A journey’s gift

2013-12-05 11:00

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Recovering from a personal setback saw activist-author Mmatshilo Motsei learn valuable spiritual lessons from poor rural women – and the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.  

When poet, writer, speaker and spiritual healer Mmatshilo Motsei found herself homeless three years ago, she knew the Universe was trying to tell her something.

‘I’d experienced profound changes in my life. I can’t say it was definitely the cause of my money issues, but after my book The Kanga and Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma was published in 2007, my income-generating work dried up.’

At the beginning of this year, the well-known activist and author of six books was living in Maviljan village in Bushbuckridge, Mpumulanga. ‘My shelter was a dilapidated house with no running water and there were days when I lived on popcorn and black Rooibos tea,’ she recalls.

But what Mmatshilo lacked in material possessions, she made up for in spiritual growth. ‘To stay sane, I started volunteering at the Tsogang Basadi Orphans Project,which operated next door,’ she explains.

‘Although the women and children who lived there were poor, they taught me so much about soul wealth. These people didn’t spend any time worrying about what they didn’t have. They taught me how to expand small riches by sharing everything – and how to have a really good belly laugh, even when the chips are down.’

Mmatshilo’s community work has taken her across Africa, as well as to the USA, Canada and Europe, and earned her many accolades, including the International Human Rights Award from the Human Rights Watch organisation in New York.

Yet her time with the humble Tsogang Basadi people taught her so much.

‘Their attitude unchained me and taught me to live in the moment,’ she reveals. ‘I used to invest in bling and frills. They showed me how to feel unconflicted about living a simple life.’

Fast forward 10 months, and Mmatshilo is standing on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

‘I knew that in order to step back into my greatness, I needed to do something big,’ she says of her seven-day mountain expedition. ‘I also wanted to raise money for this extraordinary orphanage that manages to achieve so much with so little.’

The mother of three now believes she needed that financial fall.

‘It was the best gift I’ve ever received,’ she says. ‘I am clearer, wiser, calmer, more centred and less fearful of what people think about me these days.’

Mmatshilo’s new book, From the Bottom Up: Meet Me at the Roof of Africa, details her extraordinary fundraising charity climb up Kili, and explains the life-changing lessons she learnt along the way. Here she shares five.

Lesson one

There is always a solution

It is amazing that every time we hit a pothole on our life path, we panic. The mountain has taught me to chill. It will always be there – in the same place, at the same angle – every day. Even when it’s covered by cloud, it’s dependable, it never goes away.

One thing I now know is that there’s no problem on this Earth that doesn’t have a solution. I’m amazed at the extent of temporary memory loss in humans.

We’re saved from the claws of death all the time – but we’re quick to forget. Death doesn’t only refer to physical demise but to spiritual, emotional, professional or financial loss.

In spite of having been saved at some point in our lives, the next time we face a similar situation, we immediately go into panic mode.

Whenever my youngest son, Onkgopotse, asks:

‘Mum what if things don’t work out?’I respond, ‘We will always find a solution.’

Lesson two

Home is where the heart is

After my first day of walking, I arrived at Machame Camp. My guide showed me to my tent and said: ‘Welcome to your new mansion.’

It was my first night in a tent, let alone on a mountain, yet I had never felt so comfortable in such a confined space. A tent forces you to enter a space on your knees, much like you go into an African indigenous hut.

That night, I thanked the Universe for good health and went to sleep with a song in my heart: ‘Wherever I lay my head, that’s my home.’

After moving home nine times in five years, I still don’t have a permanent address. Yet I’m not homeless. I’m thankful for the mansion in my heart.

Lesson three

Know when to follow

On the third day of my climb, I could see Uhuru Peak in the distance when I was hit by a crushing chest pain. In order to get through the day, I needed to rely fully on my gentle guide.

Because I was physically weak, he carried my backpack and walked ahead of me so I could follow his every footstep. He listened carefully to my breathing.

When I struggled, he would turn around, hand me a bottle of water and make me sit on a rock to rest. He remained completely silent. This was one of the most profound days of my climb because I learnt the value of following – and not always leading.

During my climb, my humble guide confirmed one thing: A true leader is a person who knows how to harvest his or her followers’ gifts and strengths and, in turn, ignites the genius in them.

Lesson four

Change your perspective

On day six, despite suffering from altitude sickness and a hacking cough, I eventually reached the summit.

I felt like a zombie. I could follow simple instructions but I didn’t feel present.

I later read somewhere that there are times when you have to lose your mind in order to connect with your authentic self.

As I stood at the peak, it dawned on me that I was standing on top of the highest mountain in Africa surrounded by ice. At that moment I made a pact with myself to never ever be afraid of my greatness.

We are not born to be small. Education, religion, politics, economy and other social institutions teach us to operate from a place of smallness.

Now that I have been to the top, I know my life will never be the same again. Now that I have met with my destiny, I am ready to honour the agreement I made with my soul.

Lesson five

Going down is harder than going up

On my final day, after 12 hours of walking, all I wanted to do was slither into my sleeping bag.

I cried solidly for two weeks afterwards. I knew something had shifted but I couldn’t express it.

One of the major lessons I learnt is to live without fear. Fear is such a coward. It looks menacing from a distance but once you confront it, it tucks its tail under its belly like a scared dog.

My next adventure is to go scuba diving in Mozambique. I’m terrified of water and I can’t swim. But I can think of no better experience.


We have two copies of Mmatshilo’s book,From the Bottom Up: Meet me at the Roof of Africa (R200, Pinagare Media), to give away. To enter, email iMagletters@newmediapub.co.za.

To order a copy of the book, email pinagaremedia@gmail.com.

Ten percent of proceeds will go to the Tsogang Basadi Orphans Project.

» Get your copy of iMag in City Press on Sundays

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