I recently moved a day’s drive from my hometown, my family, my friends, basically my life. I got a job at a startup company which is a great opportunity. During my preparation to move, I flew to my future home to look for accommodation. That Sunday, I was utterly surprised to find someone that I knew about but never met and didn’t really think I’ll ever find. But let me backtrack a few decades.

Cousins as small children

I have a great family. A bit of a complicated one, but a great one nonetheless. On my mom’s side, there are cousins and second-cousins and aunts and uncles – too many to count. I remember growing up always meeting more family, and not quite remembering where everyone fit in. In particular, my mom often spoke about Blondie, these conversations always marked with a special fondness. Even though I always wanted to meet her, I never did, and also never met her four children.

When I was about 10, our family was shocked to hear the news that Blondie and her husband passed away in a horrible car crash. Blondie’s mom also passed away in that crash, leaving Blondie’s dad and the youngest of the four children the only survivors of the crash. The other three children were visiting with friends when it happened. In an instant, four beautiful children were orphaned. I never saw them during my childhood years, but I would often get a longing to know them. To be able to play at Christmas gatherings, family reunions, or just because we were cousins.

Family reunion

In my early twenties, we had a family reunion for everyone on my mom’s side. It was great to see everyone again, and a pleasant surprise to meet the oldest two of my four cousins. We didn’t see each other for another 10 years or so until I went to a small village in the middle of nowhere. Suretha is a doctor and is working in a small village in the Transkei. While visiting another friend, we bumped into each other and had a lovely chat over coffee. We became friends on Facebook which helped me catch up on her family life.

Part of the catching up was seeing photos of her brothers and sister on her Facebook wall. It now feels a bit stalkerish to think that I knew about Daleen (Suretha’s sister) before we officially met. Nonetheless, I am very thankful that I knew what she looked like, thanks to Facebook!

Facebook actually helped me find someone!

Our Cape Winelands adventure

Back to the weekend that I looked for accommodation. Friends hosted me over that weekend and I joined them for church the Sunday morning. I walked in, and there, on the stage, was Daleen leading worship. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Here I was, far away from home and my family, being offered the gift of meeting another one of my cousins.  After the service was over, I went up to Daleen and told her, ‘You don’t know me, but I’m your cousin.’ That was the start of our wonderful cousin-friendship. In the time after that meeting, we’ve had coffees, good old South African braais, lunches, a wedding, camping trips, stuff that cousins do together. What an incredible blessing it is to get to know my cousin after all these years.

Why I admire Daleen

During the last year, I realised that I made a picture in my mind of who I thought my cousins would be. Meeting them in real life is so much better! Even though I’m focusing only on Daleen (whom I know best), I know the others are equally amazing.

Despite all the heartache that Daleen had to go through growing up without her parents, she is confident, kind, strong, generous, loving, brave, humble, authentic, whole, funny, adventurous. She has fought many battles to be this kind of woman and discovered true joy. Her wisdom she imparts to many students, dedicating her life to them at the moment as a campus counsellor.

During one of our coffee dates, she spoke about how her mom and dad always lived selflessly for others. I am astounded to see their hearts for others living in their daughter, even though they only had 7 years to impart that to her. It is one of the most beautiful things I have seen this year. That moment was key to unlocking a dream in my heart.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the most vulnerable, like widows and orphans, have a special place in my heart. A lot of that can be credited to my four cousins. In the last year, I did find someone who stood up from one of the most traumatic experiences in life and became an inspiration to others. This year I not only found my cousin, I was lucky enough to find someone who inspires me to be everything that I was meant to be. I am so loving this Cape Winelands adventure with you my couz!!!

Mariette Conning

What am I about? I want to make an impact in the world. The only way I know how to do so is summed up in the words of Mother Teresa: ‘Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.’

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