We went to Lelapa Restaurant in Langa township tonight. This is not your ordinary place to drop by on a random evening. Arrangements must be made, plans put in motion in advance. The restaurant is located in Langa township. It takes a small army to keep it safe, to monitor the cars outside, to prepare the meals, to supply the music, to provide a South African dining experience.
The restaurant’s owner, Sheila, has a life story that would make most of our lives look flat. She came from the townships, learned how to be an entrepreneur on her own and over the past 40 years has established herself and her restaurant in her community as a thriving business.
Her home, the restaurant, has gone through many renovations, including growing in size, having the walls redone, concrete floor poured, and being wired for electricity. It is hard to even fathom the amount of energy it took her to raise that much money in order to keep growing and sustaining her ventures. This transformation started over 40 years ago.
Working as a housecleaner, one day she discovered a receipt laying on the table for R39.96 (~$4). The receipt was merely to purchase wine and cheese, yet was the equivalent of her weekly pay.
As she stated, “At that moment, I realized I was being valued the same as wine and cheese. I was not okay with this.”
Her story weaves the tale of a woman balancing two jobs, night school, finding imbalance and the need for change, making her own way, becoming a business owner – traveling to Bangkok, Thailand to purchase goods and selling them back in South Africa. After numerous trips like this, she was earning enough to keep growing the home’s capacities. Sheila did all of this in the middle of social upheaval and political unrest.
The life story continued, and as she spoke, weaving in dry humor and life observations, I realized behind the food and community and home renovations was a woman of steel and an all-too-relevant life lesson. Her persistence and work ethic enabled her to build the life she wanted. Nowadays we all are facing hurdles and obstacles from all directions. Teacher morale has been shaken and some teachers are not sure how to move forward in the face of such seemingly unsurmountable adversity. The lesson is this… if Sheila can build this fantastic space and community cornerstone out of nothing but her intrinsic drive and hard work, we can make a choice to not let the obstacles in education define or steer us. We can rise above.