Helping Others

Imagine not being able to move any part of your body except your head. You’re completely immobile, but not unaware. You have 20/20 vision. Your hearing is perfectly in tune. Your mind is alert. You can speak. You have very little sensation on your skin below your shoulders, but you can feel external pressure and internal pain. You have needs – thirst, hunger, warmth, comfort, company, stimulation and entertainment, but you’re unable to help yourself and you’re stuck alone with your thoughts. Emotions overwhelm you, but there is nothing… nothing you can do. You can’t wipe away your tears or rub the itch on your cheeks.

To be in a motionless state, trapped inside a paralysed body with nothing to do is hell on earth. No company. No radio, television, books, telephone or computer. Nothing, just you, staring into space.  It’s how I imagine solitary confinement to be, but worse, because you’re not guilty of any horrific crime against humanity, so the punishment almost seems unjustified.

Phumla was given that life sentence, but she was only fourteen years old. Her life had barely begun, yet she’d already faced more challenges than most people do in a lifetime.

Phumla Innocententia Charles was born on 28 March, 1996 with a hole in her heart. She spent a great deal of her childhood in and out of hospitals. In 2010, she was in an ambulance, between Mbombela and Pretoria en route to see her specialist. The ambulance driver fell asleep at the wheel and smashed into the back of a truck. Phumla was left paralysed from the neck down, like me, and robbed of the best years of her life.

I only just met Phumla recently through her dedicated occupational therapist, Mariaan Teubes, who’d come seeking advice from me on the specific needs of quadriplegics. When I heard Phumla’s story and how she dreams of finishing school, I knew that I needed to get involved. Since my accident in 1998, the rapid advancement of technology had saved my sanity by restoring a small part of my independence. Therefore I had a clear understanding of the difference it could make in Phumla’s life.

At the beginning of this year, Phumla took a giant leap to do grade 10 via correspondence which is no easy commitment, not even for an able-bodied student. She relied on others to turn the pages of her books and scribes to write her assignments and exams. Her big, beautiful eyes and shy smile, despite her severe circumstances, immediately touched my heart and I knew that this young lady was special. So I posted an appeal on Facebook, hoping to find a willing Earth Angel to help us get Phumla a laptop, powerful enough to run the specialised voice activated software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This will enable her to, once again, do what most people take for granted – read, write and learn on her own without help.

Some very special Earth Angels answered my call.

Miles Crisp from the Tarsus Technology Group offered to donate a laptop. He set his Johannesburg team in motion, and before long the Nelspruit branch manager, Jacques Robinson delivered a brand-new, state-of-the-art laptop. Going the extra mile, Jacques has committed to walking (rolling) this journey with me to get Phumla set up with everything she may require from an IT point of view to follow her dream of getting her matric. He is also working on getting her quality broadband connectivity at home, which will grant her the privilege of being able to do her own research for future school projects. She’ll also be able to navigate social media and thus engage with others who live with similar physical circumstances and find much-needed emotional support. She’ll be able to cultivate personal and intimate relationships and not feel so isolated. In time she will be able to work and contribute meaningfully to society and, once again, truly live.

Computer whiz, fourteen-year-old Ernst van der Merwe gave up some of his holiday to help me teach Phumla to use her new voice programme. He also loaded the WhatsApp web version onto her laptop. The smile on her face when she sent her very first message on her own was priceless.

Some of my amazing Facebook friends also made generous donations to fulfil some of Phumla’s other needs because they don’t stop at a laptop.

There aren’t enough words to express gratitude to the Earth Angels who give of themselves, physically, emotionally and financially to make a difference.

Look out world, Phumla Charles is on her way.

Jacques Robinson handing over the new laptop to Phumla.

Jacques Robinson handing over the new laptop to Phumla.

Ernst van der Merwe setting everything up.

Ernst van der Merwe setting everything up.

And away she goes.…

And away she goes.…

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Monday Motivation: At the heart of story, a wretched conundrum

Wow! I feature in a Monday Motivation for writers. Honoured.


​​​​Image courtesy ​​World of Good

Paul Smith was a business owner who devoted 80 hours a week to keeping the business afloat. (That is, as you will see, an apt metaphor.) The work was so demanding, and the Great Recession so crippling, that he found himself managing a bankrupt business, and presiding over a dysfunctional marriage.

When things were falling apart, he sought work as the groundsman on a large canal marina, and took up residence, sans wife and family, on a venerable and clapped out narrowboat called James.

He had no money, he had no resources, he had no partner to shoulder the burden of failure.

Slowly he started putting his life together once again…

Tracy had everything going for her. A husband she adored. A baby she would have given her life for. A vital, energetic and beautiful woman, she lived with her family on an…

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The secrets behind the practice of good writing: 16

Guilty, as charged. I love how writing teaches you more about yourself and life.


16 SecretsThe Secret of the Tic’ing Clock

Anything becomes a tic if you use it more than a couple of times. It’s a funny thing about writing. A reader might happily notice an action taken once, twice, even three times. But after that, it begins to irritate.

It’s not that the action itself is wrong, or even that it might not happen that many times in real life. This became abundantly clear when reading the completed manuscript of one of our mentoring participants.

She wrote a memoir – a deeply moving and uplifting memoir of her superhuman effort in overcoming extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Believe me, you and I would have cried many, many more times than she mentioned in her manuscript.

When reading her monthly submissions, I didn’t even notice the tears, because there was so much strength in her other actions. It was only when we read the full manuscript…

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Dark Torment by Tracy Todd

My first interview as an “author.”

I can’t help feeling proud that my short story was selected to be published in the book 36 Hours. It’s only a baby step, I know, but all part of my dream of having my memoir published which is currently in the hands of a publisher who has yet to decide whether they will publish it or not.

Keep holding thumbs.


We asked the authors who jointly contributed to the 36 Hours anthology a number of questions about their writing. Here are Tracy Todd’s responses:

Tracy Todd (2)

Is your short story fact or fiction – or a mix of the two? My story is fact.

What was the inspiration behind your story? Frustration. You’ll have to read the story to understand why.

Have you written many short stories? Is this your genre? No. Never. I’ve only ever written blog posts and a few magazine articles, reflecting on life as a quadriplegic.

Any novels? That is on my ‘to do’ list.

What do you prefer to read – short stories or novels? Or what do you love about each one? Why? Both. Depending on what mood I’m in. Short stories are lovely to read when you want something to read, just before bedtime to take your mind off your own troubles. Novels are great for long…

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36 Hours, 20 Writers, 4 Countries, 1 Anthology

I’m very proud that my short story made it into this book.


36 HoursThirty-six hours… Twenty writers… One anthology. On a mid-winter weekend last year, Allaboutwriting enticed a group of writers to a Magaliesberg retreat to write. Their challenge was to write a short story in under two days, from initial inspiration to The End. We spliced in stories by writers who participated online – plus the winners of a competition we ran later in the year.

We’re excited to launch 36 Hours which includes not only all the short stories but also advice on how to write a short story – advice given to our authors at the start of their mid-winter marathon.

To celebrate the publication of 36 Hours we thought we’d give you a taste of each short story – the first lines. We hope they whet your appetite.

You can buy a hard copy of 36 Hours from us at the Indie Book Fair, tomorrow Friday 20 March (we’ll…

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Advantages of Being a Quadriplegic

It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong in your life and most people would think that it’s inconceivable to find anything positive about being a quadriplegic. But when I started writing a list of advantages of being paralysed from the neck down, I was surprised by how much I could come up with. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.

  • Time is a gift to us all. Most people prefer to use it up doing menial tasks. I’ll sit with you for hours without getting up to do the dishes, not even once. Just bring along some stimulating conversation and don’t forget the wine.
  • My manicures last, because I don’t have to do the dishes. Ever.
  • The best thing about ordering prawns in a restaurant is that I don’t have to peel them, and if we eat them at home, I’m not the one responsible for cleaning them.
  • I can be a stay-at-home mom and housewife without guilt because nobody will employ me.
  • Waxing or epilating body hair is not for sissies. Clearly, I’m not one. I don’t feel a thing.
  • I get away with being bossy by giving it a fancy name: verbal independence. Without me telling you what to do, how will you know what I want, when I want it or how I want it?
  • Living life at butt-height can get very interesting, depending on whose butt I’m following. If my jaw is unhinged and my face is flushed, you’ll know that the butt cheeks are hot, hot, hot. Crotches can be scary though, especially if the zipper has been left open or they are wearing cookie cutters.
  • When I’m having a bad day, I have a good excuse to feel sorry for myself because that is what people expect from people living with a disability.
  • A drop dead gorgeous man will make my knees weak, but since I’m already seated, it won’t be obvious that I’m making a fool of myself.
  • It’s easy to fake calmness in any situation because my body will not react any other way.
  • Being short means that I don’t have far to fall. I like doing all my own stunts.
  • Not being able to do my own hair and make-up gives me a good enough reason to have it done professionally often.
  • I’ll be the last to leave any cocktail party when everybody’s legs are aching from standing all evening.
  • No matter where I go, I’m always waited on like a princess.
  • I never have to remember to load a chair in the back of my van.
  • I can’t get drunk on my own, so I always need someone to share the bubbles and laughter.
  • My butt looks big because I have a wheelchair stuck to it. What’s your excuse?
  • I can’t feel the pain and discomfort of ingrown toenails and shingles that often occur in my body.
  • As long as the mosquitoes follow my directions and bite me below my shoulders, I don’t feel the itch.
  • When I was little I wanted to be a model. Now I’ll always be a ‘roll’ model.
  • I can shop for hours without complaining about aching legs.
  • I can wear stiletto heels without complaining about aching feet.
  • There is always a reserved parking spot for me, although I wish they wouldn’t put it at the front of a building because lazy idiots tend to steal it.
  • I don’t have to stand up during those long hymns and prayers in church.
  • Disability shows up your strengths and weaknesses very quickly, so I know myself well.
  • I can run at 15 km/h without ever getting tired.
  • I can’t squeeze pimples, which means they heal a lot faster and they don’t leave ugly scars. Yes, I still get them. What’s up with that at forty-five?
  • Paralysis has taught me many life lessons – patience, acceptance, courage, compassion… And the list goes on. I’ve also learnt to accept the things I cannot change and focus on the things I can.
  • I can bump into somebody and they are always the one to feel bad and apologise.
  • My shoes never wear out. In my case, they should come with a lifetime guarantee.
  • I have a medical excuse for a fat tummy. It’s called quad gut. Being paralysed means I don’t have to worry about pulling in my tummy. What’s your excuse?
  • Injections don’t hurt. But, to be honest, they still terrify me.
  • I often get pushed to the front of the queue.
  • I can never be forced to give a standing ovation at a performance that sucked.
  • I never have to deal with a cold toilet seat.
  • People think I’m deaf, so I get to hear a lot more than I should.
  • I can be carried to bed every night. Thank God for my Sexy Legs.
  • I always stick out in a crowd. There’s no need to wave to get anybody’s attention.
  • I can wangle neck massages from anyone by just tipping my head and saying, “Ouch!”
  • I’m a cheap date because I get to drink everything through a straw. No more than two drinks and I’ll be plastered. Guaranteed.
  • I get to have dogs without the responsibility of picking up their turds. But if I don’t get somebody to do it, it backfires on me by getting stuck in my wheels.
  • My date has to feed me, which is awesome foreplay.
  • My ears are like little pleasure buttons in an erotic zone. Fortunately my ENT is attractive. It makes going to the doctor so much more worthwhile.
  • I can pee lying down. If I use an indwelling catheter at night time, I don’t ever have to worry about having wet dreams. That means I can play with fire too.
  • I can write without lifting a finger.
  • People love to take my photograph. It must be my smile.
  • I never have to pack and unpack my luggage when going away.
  • I don’t have to do the ironing. I hate ironing. And cooking.


It’s no wonder some people fake being paralysed because my life is not so bad after all.

I’m looking forward to your contributions.

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A New Love

I haven’t written in this space for a long while. To be back feels strange, and good. If you’re reading this, it means you haven’t given up on me, just yet. Thank you.

The truth is that I’ve been in a new relationship which has consumed all of me. That’s a lame excuse, I know, and I’m ashamed that I’ve neglected you and this blog. I apologise that I haven’t made time to respond to some of your comments. I hope that you’ll forgive me.

I have fallen in love though.

Not with someone new. Sexy Legs is still very much part of my life.

But rather I’ve grown to love WRITING.

I’ve never considered myself to be creative in anything specific, but the desire to express myself in a creative way, never disappeared. If anything, that need became even stronger after my paralysis. I craved a means of relaxing and an outlet for personal frustrations, joys and sorrows. Well-meaning people suggested that I learn to paint with my mouth. I have the utmost respect for those artists, but it wasn’t for me. Disability shows up your strengths and weaknesses in a quick and profound manner. I’m not artistic, but I have an innate need to be creative. I discovered that I enjoyed writing after I started this blog. Your support and encouragement kept me going, and this engaging community grew my confidence.

During a creative slump last year, I signed up to do an online writing course run by renowned author, Charlene Smith. It was one of those impulsive decisions that you question, yet in the end, do not regret.

At first, it felt more like an affair that I needed to keep secret. I was afraid of failing and having unrealistic expectations. But the butterflies and the tingles persisted. Writing was on my mind day and night. I spent more time in front of my computer than ever before, but now, I wasn’t only filling a void through social media, I was learning and being constructive and creative. I met wonderful people from all over the world who shared the dream of writing a book. I’d never felt so stimulated. It was like I’d found a little piece of me that I never knew was missing.

That’s when I realised that I’d, unexpectedly, fallen deeply in love with writing.

Charlene helped me choose a working title: Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon.

  • Tracy means brave.
  • My second name, Lian is of Chinese origin, and it means Lotus flower.
  • I ‘ride’ through life in a wheelchair.
  • Becoming paralysed has to be scariest dragon I’ve ever faced, and my memoir aims to show how I tamed it enough to live with. I wish I could say that I’d slayed it, but taming it comes close. Also, Dragon NaturallySpeaking software enables me to write without hands.

Although I’d been told that publishers get to make the decision on what to call your book, the title we’d chosen inspired me. Once I had completed the course, I dumped my life story onto my computer, working late into the night most days. Then Charlene gave me great advice on how to proceed.

But, still, I felt overwhelmed. I wanted somebody to hold my hand. So I joined All About Writing’s mentoring programme where Trish Urquhart, Richard Beynon and Jo-Anne Richards guided me through the process with patience, encouragement and practical advice. The interaction with my fellow wannabe writers was invaluable.

The journey has been challenging, and agonising at times. I completely underestimated the roller coaster emotions, and they were worse during the rewrite. It’s not easy to put yourself out there and lay your own character flaws bare. It’s a lot harder to write a book than I ever imagined. I have a whole new respect for published authors. But my mentors taught me that everybody can learn to write, and like an art, it can improve with practice, especially if you want to do it badly enough.

So after a decade of false starts and procrastinating on writing my memoir, I finally did it.

I’ve handed in my completed manuscript and I’m waiting for feedback from Richard and Jo-Anne. Even though there is a huge possibility that I’ll need to rewrite it again, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Finally, I feel like I have the ability to produce a story that I can be proud of. And if the universe allows, I may even be lucky enough to have it published some day.

Please hold thumbs, and toes, that I can pull this off.

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Driving Miss Tracy

I don’t have a driver’s license. It expired quite some time back already. When it did, it felt like another piece of my identity had been lost forever. It’s devastating, knowing that there is no way I can ever get it renewed.

Yet this week I became the proud owner of a brand-new vehicle – registered in my name. It says so in black-and-white on the document. Vehicle owner: Ms Tracy Lian Todd.  That’s big. There’s something about being able to say the words, “my car.” It says I’ve arrived. It speaks of dreams come true. It represents true independence. It means that I can go wherever I like, whenever I want to. Or so it should.

Sadly, I don’t have the ability to drive myself. In fact, I haven’t been able to drive a car on my own for almost 16 years now already. Being dependent on others to drive me is not always easy.  Thankfully, I have some willing drivers, most especially my dad. I’m not sure who’s been more excited about getting the new car – him or me?

The new van came about through the generosity of some incredibly kind-hearted people in the Lowveld community for whom I have no adequate words to express my deep gratitude. I’m spoilt. Just too spoilt.

It’s a Ford Tourneo. It’s big. Beautiful. White. We’ve always been a white-car family. The space inside is incredible. There’s more than enough room for me, my wheelchair, all my paraphernalia and entourage. I reckon we could even fit the kitchen sink in.


As we drove the van off the garage floor for the first time – me in the back in my wheelchair with dad in the driver’s seat – I wished with my entire being that it could have been my hands on that steering wheel and my feet on the foot pedals. I wanted to touch everywhere, press all the buttons and feel the power. Trying to savour the moment, I inhaled deeply. There is nothing better than a new-car smell.

I wondered silently if I could still drive, had I been able to, not doubting the answer for one second.  I reasoned that driving must be much like riding a bicycle – once you’ve learned how to do it – you never forget it.  Right?

Just then, I ached to climb into the driver’s seat to prove to the world that I was still a good driver.  Perhaps, it stems from my own insecurities because women are often knocked by society for their driving skills and constantly made to feel incompetent behind the wheel of a car.  Or, maybe, it is my primal need to prove my worth to humanity in spite of my disability.  I don’t know.  But, I’ve never known a man to admit that he was an awful driver – or a clumsy lover for that matter.  I think women could learn a thing or two from that arrogance confidence.  Don’t-ya-think?

Anyway, just the mere idea of driving a car again got me thinking all melancholically, leaving me feeling like the bug on the windshield.  Doesn’t life just suck sometimes?

Daily newsfeeds on Facebook or Twitter are filled with raging status-updates from frustrated people trapped in so-called rush-hour-traffic, despite the cars not being able to move very far for hours on end.  In a sense, in those times, they probably feel as stuck and confined as I do.  And yet, I would give anything to swap places with them.

To me, owning and driving a car represents power, freedom, privacy, independence and more – everything I could ever wish for as a quadriplegic strong, liberated woman. 

I miss being able to pull up to the red-traffic-light, right next to a drop-dead-gorgeous guy in a fancy sports car, look him sassily-dead-in-the-eyes over the top of designer sunglasses, rev the engine and drop a gear-or-three before screeching off at top speed.  Yes, I can be a flirt.  But, only when I can get away – fast!

The competitor in me misses the challenge, accomplishment and satisfaction of skilfully reversing out of a difficult, no-freaking-way-out parking space or manoeuvring into a tiny, how-the-hell-did-you-do-it gap without so much as a scratch on the paintwork.

The adrenaline-junkie in me misses the flutter in my tummy as you press your foot down on the pedal, accelerating shamelessly to go just a little faster, knowing that you are already over the legal speed limit and hoping you won’t get caught.

The rock-star in me misses the wild, head-banging through an ear-splitting rock song on the stereo as the car pulsates through the traffic and the other drivers shake their heads at you in pity.

The next “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist in me misses the opportunity to do the oh-so-sexy-upper-trunk Salsa to the crooning voices on the radio.

The pop-star-wannabe in me misses turning up the volume louder-than-you-can-sing, on the more-expensive-than-your-car sound system, to drown out my horribly-out-of-tune voice as I belt out my favourite song, so that not even Mr. Simon Cowell will deny that I have the X factor.

The Dr. Phil in me misses counselling all the people with bad driving disorders using a sign-language involving a very effective middle finger.

The Oprah in me misses having deep, meaningful conversations with a most profoundly-persuasive inner-voice, which only seems to come out in the privacy of a car. Then in discussions in the real world you are left at a loss for words like a bumbling idiot.

I miss the privacy of the car as a place to express my deepest emotions – my joys, hurts or anger – and to just be me, without judgment from anybody.

I miss… Oh my word, this is driving me crazy.  Take the keys.  Quick.

And yet, I remain incredibly grateful. I have a brand spanking new van. What more could I ask for? It doesn’t matter that I can’t drive it myself. As long as I have the means to get out and about – to live a full, meaningful life, is all that matters. After all, I don’t see the Queen or Presidents of countries driving themselves. I’m part of the chauffeured elite of society. That makes me kind of special, doesn’t it? And I get special parking spots too.

If you enjoyed reading my post, go ahead and share it. Please.

**A special word of thanks to all the individuals (some of whom I don’t know) for contributing towards my van.**

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Through the Lens

Feeling tired and hungry during a shopping trip at the local mall, my folks and I decided to have a quick lunch before heading home.

It was still early and the restaurant wasn’t very busy, thankfully. I chose a table in a quiet corner, feeling the need for some privacy, after a morning out in public with hundreds of staring eyes on a busy end-of-the-month day.

Dealing with looks of amazement and staring can be difficult at times. Some days I feel strong enough to handle people gawking at me. Other days I just want the floor to open up underneath me and swallow me up. Often I wish I could just be ordinary like everybody else or have a magical ability to become invisible to hide from the wide eyes so that I can go on with my business without being made to feel self-conscious.

I know that people don’t purposefully mean to make me feel uncomfortable. Most are just curious by nature. Often they are simply marvelling at my slick electric wheelchair which certainly is impressive. Some don’t even realise that they are staring until I make a point of making eye contact with them, and then flash my brightest, bravest smile at them. They immediately look away, poker-faced and pretend that they never saw me or they blush a little and smile sheepishly, embarrassed that they’ve been caught gaping. A few will find the nerve to come up and chat to me, which is always nice.

Sometimes when my confidence is lacking, I try to fool myself into believing that they are staring because they want to be just like me. I’ll try anything convince myself to lift my chin and look the world in the eye or I would never have the courage to leave my home. You’d think that I’d be over it by now after being exposed to all the ogling for so many years. But, sometimes it still bugs the hell out of me that I want to shout at the top of my lungs: “Stop staring!”

As the waiter fetched our drinks, I was glad for our little secluded spot because the tables around us were rapidly filling up with lunchtime approaching. I scanned the menu and looked longingly at the juicy steaks, but decided that it was not worth all the constipated suffering afterwards. I didn’t feel like eating chicken and almost settled on a fish dish when I remembered that I was in the steakhouse. Whoever orders fish in a steakhouse has to be nuts. I had made that mistake more than once. So I decided, boringly, on something vegetarian and easy to eat as I’m aware of the hazards of being fed by someone else. The last thing I wanted to do was to attract more attention by having my plate end up on my lap or food smeared all over my clothing.

We were halfway through our meal when I became aware that my picture was being taken by complete strangers, without my permission. At first I thought that I must be mistaken, looking over my shoulder to double check that somebody hadn’t miraculously set up a table behind us without us noticing, even though I already knew that was impossible. I nearly choked on my food when I looked back to find all four of the people at the opposite table now directing their smart phones straight at me, clicking away. They were so engrossed in taking the pics, then comparing and discussing them, that they were still completely unaware that I had noticed them photographing me. Or they simply didn’t care and purposefully ignored me.

How dare they, I thought. At that point, I didn’t know whether to be angry or amused. I just sat there, glaring at them and shaking my head, hoping to get their attention and make them feel as uncomfortable as they made me. With today’s technology we are all at risk of being photographed or filmed by somebody unknown even without our knowledge, which is a really scary thought.

They were a family of four – parents with two teenagers, probably a brother and sister as they all looked alike with very fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair. They definitely weren’t locals as they were dressed funny, wearing socks and sandals in the heat of the day. They all had skinny white legs that hadn’t seen the sun in months sticking out the bottom of khaki shorts. Their shirts were creased, probably from travelling and I could hear that they were speaking a foreign language. It sounded like German or Swiss as far as I could tell with my limited linguist skills. They looked like typical tourists to this area, probably trying to escape the harsh European winter by coming on safari in Africa.

They continued taking pics of me and my mind began racing. Should I go over and ask them, sarcastically, if they want my autograph, I pondered. I was immediately annoyed with myself for not persevering and learning to write using my mouth. Suddenly I felt ashamed of being a quadriplegic, of being in a wheelchair and of being me. I wished with every fibre of my being that I could go up to them to start taking their pictures without asking whilst making some snarky comments about their appearance, just to get back at them for humiliating me in this way.

The waiter reappeared, temporarily blocking my view of them as he questioned if everything was in order. He had obviously noticed that I was no longer eating my food, despite encouragement from my folks to carry on eating and not worry about what others were doing. Sometimes, for me, it’s easier said than done. I didn’t tell him that I’d lost my appetite because of the rude people at the opposite table, taking pics of me. Instead, I told him that I’d had sufficient, preferring to take the rest home in a doggy bag to have later in the comfort of my own home, where the only staring eyes are the adoring ones of my two gorgeous Great Danes.

I started discussing the incident with my folks after the waiter walked away, wondering how I should handle it. Quite frankly, I was in total disbelief at the audacity of these people, unable to say anything to them, at the time, and the moment was lost when they all stood up to leave.

I was incensed at myself for not being more forthright by standing up for myself and insisting they stop taking my picture. I felt irritated at my vulnerability by allowing others to make me feel so ashamed of being paralysed and out in my wheelchair when I have every right to be. I was disappointed that I let them get to me in that way and spoil my day out.

I know that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should pity them and their ignorance.

Picture by Dirk van der Merwe

Picture by Dirk van der Merwe

By now, my face is probably among some happy tourist snaps, shared all over Facebook and other social media. Lucky me! I am riled that I didn’t make the most of the opportunity and charge them a fee for taking my picture. I always wanted to be famous. Careful what you wish for, Tracy!

I’m seriously considering having a large, hard-to-miss sign made for my wheelchair, especially for ignorant tourists: Welcome to South Africa: The land of the Big5 and quadriplegics.

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After spending a wonderful weekend in Pretoria, celebrating my birthday with special friends and spending time watching my son play cricket, we were back on the road travelling home early on Sunday afternoon.

I was sitting in the front passenger seat of my Combi, which has been slightly modified, enabling me to sit upright with support. Sexy Legs was driving and my care assistant was sitting on the backseat.

Although I was feeling a bit heavy hearted after having to drop my boy back at boarding school, Sexy Legs and I chatted away happily, reminiscing about the fun-filled weekend when the Combi suddenly started losing power. It came to a complete standstill, a few kilometres further. In my best, I-told-you-so voice I immediately admonished him for not stopping to put fuel in earlier like I’d suggested. But he assured me that there was still plenty of fuel.

Minds racing, we looked at one another for a couple of seconds. Sexy Legs tried to restart the car. And again. And a few more times. No luck.

 It was cold outside, pouring with rain and it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. I checked the time. It was just after 1 o’clock, so we must have been travelling for just over an hour.

Grateful to be living in an era of mobile phones, we made a few phone calls to some friends and my folks. Sexy Legs held the phone to my ear as I struggled to explain to a friend exactly where we were. I couldn’t really recognise any landmarks in the surrounding veld. Distracted by the story-sharing of the weekend’s events, we weren’t really taking note of our exact location all the time. I knew we were on the N4 highway. I also remembered seeing a sign a few kilometres back, which indicated that Emalahleni (a.k.a. Witbank) was 37 km away. So I guessed that we were approximately 30 km outside of that town. (Note to self: Invest in a GPS or be more aware of landmarks and informational road signs whilst travelling).

Hoping that I’d given sufficient information, we sat and waited. In the meantime, Sexy Legs tried to locate the fuel pump and poked around at various other things to try to establish what the problem was.

Although Sexy Legs had managed to pull off to the side, we could literally feel the Combi shuddering as cars sped by with a zoom-pause-zoom-pause-zoom, one after the other.  There is always more traffic at the end of a weekend and people travel really fast on the highway.

Despite our flashing hazard lights, very few cars even slowed down.

At that moment, for different reasons, both of us were hoping for a car to pull up behind us, for somebody to stop and come to our rescue, preferably someone mechanically-minded with the capability of fixing a car to get us back on our way as quickly as possible. For me, it was about the physical challenges of being a quadriplegic stuck on the side of the road indefinitely. For Sexy Legs, it was more the responsibility he felt as a man to meet the expectation of loved ones to get me home safely and on time.

At the same time, in sharp contradiction, I also wished for everybody to keep going past and leave us alone. For many South Africans, there is an intense, very real fear of the possibility of evil intention of anybody who may stop under the pretences of wanting to help. Also, I knew that if roles were reversed, we would also not stop to help strangers on the side of the road for fear of being attacked, which is an unfortunate reality in our beautiful, crime ridden land.

It left me feeling guilty and so sad, realising just how much we live on the defensive in this country.

Disappointingly, and gratefully, nobody stopped. We were stuck, but safe.

About an hour later, my friend’s brother, who lived in the area, arrived with some fuel, as instructed, just in case.  I was still convinced that this was the problem.

Glad to be sitting snugly in the car, I watched as the two men stood outside in the cold drizzle, bravely suffering the spray of water off the passing traffic. They peered into the engine, both looking considerably puzzled. Neither one wanted to openly admit that they had no idea what the problem was, before finally deciding to siphon the fuel into the tank.

Sexy Legs hopped back into the car as soon as they were done and tried to start the car. I think at this stage, even he was hoping that it was something as simple, and embarrassing, as running out of fuel. But the engine still refused to start. Our hearts sank.

It wouldn’t help to get a kind friend to come and collect us because it’s not easy to load me into a normal car, and I don’t go anywhere without my wheelchair which is quite bulky, unable to fold-up and won’t fit into just any car.

I called van Weten’s Breakdown Service, a tow truck company. My friend had already contacted them on my behalf, so they were expecting my call. The truck would be on its way to fetch us just as soon as it returned from the scene of an accident.

There were three choices – we could go to the closest town which was Witbank, go back to Pretoria or come home to Nelspruit. The last option was obviously the most expensive. My thoughts jumped back and forth, considering the various options.

As time ticked by, the gravity of the situation took hold of me.

I’d had a cup of Milo and my care assistant had emptied my bladder at 11 o’clock that morning. I’d estimated that we’d be home around three-thirty. But at that time I was still sitting, unexpectedly, at the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck with no means of having a pee. We’d had nothing to eat since breakfast as we intended on buying a snack along the way, when stopping for fuel, and then having a proper meal at home later in the afternoon. I had one bottle of water in the car but was too scared to drink any out of fear of not knowing when I’d be able to go to the toilet again.

Feeling helpless, emotion overwhelmed me and I became tearful. I immediately got annoyed with myself because I know from experience that tears do not solve anything. Finally, I made the decision that I needed to get to my own home with everything that I needed to carry out basic bodily functions, for my own sanity and peace of mind, irrespective of the cost.

My care assistant was still trying to dry my tears when a car pulled up behind us and a man got out. I could feel myself panic. Before he could even speak, I was wondering if he was armed and if he wanted to rob, rape or murder us. I was filled with guilt when I realised that he was a genuine, good Samaritan. Although he was not really able to help us, it was nice to know that there was somebody, just one person out there that cared enough to stop to find out if we were alright.

Eventually, at 4 pm the big, van Wetten’s flatbed truck arrived to collect us. The Combi was winched up onto the truck with me still sitting in the front, passenger seat and my care assistant, next to me in the driver’s seat. I prayed that the cable would hold our weight as I heard it groan through the loading process.

It was scary, but exciting. We were high up on the truck. Looking down at the cars speeding by, that seemed so intimidating before, making me feel more vulnerable than ever, were now small in comparison. I felt like the Queen of the castle.

Sexy Legs got into the cab of the truck with the driver to show him the way. As he turned back to wave at me, I smiled from ear to ear, so happy to be heading home, at last.

That feeling was short-lived.

Being paralysed, one has no control over one’s body. Despite being secured by a seatbelt and no matter how experienced the driver, I was at the mercy of every bump in the road which, at that height, felt like I was captive on a wild, runaway horse. My care assistant could barely keep herself from bouncing around without trying to hold on to my body which was jumping all over uncontrollably. I worried about breaking skin or injuring soft tissue and developing a pressure sore but there was nothing I could do about it at the time.

Because of the cold, rainy, overcast weather it got dark quite quickly so we could see nothing more than the red brake lights and bright headlights of the traffic.

It was the bumpiest, coldest, most uncomfortable and outrageously expensive ride of my life.

We eventually arrived home at 8 o’clock on Sunday night, tired, cold, hungry, thirsty, desperate to pee, but safe. And for that I am grateful.

Sexy Legs carried me to bed – to my own bed. What more could I ask for?


**My Combi is 15 years old. Please hold thumbs that they manage to find the fault and fix her up because until then, I’m stuck without transport – not even able to go to the shops or anywhere else, for that matter. **

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