“Oh Alice … we were not ready for this!”
My greatest frustration lately is the words, “Oh Alice … we were not ready for this!”
When asked where I come from, the response is almost always the same, “Wow! Lucky you! What a beautiful country! What lovely people!” or “Oh, that’s where Nelson Mandela won his struggle for freedom.” But the response I get all the time is, “What a pleasure to meet someone from a country that has overcome apartheid.”
I am always stunned by the reality that nobody really knows much about South Africa. Actually, I am flabbergasted and slightly disgusted. I so desperately want to blurt out that we have yet to overcome apartheid – we haven’t, but for the players that have changed.
And then it happens; I want the world to know. I want this sweet grandpa standing in front of me to know. I want the lady who has just asked me to sign a book, to know all about the barbaric and sadistic killings of the minority in South Africa.
Quite often, I am nudged and signalled to pick my words carefully, and not say too much. It’s upsetting, they say. People can’t digest such cruelty, they say. People just aren’t ready, they say.
But, I can’t keep quiet and once they have formed a picture of the heartless and evil killings of white South Africans, they stare at me in disbelief and shockingly utter the words, “Oh Alice … we were not ready for this” before they hastily excuse themselves and head out in the opposite direction, afraid that they might “catch the killings” – as though it is contagious. As though it will now invade their lives.
“Wait. What? You were not ready for this?”
How do I tell them that we weren’t ready for this either? How do I explain that those tortured and murdered weren’t ready for their worst, but living nightmares? That father whose eyelids were removed, forcing him to watch his wife and daughter raped, wasn’t ready for this either. The mother, who listened to the screams of her daughter being brutally gang-raped and the choking sounds a little boy made while boiling water was poured down his throat, wasn’t ready for any of this.
How do I tell them that nobody is ever ready for any of this, yet, WE are forced to live this. How do I get them to understand that when four or eight attackers burst through the windows and doors of a home, there is no negotiating; there is no postponing or re-scheduling an attack on them. There is no option to walk away. There is never an opportunity to inform their attackers that they “are just not ready for this.”
How do I tell them that the scenes they play out in their minds can barely compare to the reality these families were forced to endure, before they ultimately die at the hands of evil? How can they understand that not one name on those crosses in a field in South Africa was ever ready to come face to face with the devil?
That little boy drowning in boiling water wasn’t ready for this. The mother of a 9-year-old princess wasn’t ready to hear her daughter’s screams while she was being chased and hunted through the corridors of her own home by her very own bogeymen. When a 2-year-old little girl is picked up by her blood-soaked feet after witnessing the brutal slayings of her parents; when she is held up by her beautiful red locks, shot through her head and tossed into a box, she wasn’t ready for this either. When a young lady in the prime of her life pulls off to the side of the road on a busy highway to change a flat tyre, she certainly wasn’t ready for her attackers that came out of nowhere and snubbed out her life.
So, while the world sleeps without having to check their doors and windows over and over again each night; while the rest of the world tosses and turns about their plans for the next day; perhaps looking forward to a planned holiday, or reminding themselves to schedule a meeting later in the week; maybe quickly working on a budget for a new car while choosing a school for their youngest or considering a college for their eldest, someone in South Africa is facing their greatest fear and they are not ready for the evil the darkness brings into their home.
Somewhere in the darkest of the night, a little boy is listening to his mother begging for the lives of her children. A little girl is desperate for her daddy to save them. A mother is trying to put on a brave face while she knows she is moments away from taking her last breath. A father, desperate to fight off their attackers and save his family is confronted with a dark, demoralizing reality; he is failing his family. It isn’t a fair fight. It isn’t his fault. It will never be his fault but still, they weren’t ready for this.
Nobody will ever be ready for this.
So, instead of walking away from the stories you aren’t ready to hear, consider those that weren’t ready to live it.