The big wait: Sindi Dlambewu on pregnancy, remote study in Soweto

Why We Wrote This

Sindi Dlambewu is “going” to college remotely from home with iffy Wi-Fi, a cousin to babysit, and her own baby on the way. One of twelve 21-year-olds featured in the Monitor’s interactive 21 in ’21 global report about the pandemic’s effect on a generation about to be adults, her full story is here.

Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
The pandemic – and pregnancy – have meant long days of waiting for Nolusindiso "Sindi" Dlambewu. She's had plenty of time to think about how she and her boyfriend will support the baby, about a hoped-for teaching career, and about baby names that capture hopes for her child's future.

It’s November now – only a month until our baby is born – and my boyfriend, Bongani, and I still haven’t decided what to call her.

I want a name that means something.

How about Lilonke? I asked him the other day. In my language, Xhosa, Lilonke means “all of our love.” I want this baby to know she is wanted. And the “our” part is important to me too. It says, this baby isn’t just mine. It says that she belongs to us, me and Bongani, together.

When I missed my period back in May, he was the only person I told. We were in a coronavirus lockdown then. You couldn’t go anywhere, except to buy food or get to the hospital in an emergency. But Bongani and his mom live down the road from me in Pimville, a neighborhood in Soweto. I share a small room with my aunt and my 5-year-old cousin Hlelo, and we used to see Bongani a lot. That day, I told him to come over. I just said it: “I think I’m pregnant.”

He was quiet. I wasn’t sure if he was happy or worried. I knew he was waiting to see what my reaction was. Because he’s that kind of man – he wanted me to decide if we would keep it or not.  

Bongani is like that. He’s a rock. When we fight, even if I’m the one who was wrong, he comes to apologize. Every morning, he sends me the same text: “Are you hungry?” And if I say yes, he brings me some eggs and bread. A couple of weeks ago, he bought us a secondhand pram and he washed it in his driveway like it was a BMW. If he still doesn’t have a job when the baby is born, he says he’ll take care of her while I work and study. Not every man would do that, I know.  

Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Nolusindiso "Sindi" Dlambewu (right) calls her boyfriend, Bongani Mlambo, "a rock" of support. "A couple of weeks ago, he bought us a secondhand pram and he washed it in his driveway like it was a BMW. If he still doesn’t have a job when the baby is born, he says he’ll take care of her while I work and study. Not every man would do that, I know."

When it comes to names, Bongani prefers English ones. To me, that’s an apartheid thing. Our parents had to have English names because white people couldn’t pronounce theirs, or didn’t want to try. But we don’t have to do that anymore.

Bongani means “be grateful.” We first met when I used to come to Johannesburg from my village in the Eastern Cape to visit my aunt when I was a teenager. She lives in Soweto, which is where Black people had to live in Joburg during apartheid. It’s a hectic place when you come from somewhere quiet, but Bongani made it feel friendly. When I moved here in 2019 to study, we got more serious. But we were taking it slow. I’m only 21. And I had a plan.

No one in my family has ever gone past high school. I’m doing a one-year course in archives and records management. In 2021 I’ll start my teaching degree, and I’ll work at the same time as a clerk or an assistant in a library.

That’s still the plan, but the pandemic made it harder. I have to study at home, and when Hlelo’s mom is at work, I have to watch her. She wants to play, play, play all the time. I try to keep her busy long enough so I can read my assignments on my phone. But it’s hard to focus, especially since I’ve been pregnant.

Lots of people don’t think I can do that with a baby too. After that day in May, we waited three months to tell our families. We were worried about how they would react. That they would be mad.

And they were, at first. My mom said, “Why would you do this to me?” That stuck in my head for a long time. Bongani’s mom just asked us, “How will you pay for this?”

Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
The first in her family to go to college, Nolusindiso "Sindi" Dlambewu studies for exams that she takes remotely from the small room she shares with a cousin and the cousin's 5-year-old.

We didn’t exactly have a good answer. But it made us even more determined to prove them wrong. Bongani has been applying for jobs with the city – street cleaning, construction, things like that. He’s been looking this whole year. It’s hard even in normal times to find work in South Africa. In a pandemic, it’s basically impossible.

And I’m finishing my exams now, and then I’ll enroll in the teaching course.

My own name, Nolusindiso, means salvation. I want to be the one who saves myself. I don’t want me or my daughter to rely on anyone – not even Bongani.

My mom got married in 1989, when she was 15 and my dad was 23. Back then, the custom was that the man’s family came and took the girl away in the night, like a kidnapping. My mother only met my father once, and then he was gone – back to the mines in Johannesburg where he worked. When she saw him three months later, she didn’t recognize him. When she realized who he was, she was so scared she fainted. 

It hurts my heart to think about that. She just wants my life to be different. When my siblings and I were kids, we fetched water in 20-liter jugs three times a day. If we complained, she’d say, “Get an education and you can pay someone else to do this for you.” She doesn’t want me to lose that momentum because I have a baby. I understand. I don’t either.   

Lately I like the name Zazi. It means “know yourself.” Be wise.

I want my daughter to be smart, and also beautiful. Life is easier for beautiful people, and I want her path through the world to be smooth.

Recently, my mom’s been calling to see how I’m doing. She’s not angry anymore. When she asks if everything is OK, I tell her we’re both fine. At the ultrasound, the nurse told me that my daughter has two arms, two legs, a head, and a heartbeat.

I just keep thinking about that. Whatever else happens, she has two arms, two legs, a head, and a heartbeat.

She is loved. She is wise. She is ours. 

Read more here about Sindi in a narrative of 21-year-olds around the globe in the last three months of 2020. And read other personal essays like Sindi’s here: 21 in ’21.

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