Many years ago the neighbours who lived next door to my parents had a woman gardener named Eunice. We probably would have never met, except my mom saw her one lunchtime, sitting under a tree knitting. My mom had loads of wool left over from years of knitting. She asked me to go down and ask if Eunice would like it. Eunice spoke virtually no English, but it was easy to see by her beaming smile that she was interested. I gave her the bag of wool, she said thank you. We thought that was that, but the next morning, there in my parents garden, against the wall, was a brand new tiny flower bed holding a brand new bunch of seedlings.
Slowly over the years we reached an unspoken understanding. Eunice was a very proud woman. She would not take hand-outs or charity without repaying in some form. We would offer Eunice something and she would take it.. and the next morning we'd have more flowers in the garden. We gave what we could because we knew that Eunice struggled to survive. Working twice a week as a gardener is not enough to live on, even if you are living in a shack with no rent or electricity bills, but Eunice also took care of her grandchildren. Eunice is one of far too many grandparents taking care of their grandchildren in Africa - most often because the parents, their children, have died from AIDS.
We gave food, clothing and household items that Eunice would wrap up tightly before balancing them on her head to take home. All graciously accepted with a smile and then repaid for with that magical never-seen gardening work. Once she even moved and replanted a shrub to a spot she clearly considered more pleasing to the eye. And we never saw her do any of it! She must have worked before dawn, walking several kilometres to get to our house. Her repayment far outweighed our gifts in effort and thoughtfulness. She was our Gardening Angel.
Both our friendship and our flower beds increased as the years went by. Twice a week we would look out for Eunice when she came to do our neighbour's garden. She was easy to spot. Over six foot tall with a "solid" matronly figure befitting her grandmother status. Eunice never wore shoes, never lived in a real house, yet she always carried herself with dignity and grace. She knew how to make even the sickliest seedling flourish, she taught me the only Xhosa I know, and she showed me how shared humour can bridge any language barrier.
My parents left Africa almost three years ago - three years without food parcels or help for Eunice. I worry about how she is coping. This is for you Eunice - I hope you're doing okay.