The day I nearly died

TW: mention of physical violence

I have spent the last five years sharing this story in drips and drabs, avoiding to share it from beginning to end. It’s been a process of avoiding, trying to forget, being triggered and repeating the process all over again. But today is different. Today I want to let go of the shame that I have been carrying, I want to remove all it’s layers and lighten the weight on my shoulders. Today I want to share this story with my chest and never go back to sharing it in whispers or muffled sounds.

With that being said, I must admit that it is a very traumatic event that nearly resulted in my death at the hands of someone who claimed to love me. So if you’ve made it this far, thank you for helping me kill the shame that I’ve been carrying.

It was the beginning of December in 2016 and I had just gotten back from varsity. I stayed with my boyfriend (now ex) each time I was back from varsity since my family dynamic wasn’t as favourable as I needed it to be. Also because we were in a long distance relationship, so spending as much time as I could with him only made sense.

My routine post arrival always meant that I would unpack my bags the very next day, but this time I didn’t. In fact I couldn’t. I had such a strong gut feeling to keeping my suitcase packed, and because I almost always listen to my intuition, I did exactly that. Of course this got on my ex’s nerves and he would bring it up each and every time he got the chance to.

Fast forward to the end of that week, Friday afternoon. By this stage I unpacked my suitcase in order to keep the peace and because I was annoyed by his nagging. The weird feeling I had been feeling had also disappeared, so it only made sense. My ex got a call from one of his close friend’s and colleague, from his responses I could tell that the friend wanted them to go and have some drinks at a pub nearby. The call ended and he got up to get dressed, while confirming what I had already overheard. He asked me to join them but I declined and said that I’d join them later.

Later comes and my phone rings, its him asking me where I am. I was already on my way there so I answered him and ended the call. As soon as I arrived his friend bought a round of shots and ordered me a drink. I was feeling uncomfortable and out of place because they were already well on their way to being drunk. They wanted me to play catch up, but I wasn’t interested. In fact I didn’t even want to be there.

They refused to take no for an answer and ordered another round of shots that somehow ended up staining the t-shirt I was wearing. I ran to the bathroom to go and sort it out and when I got back my ex’s friend had left, coincidently with my cell phone in his backpack. I asked my ex if I could use his phone to call his friend to come back but his battery had died, so I went back to his place to charge it. As soon as it switched on I texted on of my close friends and explained everything to her, alerting her that I’d be going to fetch my phone soon and that she shouldn’t panic if she can’t reach me. As I was about to send her one final text my ex randomly walked in.

He was upset and seemed to be really drunk at this point. He didn’t seem to understand why I was so adamant to go and fetch my phone when he could simply get it from his friend at work that evening. I explained to him that I had plans with friends and that I needed to have my phone with me in order to communicate with them and with him while he was at work. But the more I explained, the more upset he got. He started accusing me of cheating on him and a whole other bunch of things. This man was angry because I wanted to go and fetch my phone and I couldn’t understand why.

He said that if I had nothing to hide on my phone, I should be fine with him bringing it back in the morning. I reiterated my plans for that evening, but he still wasn’t having it. He put on some music and locked the door, and told me that I wasn’t going anywhere. He threw the keys behind the fridge and told me that he would bring my phone back in the morning. This upset me, more so confused me because he was not interested in hearing me, let alone understanding me.

I started to look for my keys, but I couldn’t seem to find them. He kept on repeating that I wasn’t going anywhere and that he won’t allow me to cheat on him or leave him for someone else. At this point he was shouting at me and was clearly angry. I was scared and angry, but didn’t know what to do. I decided to reach for his phone to call my friend, but he snatched the phone out of my hand and slapped me. I fell to the ground, but got up again and he slapped me again. At this point it had clicked that this person had just hit me for the first time in the seven years of us being together.

I was in fight more, so I hit him back but he overpowered me and punched me this time. I screamed for help over and over again, but no one in the commune came to the door. I kept on screaming because I could hear people in the passage, but my screams were blatantly ignored. He then pushed me onto the bed, got on top of me and strangled me. He told me that none of us are making it out of that room alive and that I should save my breath. The longer he strangled me, the harder it became for me to breathe and I could feel my body getting weaker and weaker. I closed my eyes, prayed and saw my nephews face and somehow regained my power and pushed him off me. I remembered where my keys were and threw them outside the window for one of the housemates to open the door. She stayed in the outside rooms and came running when she realised someone was screaming.

As soon as she opened the door I grabbed the keys from her, opened the front gate and ran for my life. I was crying and shaking but I just kept on running. I managed to get two blocks away from the house and I stopped a taxi and got inside. I told the driver I was going to town and when he noticed that I was crying he offered me tissue. I cried all the way to town and only stopped when I was about to get off at my stop. I clutched the bag I was carrying as I walked through the taxi rank looking for a taxi that would take me to the friend’s house so I could fetch my phone, all while choking on the lump that I had in my throat.

I managed to retrieve my phone and immediately called my aunt, but she didn’t answer. I made my way to her house and found my cousins home watching tv. I was shaken but didn’t want to scare them so I went and sat in the room. My phone kept on ringing because my ex was calling me. I just watched it ring and ring until I heard his voice coming from outside. This man decided to come and cause a scene at my aunts house and maybe even to finish me off. I stood in the kitchen and listened to him shout at me, while I made calls to his mom and sister. The sister finally picked up and I told her to call her brother and tell him to leave, or to come and arrest him herself because she was a police woman. And only then did he leave.

That was the day I nearly died at the hands of someone I had known for a 1/3 of my life, someone who had emotionally abused me for years until the day that he laid his hands on me.

I finally have a South African ID book

An example of the A-4 refugee permit I used to carry around.
Sourced from here.

Yes, you read right. I no longer have to carry around an A-4 piece of paper as an identity document. Your girl is now a permanent resident of SA and has a green barcoded ID book! *insert crying emojis*

Now, if you know me personally or have taken the time to read any of my blog posts you’ll know that I have been a refugee for all of my life. Which means that the system has always against me, in fact being a refugee living in SA has been hell. So many factors of my life have been affected because of the 14-alphabet/numerical case number that was my “ID number”.

Applying for varsity was a nightmare because they didn’t seem to understand why I didn’t have a passport or a passport number. Well, hello??? I am a refugee, which means that I left (read fled) my country of origin to seek refuge in this country and it was not by plane or by bus. It was with an array of modes of transport, over a long period of time, spending weeks and sometimes months in different countries as we travelled down to SA as a family. So, no. I do not have a passport number.

Getting a bank account was another nightmare. I was leaving for varsity and needed a bank account to receive money in from my sponsor, but none of the banks allowed this. They too wanted my non-existent passport number. So what did we do? We had to get my sponsor’s PA to open a bank account for me in her name, and that was the account that my allowance was deposited into. There was no sense of freedom with this because she had to approve all major transactions, which just made the whole experience of it extremely daunting and uncomfortable.

I think my personal favourite was when I needed to get a tax number from SARS. None of the tellers at SARS and I mean no one knew how to help me. It was during the December holidays of 2016 and I had been called in to help with the process of marking the matric final exam papers, a job that I got by sheer luck. One of the requirements for the job was to have a tax number because the remuneration was within a taxable amount of money. Lucky for me, I wasn’t the only person who didn’t have a tax number so the marking centre let us have an extended lunch break to go and get it sorted out. When I say I was praying the entire way to SARS, I am not joking. I had been met with many instances that left me in tears because the person behind the counter was not prepared to help me. Or should I say, was not competently trained to help me because of the form of identification I was using.

So we arrived at SARS in East London and everyone is eager to join the queue. For some reason their offices weren’t full that day, so for my colleagues, it was a quick in and out but it wasn’t the same for me. I think I sat in a total of 3 different queues just to get to the front and be told to go back in line and wait for the next teller, because that person didn’t know how to help me. I sat and I sat, while praying and holding back tears, because not getting this tax number would mean that my job would be given to someone else. Someone who the system deems as worthy of receiving a tax number, worthy of a process that was seamless and had minimal stress. And that person was not me, it was never me.

Finally I got called by a teller who was sitting in an office, I went through the door and greet uMama who sat behind the desk and explained why I was there, making sure to retell the part that none of her colleagues knew how to help me and that she was my last hope. She looked at me and admitted that she had never helped a person with a refugee permit get a tax number, but she promised to try her best and help me. When I say that this woman stopped at nothing to make sure I got a tax number that day, I am not exaggerating it. She even asked me to sit next to her while she completed the application on their system because she said “I’m sure you have been through something like this before, so I know you’ll be helpful”. And I was helpful because uMama didn’t know whether to register me as an immigrant or a permit holder, but we got through the process together and I walked out of her office with a smile on my face, a feeling a relief and most importantly, a tax number.

But it gets better, because even though I met all the job requirements and jumped through loops to get a tax number, I didn’t get paid on time. All my colleagues from the marking centre got paid just before Christmas, and me? Well the Department of Education only decided to pay me on the 25th of January of the following year. An entire month later! And yes, you guessed right. It was because of my form of identification.

I could write and share endless accounts of how my life has always been hanging by a thread because of my refugee permit, but reliving all that trauma and retelling my experiences of reinforced systematic xenophobia isn’t good for my mental health. It also isn’t the point of this blog post. I want to share my process of acquiring the status of permanent resident in the Republic of South Africa, so here it goes.

According to the law of the land (Section 27(c) of the Refugees Act), a refugee is allowed to apply for the status of permanent resident after having lived in the country for a minimum of five years. This is the most basic requirement and also the one requirement that I met the most. I had been living as a refugee for 24 years of my life, the same amount of years that I had been alive and living in SA. I mention this because I need to put an emphasis on how long my life has been rocked by the Refugee Home Affairs offices in Port Elizabeth (PE). The offices my family and I attended since I was a little girl. Anyway, I digress.

Having met that minimum requirement, I made one more trip to the Refugee Home Affairs offices and extended my refugee permit. This was to ensure that my application process was not disturbed or disrupted by anything, and also because my permit was very close to its expiration date. After getting over that hurdle, I began the process of filling in what Home Affairs calls Form BI-947. This is a loooong application form that you can either fill in online, or print out and fill in manually – I opted for the former. If I remember correctly, it took me about a month to complete and this was because of all the questions and sections I had to fill in, some even requiring me get the details of family members who were also refugees.

A month passed and the appointment I had made with the Department of Home Affairs Visa & Permit Facilitation Centre in PE, better known as VFS, had arrived. It was the 7th of September 2018 and I made my way to their offices having travelled from Makhanda and presented myself for biometric purposes, basically for them to take my photographs, fingerprints, hand in my form and pay a total of R1350. Yes, these types of applications cost this amount of money. Money that I had to save up for while on a student budget. And of course, this is not the only thing I had to pay for. There was also money needed for the trip to and from PE, money needed for my Police Clearance certificate, money needed for lunch while I was in PE, money needed for me to print out the application form and all the other documents that needed to accompany the application. So in total, I think I spent a sum of R3000 just to apply to be a permanent resident of South Africa. All on a student budget.

By the grace of the homie upstairs, the biometric process was swift and easy. I mean it had to be, I was paying a lot of money for it. I managed to get through the process without crying or feeling like giving up, which were common feelings I experienced each time I had to visit Home Affairs (what a traumatising place!). I safely made my way back to Makhanda and so the waiting began. The long wait to find out about the outcome of my application and on the 13th of January 2020, I got an sms confirming that my application was successful and ready for collection. It took a total of 16 months for my application to be processed, one year and four months of anxiety and stress over that outcome.

But here I am nearly two years after receiving that sms, with a green barcoded ID book that I applied for at the beginning of this year and received a month later. I always laugh to myself because the date of issue on my ID book is the 17th of February and my birthday is on the 18th of February. My ID book is the best birthday present I’ve ever received, if you ask me.

Heartbreak o’clock

I think the saying goes something like, “the body remembers what the mind chooses to forget”
Except this time my mind hasn’t forgotten anything.
It is working hand-in-hand with my body to remind me of the pattern of events that I have once again found myself in.

It’s October and it’s the season right?
The season of shedding old skin, slithering out of it to proudly proclaim your new stripes.

Yes, I have overcome this and I have overcome that, but this has triggered me and I don’t know how to handle it.
Or how to proceed.
I don’t know what to take or what to leave.

The irony is that I’ve been left.
Left to deal with the groundwork that involves the mopping of tears and the dusting of emotions.

I have been left to deal with questions that I don’t have answers to, questions I don’t want answers to.
I have been left with the aftermath that comes with being kicked in the stomach during a rugby match, or a conversation or WhatsApp text exchange.

My biggest ask has been ignored and now I’m sitting in the realities that have come with the
“so, i have a difficult/sore thing to name. this relationship doesn’t feel like a good experience for me anymore” kind of text messages that came at 10pm on a Monday night.

Kitchen floors

Me sitting with my legs crossed in front of my notebook, pen and open bottle of wine. I have two rows of red, white, and blue beads on each ankle.
Amina on her kitchen floor

Who knew kitchen floors could be so grounding?

That they could offer so much perspective?

Coupled with wine straight from the bottle & Keenan Meyer in the background, tears are bound to trickle down my cheeks.

I’m being reminded to talk less and listen more, so if you’re looking for me I’ll be on my kitchen floor.

A place to call home

Me standing in my lounge, dangling the keys to my apartment.

The year 2021 has allowed me to realise my biggest achievement yet. I have my own apartment and a place to call home.

The sudden and unplanned move to Johannesburg last year, on the brink of an unknown pandemic, meant that I spent my days in a commune with house mates that annoyed me from time to time. Earning an interns salary of less than R10K also meant that my options for accommodation were limited. I often say that Johannesburg specialises in ‘sardine type of living’, and as much as I despise it, I understand why things are the way they are.

So after getting a promotion at work earlier this year, I got serious about looking for an ideal place to stay. I was very intentional about finding the perfect place for me. I invited God and my Ancestors to guide me to what was mine, because I believed that I was going to find, and I did. Funny enough, it ended up being the first place that I viewed and five minutes into the viewing I told the landlord that I wanted the place and that I would be in touch soon.

The apartment was perfect! It was on the top floor and had a spacious bedroom that led to a balcony where the sun was shining. There was a bathtub that doubled as shower and it was semi-furnished. Most of all, it was within my budget and in a familiar area just 10 minutes away from where my friends stay. I was sold! I had three more viewings lined up after this initial one, but I did not care – I was no longer interested in attending them because my mind was made up. Of course, I did end up attending all three of them and my goodness, I was disappointed.

At the top of that disappointing list was a place that was basically a rondavel turned into a bachelor/open plan space or room, or whatever that was. I remember being unable to hide my disapproval during the viewing, I think I even let out a little sound of “yho ha.a, this aint it”. The owner of the premises quickly picked up on this because I had been standing in the exact same spot by the door for at least a minute. I mean I didn’t know what else to do because the entire space was so crowded with so many things and with two people being inside it at the same time, standing by the door seemed like the safer option.

I left that viewing and immediately called my aunt. I was in so much disbelief and had to share it with someone, and of course my aunt was the perfect person for this. With each disappointing factor I described she replied with just the right amount of disapproval in her voice accompanied by the odd, “asoze mntanam” and “hayi hayi kaloku”. By the end of the call we both agreed that life in Johannesburg is expensive, but were hopeful that I would find the right place, and I mean I already had found it.

Fast forward to today, and I am writing this blog post in the comfort of my bed listening to the birds chirp outside. My curtains are closed but it isn’t dark, because the sun is still shining into my bedroom. I finally have a place to call home and I am loving each and every moment of it. Living alone is an experience that I’d recommend to anyone who can afford to, especially if you’ve never had the experience. This is also my very first time living in my own space, according to my full definition of the phrase. I do not share anything with anyone, unless I want to and that on it’s own is a privilege that I am so grateful to be experiencing.

The last time I had a pseudo experience of living in my ‘own space’, I was living in foster care and was still in high school. It was my first time having my own room, my own bed and my own study desk, etc, etc. I enjoyed it so much, but it didn’t last long because I ended up sharing my room with my foster sister. A decision that I would make all over again if I had to. Then after that, I lived in a commune, then it was res during varsity, another commune last year and now its my own apartment. Thank you God!

I don’t take for it granted that I have my own place, let alone that I can afford to pay for it every month. I know that many older women in my life have never experienced this type of freedom. Take for instance my mother; she lived at home until her early 20’s and only moved out of the family home when she met my father and when he left, my sister and I were in the picture so she never lived alone or had a chance to experience the gold and treasure that I’m experiencing. Then there’s my aunt who had the exact same experience. She lived at home until she met my uncle and even though they didn’t move in together until they were married, any ideas of that she had of independence were crushed by the war that broke out in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) all those years ago. As a couple, they fled and moved to South Africa, where they lived together and eventually had two children. And I am sure many other Black elder women have experienced a similar storyline.

I had this conversation with her during a recent visit back home while I was doing her hair and even she was shocked by her reality. Her eyes widened when she realised that she had never had her own place and her own things that just belonged to her. As a means to brighten up the conversation, she expressed how proud of me she was and reminded me to stay away from boys for as long as I needed to – her exact words. Although I don’t fully agree with that statement, I can still appreciate the sentiment behind it.

There is so much freedom, power and happiness in being able to walk around naked when I feel like it, or blast my favourite song on my speakers during my evening showers. I am getting to know me and I like it. I am also nurturing my inner child who never really and truly got to experience the idea of privacy and who was later thrown into a cycle of instability due to the loss of my mother.

I have been searching for home since then, and now I have finally found it.

My favourite part of it all, is having the entire bed to myself every night (yes, sleeping on a chest slaps but you know what I mean). I have always had to share a bed or have slept on a single bed. I get to wash my dishes whenever I feel like it, while there is nothing stopping me from making pancakes at 11pm on a random Wednesday night. I am also getting the chance to make it my own by slowly furnishing it and filling it up with all the things I have stored in the mental compartment that has been storing interior design ideas since 2014. I can hear myself think and have the choice of two couches to work from.

I promised to give myself the life that I want to live and by having my own home, I am doing exactly that.

Skin

by Isipo Bakana

(CW: Suicide)

‘You’re too into boobs to want to kill yourself.’ My words dry up in my throat and hurl themselves back into my voice box, backing themselves up in a corner of uncertainty and disbelief at this senseless demonstration of ignorance.  The way his words rolled off his tongue as though what he was saying was seamlessly acceptable. 

I feel as though home isn’t just a place full of my safest sounds. It’s the Boys II Men that whirs through the small speaker in my mother’s room while I blast 808’s and Heartbreak through my earbuds. It’s looking out the window and staring at the skeletal trees that carry their leaves so gracefully that they’re tinged with an amber hue around the edges; signalling that winter is waiting just around the corner to make its grand entrance. It’s the air, and how it carries the aroma of lavender and nicotine that trails down from Mrs Thompson’s third floor apartment, the familiarity of my girlfriends shampoo as I smell her bouncy hair while hugging her goodbye. And I hold her extra tight tonight before walking her to her car because it might happen tonight. 

But I said that yesterday, and the day before that, and I’ll probably say it tomorrow as well. But tonight, I lie in my bed again and wonder if it’ll be done tomorrow. 

Sometimes the Monday mornings are so mellow that I almost forget to swing my legs off my bed and into my skin. 

My thick skin.

Starting with the mask of deception, and then come the arms of affection (which I personally think are the wickedest because when the streetlights pour into my cluttered room and when the affection gets peeled off, only the scars of self-hatred are left). Lastly, I step into the feet of a coward. Feet that are willing to walk away from anything.

The thing about having thick skin is that you have to drag it with you everywhere you go. Haul the smile from the cracks in your skin and plaster it across your face extra hard so it doesn’t look fake. Laugh with your outside laugh when you’re inside just so everyone can put their doubts aside. Walk these school corridors with a bounce in your step, not because you want to look cool, but because the skin underneath just wants to stay in bed all day cuddling with the neighbour’s cat, yet the thick skin knows better. As I mentioned before, this particular Monday morning is rather mellow. We all file into the English classroom with loud, indistinctive chattering floating about the room and we take our seats while we anxiously await the register question. 

“How are you feeling today?” A simple question. “We’ll start at the bottom .” Our teacher says, “Xulu?” Necks crack to face me and all eyes are now on the thick skinned kid. 

“Suicidal.” I say audibly. An icy layer of silence blankets the room. 

‘You’re too into boobs to want to kill yourself.’ My words dry up in my throat and hurl themselves back into my voice box, backing themselves up in a corner of uncertainty and disbelief at this senseless demonstration of ignorance.  The way his words rolled off his tongue as though what he was saying was seamlessly acceptable. 

Chai

Photo taken by: Amina Deka Asma in bed this morning.

I grew up drinking tea
Rooibos tea in big mugs filled with water, 2 sugars and milk for taste.
It was a weekend ritual
One that involved everyone in the house
Guests, family. We all drank tea.

“Amina, tu fanyiye chai” my mom would say.
Deliberate in her request because she knew that I made it best.
I made it with love and care.

It was a weekend ritual of boiling the kettle
Lining up all the mugs
Rinsing them one by one
Adding a teabag to every second mug
2 sugars each, but 1 for Mom
Adding the boiling water
Stir, stir and stir
Now add the teabags to the alternate mugs
Stir, stir and stir
Add the mugs to the tray
And one teaspoon just in case
Slices of lemon on a saucer and a jug of milk to accompany the ensemble
Then deliver as requested.

Now I make it without the milk, but still insist on big mugs
The bigger the better.
I make sure to drink a cup at least once a day
The older me seems to need tea just to think straight
To wake up
To get into work mode
To unwind
To warm up or cool down
It’s become more of a daily ritual
One that ensures my growth continues.

Thunderstorms

It’s the morning after the storm and it has started to rain again.
I think the worst has passed, we are just dealing with the aftermath now.
The night was good to us, it was quiet and peaceful.

But what if I’m wrong and the storm actually hasn’t passed?
What if this morning’s showers are an indicator of what is yet to come?
I’m not sure how much more I can handle.
It hurts too much.

You’d think that a person who has been through so many storms would be used to them by now, but I’m not.

I don’t know how to handle the tsunami of feelings that build up inside of me and translate into heavy rains down my cheeks.

I don’t know what to do with the thunderstorm sounds of my cries.
I have no clue how to clear the grey skies enough for me to think clearly again.

I thought I was equipped with what to do when the flood walls I have built begin to tumble down.

You’d think that a person who has been through so many storms would be used to them by now, but I’m not.

-ADA

An ‘essential’ workers’ work

[TW: mention of death, loss, mental illness]

It’s January 2020 and my stress and anxiety levels are in a constant competition to outdo each other. I had just completed my final year of university at the end of 2019 and was now at home job hunting and praying, panicking and praying, very depressed but was still praying.

For me, the panic kicked in on the Monday after graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies, and isiXhosa. I woke up in a panic that morning because it had just dawned upon me that come the 30th of November 2019, I would be an unemployed graduate so the job hunting began.

I would make sure that I applied for at least five jobs a week. With my busy schedule as an Honour’s student, a Sub-Warden, a Tutor, Teaching Assistant and Hairdresser, five applications a week was a miracle. I had so much on my plate because I wanted to make sure that I capitalised on each and every opportunity that came my way, and I did. I was great at all my jobs, I even managed to bag a few awards at the end of the year because of my outstanding performance, but nothing ever entirely felt like it was enough.

I recall feeling like I had hit a brick wall when I realised that my student debt was yet another obstacle that I had to overcome. My alma mater was in no way helpful and the money I was making was no longer enough to cover the expenses that came with insisting on studying further even though I had no prospects of funding for that year, a decision that I will never regret.

Eight months later the hard work, sweat, literal blood and tears paid off. I got a call for an interview from one of the biggest newsrooms in country. I was shaking throughout the call and couldn’t believe my ears. Straight after that call, I cried my eyes out and thanked God for answering the prayers that I had been praying for months, and particularly that morning. Besides being unemployed and in desperate need of a job and a promise of survival, I was going through the most mentally. The anniversary of my late mothers death was coming up and my mental health was hanging on by a strand of hair. Fickle in reality, while having to be strong on the outside.

Might I add that this was now my second job offer, but the first one that actually counted. The first offer required me to settle my student debt of more than R60 000 and still cough up close to half of that amount for student registration and tuition for the year. So even though I was pleased to have this as an option, it was also a rude reminder of my bleak reality in relation to my dreams to carry on in the world of academia.

According to the call with the man who was soon to become my boss, I was to be flied up to Johannesburg for a full day of an interviewing process that was made up of 12 potential intern graduates for a programme that could only accommodate 10.

And so the day came. A lot happened between me receiving that call and me sitting in a conference room in front of the other candidates listening to their story pitches, nervously awaiting my turn. This was everything that I had been praying for, I was well prepared and even had some familiar faces around me that were rooting for me. It was a gruelling day, not because of the interviewing process but because of the fact that I was so tired. I was tired on the inside and was so desperate for it to all work out. My mental health was still fickle and I was so stressed that my period even started at the end of that interview day.

Left: Photo’s were taken at the end of the interview process.
Credit: Modiegi Mashamaite

I recall sipping on some red wine on my flight back to East London, thinking to myself that even if the job did not work out, I had tried my best and that was enough for me. Do not get me wrong, I really needed this job, but I was also extremely proud of myself for making the cut. According to the interviewing panel, there were more than 500 applicants, and knowing that my application stood out for them gave me hope. So much hope.

Fast forward to a week later and I got the call I had been so nervously waiting for, me Amina Deka Asma got the job and was due to fly back to Johannesburg to commence my internship in less than three weeks! It all finally paid off and I had myself to thank for sticking it all out. I never gave up on myself and getting this job was so affirming. I did not take it for granted that I managed to get a job the very next year after graduating, at one of the biggest newsrooms in the country within my field of study. A dream come true, if you ask me.

But all dreams come to an end right? Well, at least mine did.

Like my fellow interns across the country, I started my job on the brink of a pandemic that no one really sufficiently predicted. Not many people knew how much it would change our lives as we know them and the world around us. I for one, only got to spend a period of two months in the office, and worked from home for the rest of year. Not only did this sudden transition affect my work ethic, my psyche, and my holistic experience of my first year of work, but it also had a huge impact on my general outlook on life.

Within less than two months of lockdown I was tired of being an essential worker. I no longer wanted to be the intern reporter/journalist who had to come up with something to write on a daily basis, I slowly but surely grew to hate my job. As time went on I even grew tired of my colleagues, my housemates and my living space. Like many other people, I was tired of the pandemic and I did not have the choice to take a break and detach from everything.

By June, I realised that I hated working in the fast news industry. I often questioned myself as to whether me having studied Journalism was the right choice. I doubted myself in everyway possible and the nature of my work as well as the work environment did not help at all. An array of things happened that I will not mention for the respect of my previous workplace and for my own protection. Being surrounded by the news of so much death, gloom and sadness affected me so badly and I didn’t feel like I had a choice out of it. I constantly felt like I was not allowed to complain because I was an essential worker according to the National State of Disaster. My job was essential and I had absolutely so say in this.

On the days when getting out of bed became a mission, I would like there and fantasise about what my next work experience would be like, but would quickly be reminded of my reality. At one stage I recall being so tired of working in the news world that I researched other career fields that I could potentially enter, from being an Au Pair to a Personal Assistant, anything and everything was a lot more appealing than what I was doing.

But at least one good thing came out of it all. I got a chance to work within the news industry and because of that, I now know that I never want to work in it again. At least not anytime soon. Thank you to God and my faithful ancestors, I no longer work in the fast news world. My journalistic love, passion and interest has been restored and I am slowly but surely working towards a point where I fully believe in myself and my capabilities again.

But I was told that I am Black and beautiful

So here is my attempt at writing about being ‘desired’ as a dark skinned Black woman and how this has affected me up to this day.

All trigger warnings observed – and I do not say this because I am trying to get people to read this, but because I really do not know which triggers I should mention. I am also still struggling with the process of admitting to myself that this has been a very triggering topic for me. I mean that my mind is taking a while to reconcile all of this, and for this I offer my humble apologies.

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From the time that I was 6-years-old, I realised that I was a lot darker than both my sister and mother, who were the only family around. To comfort me, my mother would show me photos of my sperm donor who I resemble a lot, accompanied by words that I assume were meant to reassure me; “Amina, you are my dark beauty, you are Black and beautiful”. These words hardly lived long enough to serve their purpose.

To be a dark skinned little girl meant that I often over compensated with my personality and jokes because I did not want my lighter friends to ever get a chance to point out the one thing that embarrassed me the most, the shade of my skin. When and if this was brought up, it was almost always around the context of being fetishised or between sentences that came out of the mouths of people that wanted something from me. My dark skin would get complimented to my face, but get compared to the well-known Kiwi black shoe polish behind my back.

I have written extensively about being made fun of as a little girl in primary school, from being called an array of derogatory terms to being compared to midnight darkness as a joke to make everyone laugh. Yes, we were kids, but those words still hurt. They hurt me a lot. What I have not really written a lot about is how I navigated my high school years as a dark skinned young girl, teenager and now a woman.

Amina in Grade 8
Amina in Grade 11
Amina in Grade 12

The photos above give you a glimpse into what I looked like during my high school years. In grade 8, I was very dark. A lot darker than my classmates and this was something that I was conscious about. I was aware that the shade of my skin acted as an added identity marker for my peers to use when deciding how to treat me, which language to speak when addressing me, or which conclusions to make about me.

I recall one day during Art class, very early in the term during my grade 8 year, a few of my classmates were talking about me in isiXhosa because they were convinced that I couldn’t understand what they were saying. And even though they didn’t say anything negative about me, I still took offence and looked one of them in the eye and replied by saying,”Ndiyaniva” (I can understand what you guys are saying/I can hear you guys. The look on their faces was priceless and I got such a good laugh out of the entire situation. Excuse me, I digress.

As a student who didn’t attend primary school at two of the main feeder schools that my high school worked with, meant that I had a lot of ground to cover. I had a lot of work to do in terms of proving myself worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone their friendship. Making friends was already one of my weakest points, so I had to use my brains and ‘smart mouth’ to charm the people around me. And yes, it did work but only to a certain extent. The people whose attention I really wanted was something that I never got, not because of me at least.

What I mean here is that I was always the friend that guys befriended in order to get closer to one of my friends and this messed with my mind a lot. It made me wonder what was wrong with me, or what I had to change in order to become a bit more attractive to the people I went to school with. I already believed that my dark skin was working against me, so I always stayed in shape and didn’t laugh too loud or let anyone get too close. Yes, I was in high school and these are things that people go through at that age, but it didn’t help that none of my close friends were as dark as I was. Or that the one guy who ended up showing interest in me broke up with me for a white girl. How much worse can it get? Might I mention that this gentle brother was also dark in complexion, but he had it easy, I mean he fed right into the stereotype of tall, dark and handsome, and he was a guy!

To be completely honest, I did not believe that I was beautiful at all. I did not believe that I was desired or that I ever would be, because of the shade of skin.

And this is what went on in my head for years until the early years of university where I had to unlearn the harmful ideas that I, Amina Deka Asma believed about herself. I had to spend hours in the mirror starring at my features and finding beautiful things about my face. I started to fall in love with my eyes, my smile, the shape of my nose and eventually me. I fell in love with myself. With my dark skinned self.

This was a process that had to happen over and over again because the cycle of self-hate and the feelings of undesirability always found a way to creep up on me again. In fact it just took a stranger referring to me as a ‘dark bone’ for me to dive into a downward spiral. Or for one of my residence mates to ask me why I preferred to were black clothes instead of wearing bright coloured clothes that ‘would bring out my skin tone’. The triggers were everywhere and quite frankly people didn’t care. People do not care. We see this every time the colourism topic comes up on Twitter, during such a time that I choose to log off until something else becomes the topic of discussion. For the sake of my peace and sanity.

I recall being interested in trying out make up for the very first time in grade 12. My matric dance was coming up and I was advised to get some foundation in order to achieve the all-matte look that I was going for. I kid you not, but up until that day when I was standing in Foschini and the make-up consultant had covered my entire face with foundation, I did not believe that there was even make-up out there for me. Make-up for my skin shade that would suit me and enhance my beauty. Lucky for me that lady was not phased by my dark skin, so she didn’t offer me any unsolicited advice like many of the other make-up consultants that I have come across.

My favourite one is when they advise me to use sunblock, or a range of face products that have lightening agents as their main ingredients, as if I asked them how I could make my skin lighter. If you have ever done this to someone you know who is dark in complexion, STOP THAT THING!!! It is extremely harmful and darn right rude. No one asked you and even if you feel like you are offering your professional opinion, KEEP IT SHUT, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!

One thing I am grateful for is my ability to fight the urge to use these said lightening creams, and please do not take this as me judging those people who do use them because everyone has their own reasons and I have no place to judge anybody. The ‘accepted’ beauty standards that society has decided to align themselves with is enough of a reason for me to understand why someone would lighten their skin. However, what I am trying to say is that as a person who descends from a country where skin lightening is the norm and where the skin lightening market is thriving, overcoming the temptation and urge is something that I will always be proud of. I thank myself for arriving at a place where I love who I am and what I look like, and even though I still have to check myself when it comes to issues of colourism, I have definitely come far.

I feel beautiful and not because I am ‘a true African Queen’ or a ‘dark beauty’ but because I am beautiful.