By conventional standards, I've made poor choices in my life.
By Jo Hazelhurst-Ntsebeza.
I've known failure more than success.
What a beautiful road less travelled. NOt despite my pain but because of it. I wouldn't change a thing.
They say I have a super high genius IQ. They must be wrong because I sighed my way through school. I once received a certificate of excellence. Typically, I lost it. No one believed me. Year after year, I barely made the 40% grade needed for a pass. It’s astounding I completed at all.
In Grade 6, I earned the nickname ‘Pig Pen.’ I was a tomboy. My poor mother’s reputation was in ruins. Despite her best efforts, I looked as if she bought me no clothes. I, of course, lost everything faster than she could afford to buy. I was untidy, unkempt and played in the mud. I didn’t want to look pretty like all the other girls. I excelled neither at my academics nor in sports. I avoided debating teams, clubs and school representative councils.
University allowed my rebelliousness to breathe. No one seemed to care much about my comings or goings. I made it to honors class – barely attending academic lectures – without files or books. There are many students I have to thank, for lending me their best essays before exam time.
I didn’t fare much better in my romantic relationships. My first real boyfriend helped to ensure I ended up in jail at 17. I fell in love with drug addicts, gangsters and womanizers. Mostly, I’ve made very little money in my life.
But change the rules of what determines success or failure and I could tell you a different story.
While students were to be found in classroom libraries, I played with snakes and baby wolves. Real lives ones you may ask? Yes, I did indeed. I rode my bicycle down the steepest of hills, with my eyes closed. I jumped off rooftops and pretended walls and trees were gymnastic beams and bars. I spent my weekends, with my mother’s help, taming a horse deemed too wild. The world was ready to put him to sleep. With this horse I found myself in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at show jumping tournaments.
Here I learned anything is possible. It’s a miracle of something much greater than me that I never broke a bone.
When I ventured into Hillbrow, it wasn’t because I was running. The streets fascinated me. In the red light district of Boks Street, I made Maxim’s my home. I loved it. Befriending commercial sex workers opened up a secret world. Here I was taught to tell men old enough to be my father, “I’m not here for business.” This is code for ‘I don’t sell sex.’
Here I learned kindness comes from everyone and the subtle ways of looking after myself in an unsafe world. I didn’t feel unsafe. I felt invigorated. It’s a miracle of something much greater than me that I lived to tell this tale.
During school, rather than stewing in Maths, I took my makeshift raft down the Jukskei River at flood time. Or on a hot summers day, I swam fully clothed in the bilharzias infested waters.
Here I learned to not fight currents, and that water is stronger than I could ever be.
I ventured at 3am to the dark corners of Bree Street taxi rank – to rescue a girl of 10 years, kidnapped and sold into a pornographic ring. I moved into a shelter for street children because the children in Braamfontein said they would go if I went. So I did – for 18 months.
Here I learned about my own courage and my capacity to serve.
My first job took me to the far corners, of what was then, one of the most rural areas in the country, on the southern border of Mozambique during the years of KZN violence. The closest bank was 2 ½ hours away. With my possessions in the back of a borrowed bakkie, I kept company with the sounds of Sibongile Khumalo on the six hour drive.
Here I learned to live without running water, and that if you sleep on the banks of a lake – a hippo is likely to sleep next to you. How was I to know?
In Asia, I arrived in Japan with less than R500 in my pocket. Hotel rooms cost a minimum of R1000.00. At the airport, a German man I didn’t know battled to exchange Korean money for Japanese Yen. He was supposed to do it before he arrived. So I gave him R400 to pay for his Korean Visa. Between us we had R100.00. Enough to buy some rice.
If you’re going to be homeless in a foreign land, an island is the perfect place. I walked ten kilometers to catch the ferry. I slept on the beach, in a wooden log cabin on stilts, thanks to the generosity of an old man. We stayed up until the early hours of the morning, with the sounds of a guitar strumming from a famous Japanese pop singer on retreat. I swam in the ocean at midnight.
Here, I learned about the gift of faith and giving. I learned sharks live in Japan too. It’s miracle of something much greater than me that I had such a happy ending.
I spent some months as an ‘uchi deshi’ (a personal student) to a Karate Master, living in a dojo. Here I learned the art of practice and patience. I learned I’m never too old to change my life.
I’ve loved and lost, and known the greatest of heartaches. Here I learned that only I need to love me, and what it means to truly love another unconditionally.
I’ve danced and sung in front of thousands with a voice that croaks and a rhythm that forgets every third beat. I learned that you don’t make a fool of yourself when you throw your whole heart into it.
I threw away a lifestyle of parties when it no longer suited me and delved into the quiet waters of stillness. This new adventure took me to Thailand where I meditated with 40,000 people for ten days nonstop.
Here I learned to follow my own whispers and not convention. I learned God is.
I’ve made beautiful friends and done some wonderfully, deliciously, stupid and excellent things. So yes, I’ve failed by conventional standards. But I’ve succeeded far more – on my own terms.
Jo Hazelhurst Ntsebeza is a writer, teacher, professionally qualified business & life coach and facilitator. She is the founder of the online Life Academy Kalavati Cafe