Strategies of Hope
Well, the Covid winds have turned! Far fewer restrictions, except for still donning our masks in public. And the reopening of schools poses its own (renewed) challenges. And, thank heavens, the lights were on at Christmas!
So, what else is positive as we head further into the new year?
Quite a bit. Especially the positive mindset of every courageous person who has tackled going back to work, doing whatever’s possible to keep their jobs, or creating new opportunities for themselves.
Through the Business Network International contacts, we are kept in the know about which businesses have not managed to pull through, about who has started a new venture and about lucrative referrals flowing from the network. The ventures forming part of this network are mainly small to medium enterprises, which economists calculate represent a significant contribution to the national economy. The motivation of these small to medium self-employed entrepreneurs to succeed is strong and watching the clock doesn’t feature! Many of our bigger corporations are hamstrung by the trade unions which champion workers’ rights but do not put across the equally important need for organizational survival as well as work discipline. As for our dysfunctional state entities . . . This scenario just highlights how vital the ‘small is beautiful’ sector in South Africa is.
Earlier this month, our business network had its first ‘live’ event since lockdown first hit us – and the all-round enthusiasm was palpable. BNI’s international slogan for 2022 is ‘Better Together’ and we all experienced and supported that notion at this festive awards evening. Everyone was all dressed up for the occasion – contrary to all the “dressed only above the desk” jokes that did the rounds as we all had to zoom through our meetings! And what a welcome change it was to again meet so many people that we had only seen on screen for almost two years!
All the sincerity and humour, as well as the public acknowledgement of those who had persevered (as the Afrikaans saying goes) ‘om die wa deur die drif te trek’, truly made this evening a revival of social interaction. A festive dinner at beautifully set tables and with fine wines from the Cape made this occasion a celebration. Besides proving herself a born comedienne, our MC Niqui sang like a diva. But then she also paid her respects on behalf of the network to all the families and acquaintances who had lost someone to the pandemic. You could have heard a pin drop. In a few sentences, she related how she had feared for her life during the nightmare experience of lying in intensive care. This was followed up with an exuberant life-affirming song that reverberated through the venue and through each of us.
As humanity, together we have experienced something life-changing (or may yet continue to experience it, depending on possible further variants and mutations and on how the vaccination debate unfolds further). But that evening, for that group of people who had not seen each other for almost two years, there was a powerful revival and appreciation of social interaction and its healing value.
This was a highlight event for me as BNI Ambassador, assisting our wonderful Director Butch Coetzee with handing out the achievers awards! John Rankin – mover and shaker – received multiple awards!
The joy of living. Togetherness. Belonging. Better together!
Another organization which represents these values is South Africa’s Gift of the Givers. Doing what you can wherever it’s needed. Not leaving it up to someone else – or the state. And even though not everyone is able to provide emergency aid, even the smallest solution or act of kindness on an individual level counts . . .
A long morning’s wait at a clinic, for instance, can turn into an affirmation of the healing power of human contact. On one of those sweltering days we’ve had recently, my assistant Theresa returned to the clinic’s parking area when everything closed for lunch. Nearby, she spotted a middle-aged man sitting by himself in the shade. As is her nature, she greeted the gentleman and soon they were chatting away. Turns out he was from Joubertina and had been at the hospital since the previous week, waiting for a cataract procedure.
People from all over the Eastern Cape come to hospitals in Gqeberha, getting up before the crack of dawn and leaving their homes as early as 5am to be at the pick-up point where they meet the patient transport vehicles – and often arriving back home as late as 10pm. But this unfortunate man, due to some inexplicable delay, had been there for a few days, over a weekend no less, waiting for his eye op. Fortunately he was able to sleep in the hospital building.
He had never been away from home for so long, he told Theresa, and really missed his wife and grandchildren. His wife had just called, saying she really wanted him to come home now.
But being such a hot day, Theresa asked him whether he wouldn’t like something to drink and poured him some of the fizzy cooldrink she had brought along. Shyly he asked whether she perhaps had any bread. Which she did and soon they sat companionably having a bite to eat (a roll with chicken viennas) together. What she had, she happily shared. Based on the firm belief that such blessing works both ways. And that, as human beings, we have an obligation to nurture the spirit as much as the body.
And since his op was to happen later that day, she wished him a safe trip back and a good night’s rest in his own bed. “Ja, in haar arms!” he said with a huge smile, to which Theresa added: “En met al die kleinkindertjies ook saam in een groot happy bondel!”
Janee, the worth of human interaction . . . which reminds me of Goethe’s fairytale about the green snake: “What is more important than light? Conversation!”
The start of the year had a few welcome surprises in store for me. The normally quiet, project-poor January was suddenly peppered with assignments. Coaching conversations with overworked entrepreneurs; smaller and larger workshops, projects with NGOs and business teams. The requests and enquiries all reflected the common theme of “wanting to put shoulder to the wheel again”.
So far, then, the planning for the next few months continues. A pretty good feeling that kindles the enthusiasm!