the mo­ment that changed my life

As these three women learnt, just one event can change the course of your fu­ture, of­ten with un­ex­pected re­sults

Essentials (South Africa) - - CONTENTS NOVEMBER 2018 -

Mbali Zondo, 30, is a PR ac­count man­ager and lives in North­cliff. Af­ter watch­ing her child­hood home be re­pos­sessed by the bank, Mbali vowed to one day have her own prop­erty to call home.

My child­hood home was a beau­ti­ful, four-bed­room house in Westville, KZN, where I lived with my par­ents and sis­ter. I have many fond mem­o­ries of that time, run­ning around with a bunch of friends in the neigh­bour­hood. Sum­mer days were spent around our swim­ming pool, with ex­tended fam­ily join­ing us for the hol­i­days. My favourite place was my bed­room, where I would look for­ward to re­treat­ing af­ter a long day at school.

But all that changed when I turned 14 and my par­ents got di­vorced. Sud­denly it was just me, my sis­ter and my mom – and we had to say good­bye to our house. The bond was in ar­rears, and be­cause my mom couldn’t af­ford to make any of the monthly re­pay­ments, the bank ended up re­pos­sess­ing our home.

Tur ning po int

Life be­came un­pre­dictable af­ter that. My mom, sis­ter and I moved around quite a bit – some months we’d stay with fam­ily, or spend a few weeks with friends. When we could, we rented a place for six months at a time. But as soon as I set­tled in a new home, it was time to move again. I en­vied my friends who lived with both their par­ents in a house, and I wished I could in­vite them over to my home

‘Af­ter my child­hood house was re­pos­sessed I was too scared to call any­where “home” – but it mo­ti­vated me to do things dif­fer­ently’

for a visit or sleep­over. To my hor­ror, at the end of each school term the teacher would call me aside to ask which home ad­dress should be on my re­port.

When I fin­ished school in 2006, my mother found a job in Joburg and I started study­ing in Pre­to­ria. But I still felt like a no­mad. I’d com­mute be­tween the two cities or sleep on a friend’s couch if I had an early lec­ture. It was tough hav­ing no real space of my own to study or re­lax, and it was on those early win­ter morn­ings in a taxi on my way to univer­sity that I vowed that I wouldn’t make the same mis­takes with money my par­ents had made. I promised my­self that I would be a lot smarter with my fi­nances, so that by the time I was 30 I’d have a home of my own.

In 2012, while in my sec­ond job as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions as­sis­tant and aged 24, I made the bold move to seek the help of a fi­nan­cial ad­viser. Up un­til then I’d asked fam­ily mem­bers for ad­vice on how to save money but I wasn’t get­ting the re­sults I wanted. My ad­viser helped me break my goals into short, medium and long term. My pri­mary long-term goal was to be in a po­si­tion to buy my first prop­erty – no easy feat con­sid­er­ing I was so young and wasn’t earn­ing a big salary. But twice a year we’d look at my fi­nances and work out a plan to make it hap­pen. It helped that I was still liv­ing with my mother, so I could scratch a few things off my monthly ex­penses list, like rent. I loved buy­ing shoes and go­ing out with my girl­friends, and to save money I had to se­ri­ously cut back on lux­u­ries. I did keep some money aside, though, for when I needed the odd spoil. And my sav­ings plan worked out: I was able to pay off my car be­fore sign­ing up for

an­other 18 months of study­ing.

What I Learnt

By the time I was 28 I’d fin­ished my hon­ours qual­i­fi­ca­tion and was earn­ing a de­cent salary. In the four years since I had first met with my fi­nan­cial ad­viser, I had man­aged to save enough to put down a de­posit on a prop­erty. Af­ter months of house hunt­ing I bought my first home in May this year – a two-bed­room apart­ment in a gated com­mu­nity.

The day I moved in was the mo­ment I fi­nally felt I was home. I couldn’t wait to in­vite friends over for home- cooked meals – and to toast my big pur­chase with a glass of bub­bly. I love that I can make it truly my own space and share it with the peo­ple I love.

Los­ing my child­hood home and all the un­cer­tainty that came with it was tough. But it taught me that be­ing fi­nan­ciallysavv­y is so im­por­tant, and that change is in­evitable – it’s how we re­act to it that de­ter­mines how we pull through it.

I set my­self a goal: to be a home­owner by the age of 30, and I did it

Jaci Jenk­ins, 47, is a com­mu­nity ser­vice doc­tor at Khayelit­sha Hospi­tal and lives with her hus­band Lee, 49, and daugh­ters Keto, 16, Ruby, 14, and Piper, 12, in Muizen­berg. Af­ter many years of work­ing in IT , open­ing a book store and start­ing a be­spoke jew­ellery busi­ness, Jaci de­cided to study medicine.

I grew up in Jo­han­nes­burg dream­ing of be­ing in an ex­cit­ing ca­reer like fly­ing pas­sen­gers across the world as a pilot, or do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful like car­ing for the sick as a nurse. When I reached the point in high school when I could choose my sub­jects, I de­cided not to take bi­ol­ogy be­cause I didn’t like the teacher

– a de­ci­sion that haunted me for years. I re­ally wanted to study medicine, but be­cause of the child­ish de­ci­sion I made in high school I felt I couldn’t. I set­tled to do a BCom de­gree and af­ter grad­u­at­ing worked for an IT com­pany in Aus­tralia where I met Lee, my hus­band. In the late 1990s we moved back to South Africa, got mar­ried and had our chil­dren. I stayed in IT be­cause the salary was good. But I never jumped out of bed in the morn­ing to go to work be­cause I wanted to; it was a means to an end.

Tur ning Point

Want­ing to find more mean­ing from my job, I of­ten re­vis­ited the idea of chang­ing ca­reers to medicine, but I’d quickly get jolted back to re­al­ity. I couldn’t leave my well-paid job to be a stu­dent again, never mind find time to at­tend lec­tures and do as­sign­ments, while still tend­ing to my fam­ily. I put the idea on the back-burner but I still needed a change; I took on some­thing that seemed less ‘im­pos­si­ble’ – I de­cided to fuel my in­ner en­tre­pre­neur. I opened a book shop in Melville with a friend, called Love Books, and I also started a jew­ellery busi­ness.

But I never re­ally gave up on my dream of help­ing oth­ers. At 38, and not get­ting any younger, I woke up one morn­ing and I knew that if I wanted to study medicine, I had to do it now. So in

2009 Lee and I sat down and dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ties of me ac­tu­ally go­ing back to univer­sity. Af­ter lengthy dis­cus­sions, weigh­ing the pros and cons, we de­cided that I should fol­low my heart. The girls were seven, five and three at the time, and although it was

‘I started study­ing medicine at 38 – a dream I’d had since I was 18’

chal­leng­ing we some­how man­aged. It helped that Lee worked flex­i­ble hours.

I knew that I’d have lit­tle time for any­thing else, so I sold my jew­ellery store and be­came a si­lent part­ner in Love Books. Lee and I took turns to do the school runs and I stayed up late ev­ery night to study. I of­ten missed out on the kids’ school con­certs, prize giv­ings and fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions due to my study com­mit­ments. Week­ends were usu­ally filled with as­sign­ments and text­books. There were def­i­nitely times when the pres­sure was too much and I of­ten cried in my car while driv­ing to classes, but giv­ing up was never an op­tion. We de­pleted our sav­ings so I could ful­fil my dream of be­com­ing a doc­tor, and if I stopped it would mean that ev­ery­thing would have been for noth­ing. I also knew that I wouldn’t be happy in any other ca­reer ex­cept medicine.

What I Learnt

Through a lot of ups and downs, I man­aged to com­plete the six years of med­i­cal school. I’m in my ninth year of medicine and do­ing my com­mu­nity ser­vice at Khayelit­sha Hospi­tal. Be­ing an older stu­dent was hard at first, but I dis­cov­ered that there were lots of ma­ture 18 year olds who had the same end-goal in mind. Lee and my three daugh­ters all moved from Joburg to Cape Town ear­lier this year so we can still be to­gether while I com­plete my com­mu­nity ser­vice. They’re proud of my achieve­ment and show their sup­port ev­ery day. I’ve re­alised – and I hope that I’ve taught my daugh­ters this too – that you are never re­ally trapped by the de­ci­sions you’ve made in the past. It’s never too late to make a change: all it takes is a bit of courage, and sup­port from those around you, to find a new life path.

It was tough, but I never gave up on my dream of help­ing oth­ers

Ul­pha Edries Arnold, 33, is a dig­i­tal mar­keter and lives in Sy­brand Park with hus­band Zu­naid, 37, her daugh­ter Amra, seven, mother Na­ri­man and brother Imaad. When her first mar­riage ended Ul­pha thought she’d never walk down the aisle again, but four years later that’s ex­actly what she did. I was first in­tro­duced to Zu­naid at a wed­ding when I was just 15. His fam­ily was friendly with mine; he was 18 at the time and I thought he was re­ally cute – plus I ad­mired his dance moves! Although we both did lit­tle more than ex­change in­ter­ested glances, I felt that I’d met some­one spe­cial. I saw him again at his mother’s funeral two years later but, again, we didn’t say much to each other. At 22, I got mar­ried and we had Amra, but two and a half years later got di­vorced, and although I dated from time to time, I didn’t give ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships much thought. I com­mit­ted my­self to rais­ing my daugh­ter and mak­ing the most of my ca­reer.

Then in No­vem­ber 2016, an In­sta­gram no­ti­fi­ca­tion popped up on my phone – it was from Zu­naid! Over the next few weeks we started chat­ting about life, Amra, his son, and what we’ve both been up to all these years. And he told me about his re­cent di­vorce. Tur ning Point

We quickly de­vel­oped a friend­ship be­yond

In­sta­gram and he formed a bond with my daugh­ter. One day Amra was sick and I had a big pre­sen­ta­tion at work, but Zu­naid of­fered to take care of her and even took her to the doc­tor with­out me hav­ing to ask. That one act of kind­ness made me re­alise that he wasn’t like any of the other men I had dated. In early Fe­bru­ary 2017 he asked me to ac­com­pany him to his step-sis­ter’s wed­ding later that month. While at the wed­ding, he ca­su­ally sug­gested that maybe we should get mar­ried too! I thought that he was just be­ing silly, but he did the tra­di­tional thing and asked my grand­fa­ther if he could marry me, and he re­ceived my fam­ily’s bless­ing. There was a part of me that thought I must be to­tally crazy for con­sid­er­ing it – be­cause we’d only been friends for three months by then.

‘Once we re­alised we were meant to be to­gether there was no point in wait­ing – we mar­ried two days later’

At first when he pro­posed I thought he must be jok­ing

What I Learnt

Both Zu­naid and I love liv­ing in the mo­ment so we didn’t see the point in wait­ing; we set our wed­ding date for the next Satur­day – only two days away! I in­vited my fam­ily and friends to the wed­ding and, although they were sur­prised, they were thrilled for us. I bought a R500 out­fit at a nearby mall and ap­pointed my sis­ter-in-law to do the decor, my cousin to do my make-up, and my mother, with the help of two friends, to trans­form my house for the low-key cer­e­mony. On our wed­ding day, Zu­naid made Amra feel like a princess and vowed to love and pro­tect her as much as he would me.

I’ve learnt that life can work in strange ways, and that there’s no per­fect tim­ing when it comes to mak­ing im­por­tant de­ci­sions about the fu­ture. I’d never have guessed that one day I’d find love again with my teenage crush.

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