It’s funny how life works out. It’s a bitter sweet fact if you think about it. You get people who are skilled in a particular craft, artisans, lucky enough to make a living from that simple or sophisticated craft. So much so that they effectively become the main character whenever stories of hard work paying off are told. But then you still find plenty people from this race of gifted ones struggling to make a living. Oppressed by the state of affairs which they were brought up and encaged within.
This is a scene I have seen way too often while growing up. The plot, which comes in variants and cliché form, always comes off as a unique play every time it is performed. Whether it is a builder/handyman/constructor living in a below standard house with a door barely attached to the hinges. Or a poorly paid domestic worker who wishes that she could keep her house in the same impeccable and clean state that she leaves her madam’s home when she leaves to catch the 5 o’ clock taxi/bus/train every weekday afternoon. The plot is a simple one. Arrogantly summarized in two sentences:
“A man has to do what a man pays him to do. This is a consequence because that man has mouths to feed.”
All in the name of Survival. Such a crucial element to life. Long before the words “man shall not live by bread alone” were spoken, man was already shedding blood, sweat, and tears to butter thy bread, satisfy thy lover, and rise thy children. In some cases hoping to rise thy children over and above the rock bottom which provided their humble beginnings. It is in this spirit that one spends their days doing everything that they have to do. However, one doesn’t get the time to do the things they want to do. No matter how much hard work is invested, that break doesn’t seem to come to the indebted souls.
I was recently reminded of this when I had to take my shoes for repair. My mom had sent them to one of the guys who has been repairing shoes in my neighbourhood for as long as I’ve been rapping Kanye West’s Power lyrics. All I had to do was go pick them up. When I got there the guy was busy, as usual, resurrecting another pair of crucified shoes. I always assumed that he makes good money. Seeing that he was productive from the time he lays his apron on his lap, to the time he seals shut the glue and puts away his tools. But that was not the story. He had to stop working to fetch my repaired pair of shoes (which he charged R25 for his work) and I followed him into the yard he works in front off to verify that they were actually my shoes.
This short walk was eye opening. The skilled shoe repairman, who fixes shoes for a living, was wearing a pair of torn and dirty sandals – which were missing some straps. Wearing busted shoes is common practise where I’m from. Nothing quite beats the comfort of shoes that have moulded to the shape and motion of your feet over the kilo meters of journeys and extended periods of time that you have worn them. This also lift the impression of a humble man to me. A free soul. Chilled. Then he went into a small shack which had its only window (a corrugated window which doesn’t let in any sunlight when closed) shut because it was a rainy day. I think his wife was inside preparing the evening dinner on what seemed to be a two plate stove. The space was too cramped for two full grown adults to move around freely and not have to shuffle around when one has to enter, such as how the repairman had to do while fetching my shoes. As I waited outside the shack for him to return, I remembered that it takes more than a good cash flow creating skill for one to make a good living. Because one can only truly live a good life if everyone around him/her is also living a comparable standard of life. That there is one of the few things I think I know for sure.
I know why the shoe repairman wears dirty sandals with lose straps. I know why he lives in a small shack that he shares with his life partner (or care taker). He is not alone. He has to provide for himself, his woman – whom he might still need to complete payments of lobola for, his mother – whom he left back on the soils which he was raised on, his (zero to many) kids – whom would also have to squeeze into that cramped shack and whom need buttered bread and nourishing meals so they can grow big and strong, and his younger siblings – whom will look up to him to fund their expedition to the city when the time comes if life allows it. As Kelis and Andrea 3 stacks put it on the hustlers anthem titled Millionaire:
“I ain’t rich… till she is rich… till he is rich… and we is rich!”
That is how I know why the overworked domestic worker can’t ever get her house to the state she would like it to be, and why the construction man’s door is off the hinges. They have lives which depend on them to survive. If they take a break or drop the ball things could take a turn for the worst. Such nervous conditions will endlessly ensure that the ends justifies the means. It is good to see them succeeding in their tireless attempts. I should take a minute and sing songs of praise to the mothers who put their kids through a college education by selling magwenya. To the man who have filled the bellies of their loved ones through the money they acquired through “di piece job”. To the domestics workers who extended their originally cramped RDP houses to accommodate their whole (plus extended) family members comfortably. To the shoe repairman who has allowed me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, because I would be wearing my expertly repaired running shoes.0