Nothing makes me come more alive than actively pursuing the things that God has placed on my heart. In 2009 I had the absolute pleasure of developing a relationship with Gogo. She is my absolute best. I have not met anyone else yet to rival her spunky personality and the fun-loving sparkle in her eyes. In the face of a life of hardship, having never had the pleasure of receiving reward in this life in the form of even simple wealth, this is a major testament to her character. It is a reminder to me to persevere and keep my eyes on what truly matters.
This is a piece that I wrote about Gogo while she was still alive. Knowing her had a huge impact on my life…
Tsintshiwe Siyolo was born in 1910 to a Xhosa family in the Transkei. Farm workers living close to the land, leaving their doors open at night, sitting up late talking around a flickering fire while children slept on grass mats. Gogo tells me that she was a good child, loved by her parents. She remembers waking early to have tea ready by 5am for them before they left for work.
I met Gogo on a Thursday afternoon in 2008 at a soup kitchen in Walmer Township. It was pouring with rain. They told me that she was a very old lady, and that she had just lost everything she had in a fire. She looked up at me from where she sat, I thought perhaps she expected me to have a solution, but I didn’t. It was several months later before our paths would cross again.
Gogo can’t remember exactly when it was that she came to Port Elizabeth, but we think perhaps it was during the 1980s. I was born to a white middle class family from Port Elizabeth in 1983. I grew up in the suburb of Walmer, adjacent to Walmer Township where Gogo arrived on the assurance that great fortune awaited. Her husband had recently died, leaving her with no income. Her children, already resettled in the city, told her that there was plenty of money in Walmer Township. She says it wasn’t true, and instead, all that she found was lots of people dying, “It was not a good place for a human being to stay”. During her time in Walmer Township she has buried three daughters and two sons. One daughter remains.
When I asked if much has changed in Walmer Township since she arrived, she said that in the old days they used to go to the toilet in the veld, but now she has a bucket system. In any case, she hears that there is danger of rape if one wanders too far away from home.
I met Gogo for the second time towards the end of 2008. I was accompanying a friend on home visits. She works for a local non-profit organisation supporting families in Walmer Township. We returned to Gogo again, this time some university students came with us. She was living in a make-shift wooden shack, constructed over bare ground, mud when it rained. I asked where her bed was, it was the damp pile of blankets in the corner. It rained a lot that winter.
Sometimes when a child begs at my car window, I feel frustrated because I cannot help everyone. It makes me shake my head and avoid eye contact because, what good would the little I could give do anyway? When I lay in bed listening to the pouring rain, I didn’t know how to help Gogo. I prayed that God would provide her with a new house.
In December Gogo received a new house built by local university students during the summer holiday. I did not initiate the project. On the day that the new house was revealed to Gogo, I asked her how she felt, she said, “I would not be surprised if God himself is waiting for me in that house when I arrive.”
I remember the day that I brought a newspaper article about her and her new home to show her. When she saw herself she cried and said that I must speak at her funeral. I think perhaps she felt that her story mattered, that she has been seen. I study the deep lines etched into her dark face and wonder about the years that they represent. The more we know, the more we understand. We speak through an interpreter, who is constantly in fits of laughter at Gogo’s jokes, the only thing I can catch is the glint in her bright blue eyes, but Gogo says that when she speaks to me in her dreams, I speak Xhosa too.
Watch this short clip of “Gogo in action”.