up on her instead. I have called one of your angels an atheist and for that I apologise. May she rest in peace. Amen.”