What started this post was a rant I had on a Facebook page, admittedly after a couple (okay, three) glasses of wine, about the anti-vaccine movement which appears to become more and more rabid each day.

Most first world citizens have no idea how blessed they are to have the gift to choose between vaccination or not. In Africa, women walk miles (risking rape both ways) to get their kids vaccinated, often by nurses who aren’t skilled in personal hygiene and reuse the same needle.  I know, I know, that’s worst case scenario and we’re improving on that, so let me share with you the story of a very special lady in my life.

Judith came to work for me eight years ago. At that time, although I liked to think of myself as liberal, I was still steeped in white privilege and I was looking for someone to watch my kid while I rode my horses or did my job, and to clean my house. Sure, I paid her above minimum wage, but I didn’t get to know her as a person.

You see, her name is NOT Judith. Her name is Tebogo. I only learned that years later, when I had started to unpack my privilege and bothered to ask. She is Tebogo. It is a Tswana name. It means “we are thankful”. In South Africa, under Apartheid previously, and now under white privilege, we expect people to have “pronouncable” names. English names.  Names which don’t trip us up.  Because Goddess forbid we should have to learn even one word in a language native to the continent we proudly call home.

When Tebogo first came to work for me, she was practically homeless, thankful for anything. She was supporting children, because her husband having left when they were babies.  I paid her well, I treated her poorly. Her English was bad, and my Tswana was non-existent : naturally, from my white perspective,this was her fault.  I would become irritated when my instructions were misunderstood, when I had to repeat myself.

It is only in the last five years, as I’ve unpacked my privilege, that I have come to know this amazing women that I am privileged to work alongside. I can’t begin to tell you how ashamed I am of some of my treatment of her. My dismissal. My arrogance. My contempt.  She is a woman of grace, and compassion, and love.  She has taught me more about the person I want to be than I can explain.

Her name is Tebogo.

When I read antivaxxer posts, I am incensed because, through Tebogo, I know children who have been afflicted with preventable diseases. I have witnessed the stoicism of black people in Africa. I have seen the cheapness of human life.

And I want to turn around to all the middle-class, google-educated, poster-waving anti-vaxxers and say : How DARE you? How DARE you willingly refuse what so many women risk rape to have? How DARE you go all woo on a science which the third world is more thirsty for than it is for water?

Her name is Tebogo

Every Easter and Christmas she goes home (yes, she works in Jozi and lives in a different town, the proud recipient of one of Madiba’s Redistribution and Development houses).  She leaves her family and cares for mine. Twice a year, I buy her a ton of groceries,gift her with things for her house and she goes on leave for two weeks. I miss her dreadfully because I. hate. housework.  I also miss her because she has become a quiet presence.  A little voice which still struggles to call me by my first name, swallowing as she says it, because “Madam” trips more easily off her lips.

Her name is Tebogo.

She went home on 16 December last year. Hugs all round, loads of presents for kids and for her, some extra food and a small bonus, and the usual “Are you okay? do you need anything?” followed by hasty assurances that she is fine.  At NO stage did she tell me she was not well, that she’d been bleeding intermittently.  

She came back, to hugs all round and relieved smiles – yay!  No more fighting over whose turn it was to do dishes.

Today, I was told she would be having a hysterectomy. A. HYSTERECTOMY. Blood tests has shown that she has some abnormal cells and the doctor wants to remove her womb.  Immediately, I go “cancer”, but don’t want to scare her.  I also don’t want to invade her privacy by asking too much.

So we’ve arranged for hospital visits, assured her her job is safe, and it breaks my heart that she needed that reassurance.

Her name is Tebogo.

I still don’t know her. I know her story, but not who she is. We’ve wept on each other’s shoulders, when Mandela died, when we endured the robbery.  She attended my wedding, my child’s school plays.  She has held my child while she cried. She has lived in my home and slept in my bed when I’ve gone away, and she has cared for my animals. But we are NOT friends. I will not be one of those white bitches who make a claim to a friendship which isn’t there.

What we have is a strange kind of alliance. It’s an understanding.  I will care for her. forever. She will care for my family. for as long as she can.

The legacy of Apartheid prevents more.  My own white guilt prevents more, because I’m so afraid of doing what I used to do so blithely : assuming I was entitled.   In the quiet of the night, I grievefor what can never be.

Her name is Tebogo and I’m afraid I might lose her.

So,now, I’m going to make her a cup of tea and ask if she needs a night gown for the hospital.  And I’m going to try to be a friend and not an employer.  It will be a new experience for both of us.