EMBRACING YOUR DIFFERENCES
Bullying has the potential to wreak havoc on anyone’s life. Siyaxolisa (Siya) Damoyi was tormented so badly that she altered the way she looked. Until she realised that the problem was not with her but with her bullies.
Siyaxolisa (16) was born in Kossovo, an informal settlement in Cape Town.
“My mother was a single parent, we lived in a one room shack with my brother (7) and cousin (15). I shared a bed with my mother, and my cousin and brother slept on a mattress on the floor.”
“My mother was as a domestic worker and would leave me in the care of my brother and cousin because she did not have anyone else. One morning my mom went to work very early. As she was leaving she told us that we must close the door from the inside because she was unable to do it from the outside. My cousin got up to close the door, then got into the bed with me.”
“ My brother said when he heard weird sounds he woke up and saw me in the bed with my underwear off and my cousin laying next to me. Shocked, my brother chased my cousin out of the shack. I was four and I remember him being much bigger than me. My mom was called to come back and she took me to the hospital to check if everything was okay. She said that the doctor told her that I was okay physically.”
To assist with caring for Siya, her mother thought that it would be best to get assistance from older family members.
“After the incident with my cousin, my mother’s nephew came to Cape Town to live with us. I was young but I remember spending lots of time with him, because he didn’t work. He paid attention to me. My mom was old school so I couldn’t really speak to her about stuff that was bothering me. He was in his early 20’s, and he would cook for me, we would talk about life in general and about things he wanted to achieve. He would always advise me about not making wrong decisions.”
Siya and her uncle grew very close, with him often playing the father role in her life. When Siya was 10, her uncle needed to go to the Eastern Cape.
“My mother told him that he shouldn’t go, but he insisted that he must because he wanted to help us. He said that our situation was not good and that he believed that he could get work back home and build a house for us. He was horrified with the shack’s condition, especially in winter.
Shortly after he moved, my mother told me that he had been killed by community members. I’m not sure if he tried to rob someone or if he was trying to rob a store, but the community caught him and stoned him to death. I heard my mother talking about it on the phone, she was very emotional, so I needed to be strong for her. I know my uncle was a good person, if it is true that he tried to rob it must have been out of necessity. I was angry and sad about his death because he was my best friend.”
Siya says that the years that followed her uncle’s death were tough at home. She noticed violence everywhere.
“Because of what happened to my uncle, I was scared to go outside. There were a lot of gang fights and I was scared the community would lash out. It didn’t matter that what happened to my uncle took place in another city – to me, it was a sign of what people can do to each other and I wanted to avoid that all costs.”
To make her daughter feel more secure and to prevent her brother from joining a gang, Siya’s mom moved the family to Lotus River.
“I was 13 when I started at my new school. I was used to a place where the kids came from a similar background, where the places they stayed were the same. Lotus River was different because most of the kids spoke Afrikaans and I couldn’t understand them. They also had different conditions. My family was still staying in a shack and the majority of my peers stayed in houses or flats.
Because of their differences, Siya was picked on by children at the school.
“They would call me bitch, and when they played I Dare You, the girls would dare each other to touch my hair – when they did, they would pull their face like they are touching something disgusting. They said that I had ‘kroes’ hair and called me ugly.”
“On one of the days, I went home and relaxed my hair. It burned my scalp, but I never thought of stopping because I wanted my hair to look more like theirs.”
Going to high school, Siya became a quiet child who wanted to avoid attention.
“I was first friends with some coloured girls, they were nice to me but I felt different to them. I kept thinking about my colour, the way I spoke and where I stayed, so I never allowed myself to connect with them. The following year, when I was in Grade 9, a group of Xhosa girls that I knew previously started attending school.”
“I thought it would be easier to be friends with a group of black girls, so I approach them. I was completely wrong, I tried hard but they always made fun of me because they believed I was darker. The way I looked was wrong, my colour was wrong, the way I spoke was wrong – they would tease me about everything. They would keep telling me how ugly I was.”
“The bullying got worse, the girls kept saying that I was darker than a normal Xhosa girl. So, I began using the money that my mom gave me for food to buy a beauty product. On the bottle it said pimple removal and skin lightener. At the time it was R35, money I would normally spend on food but I did not mind to starve. I rubbed it on my entire body for a few months and I began seeing differences. Admittedly it made me feel good… when my skin was normal I wasn’t getting attention, but now guys would pay attention to me because I was lighter. So I began hating my natural colour and because the bleach wasn’t permanent, I had to make sure that I had money for it. Soon after, my mom found the bottles and threw them away, she also stopped giving me money. I was desperate to continue bleaching so I researched options and found a celebrity who bleaches her skin and she became my idol. I wanted to look like her and would scrub my skin to try and make it lighter.”
“One day after school I began thinking about my problems and I couldn’t stop crying. I decided to skip school the next day but because we were writing an exam, I needed a doctor’s certificate, so I went to the day hospital. The doctor called me inside after I had waited for six hours. I made up a lie and said that I had a tummy bug, but he began asking me a few questions about life at home and school. He told me there was a social worker at the hospital and that he would give me a referral letter to see her. A week later I went to see her. After talking to me about my home life she said that she needed to see my mom, I just told her that I’m sick and that the social worker wants to see her.”
“My mom agreed and a few days later we saw her together. It was hectic! I was crying, and the social worker would ask about what was going on at home. My mom got defensive, I think she thought I was reporting her. Instead of wanting to understand what was going on, she began blaming me. My mom pointed out everything I had done wrong in my life, as if she wanted to prove I was not trustworthy. I did not say anything because I was too hurt. I wanted her to listen to what was happening to me at school, but she ignored me.”
“On my way back from the social worker, my mom said that she was disappointed in me because I have embarrassed her. I was so sad but I forgave her for not knowing better. ”
Even though her mother refused to go back to the social worker, Siya continued going.
“Just knowing that someone could see beauty in me, helped change the way I feel about myself. The counsellor said words that I’ve always wanted to hear. She also spoke about the bleaching of my skin and that I am doing damage to myself, I am already beautiful and I don’t need it. I stopped bleaching myself soon after the counselling began. ”
When Siya turned 16 she said that her life began turning around. “I started letting go of what people thought of me and appreciating who I am. I started working harder at school and this past term I was placed in the top three in my grade.”
Siya concludes, “I now know that we are all beautiful, differences are not bad or ugly, they should be celebrated. Counselling assisted me in realising that. I have decided to continue with therapy because through it, I have developed skills that I can use in my day-to-day interactions with the world. I am beautiful, so are you. Just look in the mirror and believe it.”
Siya is a Leaders’ Quest participant