We recently looked after a wealthy American and when she left, she generously tipped the staff that looked after her. Now, you can imagine, with the exchange rate sitting at R20 to the USD, it was not difficult for this Yank to be extravagant. The patient had a horrendous adrenaline sport injury in Zambia, was far from home in a country she’s never been to before, and was totally traumatised. I watched my staff not only care for her physically, but they loved her and tenderly nursed her broken spirit with their usual combination of love and compassion. She wrote them each a beautiful card and filled it with cash. And so, with cash in hand our lovely French carer, Eddie went to buy groceries.


Now, before I get to the rest of the story, here are some facts about Eddie. He is short and has big soulful brown eyes. His smile comes easily and he takes life very seriously (the way he concentrates when carrying a tray of tea is beautiful to watch). He attempts every job as if it is the most important task in the world. Eddie does have very bad luck with taxis though. I do not know how he ever gets anywhere. Without fail, he skids into our 6am staff meeting with seconds to spare. The taxi either got a flat tyre, stopped because the driver fought with a passenger, turned around because it didn’t have enough change, there was an argument with a queue marshal, or VERY often, the taxi will break down. Eddie has some story to share about the drama at every early team meeting. We also have a rule that the last person to arrive for the staff meeting sits on the uncomfortable little tripod chair. No one  except Eddie has sat on this chair in months.


So, Eddie goes with the generous tip and buys himself and his family groceries. He gets on the taxi home and has a little nap. Then, he gets off the taxi, WITHOUT the groceries. After walking a few metres he remembers, and sprints back to the taxi, only to find it empty. Whoever stole his groceries was lightning fast! The next morning, he shares his story with Olida, our fierce supervisor whom I will follow to the ends of the earth. Olida shows zero sympathy. All she does is go to each staff member and demand a contribution towards Eddie’s grocery fund after explaining the story. No one disagreed or protested. Everyone just made sure Eddie had the same amount as he did before and that he would be able to buy his necessities. She then tells Eddie to pull himself towards himself and not to be so stupid again.


I was not involved in this at all. I just heard it by chance and was taken aback by the generosity of my team and Olida’s incredible wisdom and leadership. I should not be surprised. I have watched how these guys care for and love strangers, so is it not completely obvious that, of course, they will take care of each other like this? The saying, “we all need to bend a little so no one breaks” jumps to mind. This simple act of kindness did not just fill Eddie’s family’s tummies, but he was reminded that he is valued and that he belongs. He has a place in this tribe, team, unit, force, clan, squad, family, gang or whatever you want to call it.


Eddie has a special story. Let me start at the beginning. We had the incredible privilege of looking after Jenny, the legendary trauma ICU physio’s dad for end-of-life care. He was with us for many months and had a beautiful, gentle death. Jenny and I knew each other well, but during the months that her father was with us, my dad was also dying, and the two of them died six weeks apart. When walking a road like this together, a deep bond forms and the two of us would often giggle together, have a cry on each other’s shoulder or vent when things became too much to bear. Jenny is passionate, innovative, and incredibly creative and because of this, the poor woman spends quite a bit of time at Builder’s Warehouse. Every time she came back from there, she would tell me that a security guard in the parking lot with compassionate eyes would come and talk to her. He knew she was a health care worker due to her scrubs, and he hoped that she could help find him a job. He was a qualified nurse in the DRC, but due to circumstances at home, he had to flee and the only work he could find was to be a car guard. One day she spoke to me about Eddie and said, “I have never seen eyes like that. You can tell by them that he is kind. You need to employ him.” Full stop. And so, being the obedient wall flower that I am, I did just that. Eddie came for an interview, I rejoiced at having another male carer on board and I knew the fact that he could speak French was a skill that would  come in very handy.


From the moment Eddie started here he was a team player. He laughs easily and then blushes. He is simply always wiling to work. He has three kids and a wife. He is gentle but fiercely protective, I suppose, just like Olida and the team was about him. When he suffered a loss, they all felt it and together, made it better. Do we teach this or is this just something we know in our deepest being? Do the people who live behind the high walls know they are loved when they never need anybody? I am always aware of the difference between people who travel in packs and people who travel alone while I drive. The best moments I ever see on the road are the band of brothers on the back of a bakkie. They laugh and joke and share whatever they eat and drink. Then, if you look at other cars where people are driving solo, one senses an isolation for which the fancy pricetag of the vehicle cannot make up.


I admire other cultures that focus on the team more than the individual and I often wonder how much of our mental illness can be attributed to our focus on “self”: my gender, my future, my identity, my dreams, my demands, my sexuality, my needs, my wants.

Catherine Gildiner is a phenomenal psychologist working near the Canadian border in the States. In her book, Good morning Monster, she unpacks how the first nation people (native Americans) seldom benefit from Western psychotherapy. Although there is value in it sometimes, there is a bigger desire, almost on a cellular level, for them to sit in a group and thresh things out. They admire the wisdom of an elder rather than a stranger, and other traditions and rituals, rather than being forced to deal with whatever the trauma or loss is alone. I find this to be true of our team here too. Although we often speak one-on-one with social workers and shrinks, I see the benefit after group sessions when we all walk away closer together, lighter and more at peace. It is as if when our focus is on the team’s strength and not on that of the individual, it makes us stronger. It makes much more sense as no one has to shoulder all the responsibility. We do it together. We share the burdens and the joys.


If you are like me, you are probably quite over terms like “affirmative action”, “redistribution of wealth” and the term “ubuntu”. To me, everything feels like an excuse for the government to loot the coffers and for the man on the street to be pushed further into suffering. But I looked what “ubuntu” really means again and actually love it. This is how Wikipedia describes it:


“A collection of values and practices that people of Africa or of African origin view as making people authentic human beings. While the nuances of these values and practices vary across different ethnic groups, they all point to one thing – an authentic individual human being is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental and spiritual world.


We have lost so much in our society by forgetting this. How lucky are my team and I as we are forced right to the edge of the abyss, where there is no other option than to be fully human, vulnerable and authentic. It is not a comfortable place to be, but it is the only place where we grow, truly love and belong unconditionally. And with people like Eddie and Olida along side me, , am I not the luckiest team player alive?